Jones was born in Fairfield District, South Carolina, on December 22, 1834, to Henry and Nancy Robertson Jones. He moved with his family to Texas when he was just four years old, settling in Travis County. He attended Rutersville College near La Grange, Texas, before moving back to South Carolina, where he attended Mt. Zion College at Winnsboro.
After he graduated, he returned to Texas and began farming and stock-raising. When the Civil War broke out, he volunteered in the Confederate Army as a private in Colonel Benjamin Terry’s Texas Rangers. However, only after a month, he was appointed Adjutant of the Fifteenth Texas Infantry and remained in the Trans-Mississippi Department throughout the war. He saw service in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Indian Territory. In 1863, he was appointed Adjutant-General of a brigade.
At the war’s end, Jones took the defeat of the Confederacy hard. After the war, he spent some time traveling in Mexico and Brazil, trying to establish a colony for other disgruntled former Confederates. However, never finding a suitable location, he returned to Texas and, in 1868, was elected to the Texas State Legislature but did not take the seat.
In May 1874, he was appointed by Governor Richard Coke, Major of the Frontier Battalion of the Texas Rangers, and took command of six companies. While in command, he participated in several Indian skirmishes with the Comanche, Kiowa, and Apache. In 1877, he was sent to El Paso in an attempt to restore order among the citizens. That same year, he was sent to Lampasas, Texas, to negotiate a truce in the notorious Horrell-Higgins Feud.
He was also involved in capturing or killing several outlaws, most notably Sam Bass, in 1878. Bass and his gang had been robbing trains in Texas for months, and the Texas Governor ordered Jones and his Rangers to stop it. The press dubbed the chase the “Bass War” as Jones and his men pursued Bass for four months until catching up with him in Round Rock, Texas, that July. Bass would be wounded in the ensuing gun battle and died several days later.
In 1879, Jones was appointed Adjutant-General of the State of Texas. While serving as adjutant general and still commanding the Frontier Battalion of the Texas Rangers, he died of natural causes in Austin on July 19, 1881. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery.
John B. Jones is a member of the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame.