Did you ever wonder where that crazy sentiment came from? Right! It’s the refrain from Ghost Riders In the Sky, one of the most widely published songs ever. And it was written by Stan Jones, who grew up in the border town of Douglas, Arizona, where his boyhood experiences inspired this famous song as well as many of the over 200 songs that he wrote and published after reluctantly retiring from the Park Service.
First published by Burl Ives in 1949 as Riders In the Sky, it was the spring of 1949, that the song burst onto America’s radio airwaves unlike any other heard before. Vaughn Monroe’s version of Ghost Riders in the Sky took the nation by storm, and to this day it remains thoroughly woven into our nation’s cultural vocabulary. Stan Jones was at his post as a National Park Service ranger in Death Valley as the song he had composed on the front porch of his remote ranger station became a national…
Maverick songster Stan Jones gave us ‘Ghost Riders’ and other unforgettable themes that heartened our mythic West. Now Michael Ward has lassoed the spirit of the ghost writer himself in a book you’ll soon love. Ride forever. -Bill Broyles
Michael Ward grew up in Southern California and received a BA in Humanities from California State University at Chico in 1976. In January 1977, he put his college degree to practical use and began washing dishes at the Furnace Creek Inn. He eventually climbed the Fred Harvey ladder to become the assistant manager of the company’s retail operations based at the Furnace Creek General Store.
In June 1990, he accepted a position as a biological technician with the National Park Service in Death Valley where his attention, gratefully, shifted from ordering longhorn cheese to monitoring bighorn sheep. In May 1992, he began work as a biotech at Saguaro National Park in Tucson, where he continues to keep tabs on the leopard frogs, tortoises, and peregrine falcons that reside in the…
Here’s a recap of just a few of the chapters in Ghost Riders In The Sky: The Life of Stan Jones—the Singing Ranger.
In chapter 3… Stan’s adolescence is marked by his mother’s struggles to keep her family afloat during the deep economic recession that impacted the copper industry in Douglas following WWI. Stan and his town pals rounded up free-ranging burros and rode out to the cattle ranches east of town, where they became steeped in cowboy lore and lifestyle. One old-timer takes a shining to Stan and introduces him to a legend of cowboys galloping across the cloudy skies during a storm, an image that the young cowpoke carries into adulthood. Stan picks up a guitar for the first time.
In chapter 7… Famed film director John Ford arrives in Death Valley with his Hollywood entourage in the spring of 1948 to shoot scenes for “The Three Godfathers.” Stan is on the set one day and enrages Ford when he interrupts a scene of John Wayne trying to squeeze water out of a cactus. The interaction between the two sets the stage for Stan to eventually be hired by Ford to…