Sam Jones: A crosscountry trip in a little red Falcon and a gift nobody wanted

1919 Clemson grad brought Frank Howard the lengendary 'Rock' from California; classmate wrote alma mater

Samuel Columbus Jones, Clemson class of 1919, gave coach Frank Howard a rock that later became known as 'Howard's Rock'

Samuel Columbus Jones, Clemson class of 1919, gave coach Frank Howard a rock that later became known as 'Howard's Rock'

In the summer of 1918, numerous collegiate units from schools across the nation, including 165 Clemson cadets, attended ROTC Camp in Plattsburg, N.Y.

Among them were Samuel Columbus (S.C.) Jones and his close friend and classmate, Albert Cleveland (A.C.) Corcoran.

Rising seniors, Jones recalled in Frank Mellette’s book ‘Old Clemson College… it was one hell of a place’ that they were in Plattsburg to earn their regular army commission of second lieutenant. "Some of us did get our commission and others did not," said Jones. "I was one of those who did."

One evening, each school was asked to get up and sing their alma mater. Another Clemson cadet in attendance, Henry ‘Mouse’ Elliott, stood up and told the assembly that because Clemson was such a ‘young’ school, it didn’t have an alma mater.

This was a true explanation as Clemson had opened its doors in 1893, just 25 years prior. They performed several Clemson cheers instead.

Embarrassed, Corcoran vowed on his return to campus, that he would have to write an alma mater for Clemson, and he did.

It was first performed in public on Feb. 19, 1919 by the Clemson Glee Club, sung to the tune of Cornell’s ‘High Above Cayuga’s Waters.'

'Little Pickens County Mountaineer'

Sam Jones waited 45 years before taking another journey and establishing another Clemson tradition.

He was born in Dacusville, S.C. (Pickens County) on June 16, 1896 and raised in nearby Pumpkintown.

Jones claims that he walked to Clemson to enroll, according to stories he told family members over the years. His senior TAPS (Clemson's yearbook) bio says that… ‘On Sept. 14, 1915, this earnest looking little Pickens County mountaineer walked into the halls of Clemson and expressed his desire for broader knowledge of the world and its sciences.’

A runner on the Clemson track team (his nickname was ‘Swifty’), Jones majored in agricultural teaching and graduated from Clemson in 1919.

His senior motto was ‘I will utter what I believe today if it should contradict all I said yesterday.’

Following graduation, Jones worked as an agricultural vocational teacher, wrote and published the Pendleton News, was a part owner in a grocery store and then became a timber surveyor for the Army Corps of Engineers, where he appraised and helped purchase land for many of the major reservoirs in South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.

Another requirement he performed was when the Army conducted training maneuvers throughout the Southeast. Afterwards he would survey what damage they did to private stretches of timber and compensate farmers and landowners.

One of his final jobs was supervising crews helping clear timber off land along the Seneca River basin that was to be filled in by the future Lake Hartwell.

Working in the Pendleton area, Jones met Catherine Russell Harris at Liberty Hall while he was boarding there. She was staying there with her grandparents who owned the boarding house.

Her mother had sent her there on a train from Thomasville, Ga. because Catherine had fallen in love with someone she did not approve of.

Catherine’s family was in politics – her mother was on the Georgia Milk Board and her grandfather, who owned Liberty Hall, was the South Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture.

Sam married Catherine on New Year’s Day, 1920 and they had two daughters, Gracie Jones Marvin (who now lives in Walterboro) and Celena Jones Massey (who lives in LaFrance), and four sons, Samuel Jr., William, Spratt and Russell. Catherine passed away in May 1981.

Following his retirement from the government in the early 1960s, Jones moved to the Clemson House full time.

After the college converted part of the Clemson House into dorm rooms, Jones would sometimes complain about how little the coeds wore walking up and down the hall.

Every morning he got dressed in his suit and tie and went downstairs to drink coffee with the same group, one of whom was Clemson football coach Frank Howard.

Former IPTAY executive director George Bennett says that they gave Jones the nickname ‘Head rooster in the hen house’ because all the widows who lived there had a crush on Sam.

Road Trips

Bill Rogers, a junior at Clemson, married Jones’ granddaughter Donna in 1964. They lived in one of the married students' prefab housing units across the fence from the dairy barn where the Walker Golf Course is today.

Rogers says that Mr. Jones would occasionally come to visit his and Donna’s prefab early on a Saturday morning and ask, ‘You want to go get some apples?’ That translated as a road trip to the mountains.

"My response was always, ‘Yes, if you will let me drive!’ And off we went in his little red Ford Falcon," said Rogers. "He was always dressed in a suit and tie and wore a hat. A dapper little man he was. When we got to the mountains, he would stop at one apple stand after another looking for just the right apples. He always had to sample one with his pocket knife before he bought."

Jones decided to take a vacation trip out west later that year.

Being a true Clemson fan, while touring Death Valley, California, and thinking of Clemson’s Memorial Stadium, which by that time had acquired the nickname of Death Valley, Sam thought a large white flint rock would make a nice souvenir for someone back in Clemson.

On Jones’ return to Clemson, he stopped by the Rogers’ prefab.

"He visited with us for a while," says Rogers, "But not too long as he never sat long anywhere. He said he had something for us. We walked out to his little red Falcon, which was angle-parked in front of my parallel parking space, because he really couldn’t drive all that well, and there in the trunk was a rock, or a box of several rocks."

Rogers says that he can’t remember if it was one rock or more than one. "And I certainly can’t say that it was ‘The Rock.'

The Girft Nobody Wanted

"He offered it to us but I graciously refused the gift as I had no place for it or a need for it," Rogers recalled. "I'm right sure this 21 year-old hurt his feelings that day, but I don't remember him showing it."

Now, whether Jones had already given Coach Howard ‘The Rock’ before visiting the Rogers, or if it was ‘The Rock’ in the trunk is unknown. What is known is that Coach Howard wasn’t too enthusiastic receiving this rock as a ‘gift’ either.

'The Rock' sat around his office at Fike Field House for a couple of years until Howard told then IPTAY executive secretary Gene Willimon one day to "…take this rock (which legend has that Howard was using it as a door stop) out there and throw it over the fence in the valley."

Willimon thought that was no way to treat a rock that a friend and fan had brought all the way from Death Valley, California to Clemson, South Carolina. He had a grander plan.

Willimon mounted it on a wooden pedestal on top of The Hill at the football stadium before the Tigers’ 1966 season opener against Virginia.

Clemson, down 35-18 with 18 minutes left in that game, to an opponent they had never lost to before, rallied for a 40-35 win.

A new tradition had just been introduced to the Clemson fan base. Almost.

110 Percent

It wasn’t until prior to the 1967 season, however, that Howard thought he would have a little fun with the rock on that pedestal on top of The Hill.

Then tight end Edgar McGee recalls that Coach Howard "…looked for little ways to get you ready to play. He told us, ‘… if you touch my rock, you’ve got to give 110 percent – 100 percent is not enough.’ The Rock was one more thought process before the game started… it was that last little reminder before you hit his field."

Howard mentioned his famous quote which included an additional ‘…then keep your filthy hands off my rock!’ on his Sunday morning coaches television show the next day, and the legend of The Rock was now formally introduced to the world.

One of Jones’ daughters, Gracie Jones Marvin, recently visited the stadium to see the extent of the vandalism done to her daddy’s Rock in June.

"I was living in Florida at the time," she recalled, "when daddy said he had given Coach Howard this rock from California. We really didn’t think too much about it for a while. Then they mounted it on a pedestal and Clemson started winning."

Jones, Howard & Willimon

In his Clemson senior bio, it was said of Samuel Columbus Jones that he had become a ‘…serious minded, faithful, honest and highly esteemed member of the class of 1919. Conscientiousness, fairness and determination along with hard work have earned him a place in both the hearts of the faculty and students that will not be soon forgotten… We see in the future for him a career of success as spreader of the knowledge he has acquired during his four years here.’

Jones died on July 16, 1990 and is buried in the Old Stone Church Cemetery in nearby Pendleton.

Eight of his grandchildren, great grandchildren, or great, great grandchildren have since graduated from Clemson or are now attending Clemson.

It is known today as "Howard’s Rock,’ but it was Sam Jones who picked it up in a place called Death Valley, California, placed it in the trunk of a little red Ford Falcon and drove it across the country, where it now sits on top of a black granite pedestal above a grass covered hill in a small, southern school’s football stadium also known as Death Valley.

Jones found it, Willimon saved it, Howard used it for motivation, thousands of Clemson football players have rubbed it, and maybe, just maybe, it really does have magical powers.

Much like his classmate Albert Cleveland Corcoran composing the school’s alma mater in 1919, Samuel Columbus Jones was a true Clemson supporter who always wore his Clemson ring proudly and innocently gave the Clemson family a tradition that has since stood the test of time where the Tigers play.

A couple of legacies that have no real value short of being priceless to generations of Clemson people past, and those yet to be.

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