Gunlock chronicles: Tales of small-town life captured by Washington County author

ST. GEORGE — Washington County resident Eddie Mac Jones witnessed enough events to write a book during his two decades serving with Southern Utah’s locally famous 222nd Field Artillery Battalion.

Logo of Utah National Guard, 2nd Battalion, 222nd Field Artillery reunion, Cedar City, Utah, April 27, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Instead, for this first publication, he chose to write “Gunlock Stories,” which chronicles his experiences while being raised in Washington County circa the 1940s.

“We moved to St. George when I was 10 years old,” Jones said. “All of these stories are from my time in Gunlock before then.”

Much like growing up in any small town, there are stories of tragedy, redemption, grit and gratitude in the book that bears the town’s name. One of them, the death of a young man visiting the Leavitts, inspired the whole book.

“They were racing on the workhorses, which are huge horses,” Jones said. “They didn’t have Clydesdales, but they were 2000-pound horses. And they crashed into the cows that the other brothers were bringing up the road.”

An author’s image from the book ‘Gunlock Stories’ by Eddie Mac Jones, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of Mac Jones, St. George News

In 1944, the phenomenon called aurora borealis caused by magnetic storms could be seen from Southern Utah, Jones said. Without internet search engines or 24-hour news channels, those who didn’t know about the northern lights could only wonder about what they were seeing.

“We was all out in Gunlock, at one in the morning — in our shorts — looking at it,” Jones remembered. “I was only about 4 years old.”

Those who regularly recreate at Gunlock Reservoir and drive through the town might not recognize places mentioned in Jones’ book. That is because, in the late 1940s, St. George had a total population of 4,500. Gunlock stood at 105.

Jones said he is old enough that they changed the name of the Utah National Guard unit where he trained other soldiers for combat for 22 years. Although he never left the United States for combat in military conflicts, plenty of the troops he trained served in Korea and Vietnam.

“We used to be the 213th and they went and changed the name to the 222nd,” he said with a smile. “And we were mad. We had a hard time dealing with that.”

Looking over the town from a hill on the western side of Gunlock, Utah, March 1, 2024 | Photo by Haven Scott, St. George News

Compared with writing a book, training soldiers who were sent to combat was actually pretty easy, Jones said. So he enlisted the help of his granddaughter Katie Thompson.

“Katie did all the work,” Jones said. “I had several notebooks filled with handwritten stories and she typed them all up, edited them and we both worked with a printer through several changes.”

Thompson said she too had never published a book. But she wasn’t going to let down the man who was vacuuming her house the morning after her wedding party either.

“I just remember my really good friend came up and she was like, you know your grandpa is one of the truest Mormons I have ever met,” she said.

But that was just one of countless recollections she has of her grandfather’s assistance. Now that she has helped Jones publish his first book, Thompson said she has a better understanding of both Southern Utah and those raised in small towns.

A view of the cinder block post office on Main Street in Gunlock, Utah, March 1, 2024 | Photo by Haven Scott, St. George News

“It made a lot of sense, to see him and the way that he is now and that he is strong about the way he lives,” she said. “It makes sense because he went through things that were a lot harder than we could ever imagine.”

Never one to shy away from new technology, Jones and Thompson used artificial intelligence to generate many of the images in the book of Gunlock tales.

Readers who want to purchase a copy of “Gunlock Stories,” by Eddie Mac Jones, can do so locally at the Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum, 145 N. 100 E. in St. George. The book can also be bought at the history museum located inside the Santa Clara city offices at 2603 Santa Clara Drive. The chronicles can also be found on Amazon online at this link.

Jones said the book will not be his last. With his military experience, proximity to testing grounds and doing research of his own, his next book will be about living elsewhere in Southern Utah.

“We lived really close to all those A-bomb tests,” he said.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2024, all rights reserved.

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