New Dillon City Attorney Sky Jones now lives a long way from where he was born and raised in the southwestern United States.
But he’s here because Dillon felt like where he should be, and wanted to be.
“Dillon feels like home,” Jones advised the Dillon City Council two weeks ago when he was up for appointment as the city attorney.
“I didn’t grow up in Dillon, Montana. But I grew up in a small, farmingranching community, and I feel like I have the same type of values that I would have had if I’d grown up here,” continued Jones, shortly before city council unanimously endorsed his appointment.
“I was born in West Texas, six generations on a cattle ranch out there,” Jones told the Dillon Tribune this week.
“My father still ranches in that area. I was raised mostly in New Mexico,” added Jones, who got his first name, in part, from his mother’s fondness for Star Wars hero Luke Skywalker.
“It suited me well because I was a pole vaulter through high school and college—I paid my way through college on a track scholarship for Baylor,” recalled Jones of his time as a member of one of the top collegiate track programs in the country following a standout high school career during which he set and reset the New Mexico high school pole vaulting record, with the high mark he cleared as a senior still standing a quarter century later.
“So, to be named named Sky was fitting,” recalled Jones, who did not need to look to ‘a time long ago and a place far away’ for a real-life role model.
“He is my absolute hero, somebody I have always strived to be like. He’s 96 years old and he’s still plugging away,” said Jones of his maternal grandfather, who lent his name, Benton, to the middle name of Jones’ young son, Murdoch Benton Jones.
“Integrity in his word, hard work and devotion to his family and his community,” cited Jones of the qualities he so admired in his mother’s father.
“Whether he was helping his neighbors or serving on the school board, he was somebody who put family and community first.”
Jones’s son, Murdoch, gets his first name from his father’s great-grandfather, who grew up on the same ranch where Jones did in Texas.
“He was just a good ol’ fashioned cattle rancher,” said Jones, who took more than a name for his son from his time on the family ranch.
“When you grow up out here it’s all hands on deck— whether you’re gathering cattle on horseback or fixing a water gap, feeding and branding and everything else. Whether it’s your place or your neighbors, everybody pitches in. It’s just about the only way to get the job done,” said Jones of an approach that will seem familiar to people in rural Montana.
Jones followed the example of other family members’ by going into the legal profession.
“I grew up with some judges and lawyers in family. My stepdad is an attorney. My mom was a magistrate judge for 16 years in Tatum,” said Jones of the New Mexico town he attended high school in.
“So, when I was in high school, my mom was the judge. When you’re the judge’s son, you have to keep your nose pretty clean,” laughed Jones.
“Since then, I have had a total of four female judges in my family—not only my mother, but my aunt—my mother’s sister—my stepmother, and my mother in law, who is currently the justice of the peace in Ravalli County.”
So, attending law school seemed a natural for Jones, as did attending it at the University of Montana.
“I had a few other options around the country, and what drew me to Montana— I had never been here before—was an opportunity for some adventure; I grew up skiing and fly fishing and hunting and enjoying the outdoors, and always wanted to get up here. And when given the opportunity to go to law school at the University of Montana, I jumped at the opportunity just for the adventure, and fell in love with it,” he said of the start of the “Big” Sky Jones era of his life.
Jones’ early career endeavors following graduation from the UMW Law School in 2005 also got guided by family ties.
“My stepfather is an attorney who does a lot of oil and gas work on the legal side. So, when I got out of law school, I went to work in oil and gas industry. I was doing mineral title, travelling all over the country. I was able to work in that industry from Pennsylvania and West Virginia, to Tennessee and New Mexico,” recalled Jones of his professional involvement in the the-boomandbust industry. “But it was a very volatile industry—you might go in for a staff meeting one day, and find out the company had been bought by a bigger company, and we were all out of a job. But luckily, the market was good enough so we could go next door and get another job,” added Jones, who preferred using his skills to aid the landowners interacting with the industry.
“That was actually my favorite part, making sure farmers and ranchers got the best deal possible,” said Jones, who aided landowners in navigating complex royalty and lease bonus payment agreements.
“And protecting their water rights and against surface damages, making sure that if they were going to be making money off their mineral interests, that they weren’t sacrificing too much to do so,” said Jones of his work during a relatively volatile period of his life, in terms of geography.
“But I ran out of excuses to stay away from Montana in 2009,” said Jones, who got legal work through friends in Bozeman while studying for the Montana bar exam, which he passed in 2010.
“I didn’t do much oil and gas work after that. I did mostly civil litigation, family law, property easements and contract negotiations,” said Jones of his evolving career, which will now transition to working as a city attorney.
“This will be a big learning curve for me when it comes to the prosecution side of things— I’ve never been on that side, but I look forward to assisting the city,” said Jones, who will also keep working on the side, as a fishing guide, something he began doing nearly a decade ago to serve a higher goal.
“I first got my fishing guide license so I could help out with the Warriors and Quiet Water Foundation that brings combat veterans to Montana, free of charge, and outfits them and pairs them with a guide, and we take them fishing for a week,” said Jones, who delivered a presentation on the organization entitled “Fishing for Calm” as part of the world-renowned TED Talks series “My grandpa Terry said years ago that the best way to honor veterans is to live a life worthy of the sacrifices they have made. Not being a vet myself, I think it’s important to say ‘thanks’ to them every way I can. I hope to stay involved with that organization and our local veteran organizations as much as I can,” said Jones, who continues to guide trips for of the Warriors and Quiet Water Foundation.
“It is an organization very near and dear to my heart,” said Jones, who communes even more often with something even nearer and dearer to his heart— his wife, who helped him find his way to the town he’s grown to love.
“I married my best friend, Tara, in 2017,” said Jones, who met Tara playing cribbage.
“We were living in Bozeman and she was offered the job here as director of dining services at the University of Montana Western. When she asked me if I wanted to move to Dillon, I was already packing my bag. I really wanted to support her endeavors and to live in a smaller community,” insisted Jones, who’s expecting a second child with Tara early next year.
“I’d like to thank you to the mayor and city council for considering me as city attorney,” stated Jones, who said former City Attorney Marta Farmer and current City Director of Operations Todd Hazelbaker encouraged him to apply to succeed Farmer.
“I hope to do them and the rest of the community proud in representing our great city.”