Lawyer instrumental in Catawba Indian Nation settlement dies at 71

Bob Jones, one of the lawyers who fought for the Catawba Indian Nation settlement of 1993 that gave the York County Indian tribe federal and state standing, died Wednesday at his Rock Hill home. He was 71.

The land-claim settlement over 144,000 acres in York and Lancaster counties ended two decades of clashes between the tribe and the state and federal governments that had threatened to tie up area land sales.

Along with lawyers Jean Toal – now the chief justice of the state Supreme Court – and Jay Bender, Jones argued the Catawbas’ case in pursuit of a recognized reservation and status all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The case spanned almost two decades, from 1975 to 1993.

Gilbert Blue, the retired chief who led the tribe for more than 30 years, called Jones a strong advocate for the Catawba people.

“We walked many paths together, and in the time of the settlement he was very involved,” Blue said. “He was a fine man.”

Jones was instrumental in hammering out the $50 million settlement that included then-Gov. Carroll Campbell, former U.S. Rep. John Spratt, D-York, and others. The Catawba Nation remains the only federally recognized Indian tribe in South Carolina.

“Bob Jones was a large part of those negotiations that ended with a historic agreement that still stands,” Spratt said Friday.

Carson Blue, a member of the tribe’s executive committee for decades, knew Jones since both were in high school – a personal and professional relationship that lasted more than five decades.

Jones “was a good trooper for the Catawba,” he said.

Current Catawba leaders praised Jones’ service to the tribe.

“We are very sorry to hear of the passing of Mr. Jones,” the tribe’s executive committee said in a statement. “Bob Jones started with us in the late 1970s when the Nation first began our quest to gain justice for lands lost. He continued his legal work with the tribe through the mid 2000s.

We are thankful for his efforts on behalf of the tribe, which helped us gain federal recognition and put many programs and services in place for tribal citizens.”

Bender, who with Jones represented the Catawbas for three decades, said he was a fine lawyer with a sharp mind who “was not afraid to speak it.”

Paul Jones said his father’s work on the Catawba settlement and many other tribal issues over so many years, was “a lasting achievement that my father was very proud of.”

Jones was a character in an age when lawyers were known not so much for sound bites, but oratorical skills. He ran an office from an old brick building on Rock Hill’s Main Street, and for decades his mother answered the phones at his office.

Jones came from blue-collar roots, the son of a legendary tow truck driver in Rock Hill. He was as apt to show up at a courthouse wearing a leather jacket as a business suit.

He also served as a York County magistrate judge for four years in the 1990s.

Jones was a passionate political man, too, active for decades in Democratic Party politics, including as a delegate to the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065


Bob Jones will be buried at 2 p.m. Saturday at Grandview Memorial Park, with a memorial service at 3 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church, 234 E. Main St., Rock Hill.