Charles Frederick Gebhart was born on the outskirts of Vincennes, Indiana, on December 12, 1891 (some sources indicate December 4, 1889, but Jones' marriage license and his military records confirm the 1891 date.) In 1907 Jones joined the United States Army a month after his 16th birthday: his mother had signed a consent form that gave his age as 18. He was assigned to Troop G, 6th Cavalry Regiment, and was deployed to the Philippines in October 1907, where he served in combat and was wounded during the Moro Rebellion. Upon his return to the US in December 1909, he was honorably discharged at Fort McDowell, California.
Jones had an affection for race cars and the racing industry, and became close friends with early race-car driver Harry Stillman. Through his association with Stillman he began working extensively as a test driver for the Marmon Motor Car Company. Yet by October 1910 he had re-enlisted in the United States Army. Because he wanted to learn to fly, he requested a transfer to the Aeronautical Division, U.S. Signal Corps in 1913, without knowing that only an officer could become a pilot. He received his second honorable discharge from the Army in October 1913.
Following his military Service he began working as a Cowboy on the 101 Ranch near Bliss, Oklahoma. While attending Equestrian shows he met Odille "Dell" Osborne, who rode horses professionally. The two became involved and married in 1915. Both had very little money, so the producers of a Wild West Show they were working on at the time offered to allow them to marry in an actual show performance, in public, which they accepted.
Buck Jones's daughter, Maxine Jones (born 1918) was married to Noah Beery, Jr. from 1940 to 1966.
While in Los Angeles, and with his wife pregnant, Jones decided to leave the Cowboy life behind and get a job in the film industry. He was hired by Universal Pictures for $5 per day as a bit player and stuntman. He later worked for Canyon Pictures, then Fox Film Corporation, eventually earning $40 per week as a stuntman. With Fox his salary increased to $150 per week, and company owner william Fox decided to use him as a backup to Tom Mix. This led to his first starring role, The Last Straw, released in 1920.
In 1925 Jones made three films with a very young Carole Lombard. He had more than 160 film credits to his name by this time, and he had joined Hoot Gibson, Tom Mix and Ken Maynard as the top Cowboy actors of the day. By 1928 he formed his own production company, but his independently produced film The Big Hop (a non-Western) failed. He then organized a touring Wild West show, with himself as a featured attraction, but this expensive venture also failed due to the faltering economy of late 1929.
His star waned in the late 1930s when singing Cowboys became the rage and Jones, then in his late 40s, was uncomfortably cast in conventional leading-man roles. He rejoined Columbia in the fall of 1940, starring in the serial White Eagle (an expansion of his 1932 feature of the same name). The new serial was a hit, and Jones was again re-established. His final series of Western features, co-produced by Jones and his friend Scott R. Dunlap of Monogram Pictures, featured The Rough Riders trio: Buck Jones, Tim McCoy and Raymond Hatton.
In 1937 Jones starred in Hoofbeats, a 15-minute radio program syndicated via electrical transcription. The program was produced in the studios of Recordings, Inc., with Grape Nuts Flakes as sponsor.
Buck Jones was one of the 492 victims of the Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston, Massachusetts on November 28, 1942. He died two days later on November 30, at age 50.
In 1960, Jones was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to the motion picture industry. The star is located at 6834 Hollywood Blvd.
On his album When I Was a Kid, Bill Cosby has a routine called "Buck Jones," in which he talks about seeing Buck Jones movies as a kid. He says that Jones had a horse named Silver, like the Lone Ranger, and that he would chew gum to signal that he was getting angry. Cosby mentions a specific movie in which a saloon tough picks a fight by pouring "redeye" liquor over Jones. On "Merv Griffin's '60s Retrospective" DVD release, John Wayne in 1970 states that Buck Jones is his hero. He also states that Jones went in the fire to help people.
In 1997 a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.