Jones was born in Los Angeles, California. His family moved to North Little Rock, Arkansas in 1945. Jones' father J. W. "Pat" Jones (1920–1997) and mother Armenita Pearl Clark Jones (1922–2012) married in 1941. They owned two branches of Pat's Super Market in the Rose City neighborhood of North Little Rock. Jones was a running back at North Little Rock High School, graduating in 1960. After his graduation, his parents moved to Springfield, Missouri, where Pat was president and chairman of Modern Security Life Insurance Co. The company, which an advertisement billed as a "one in a million" company, saw its assets increase from $440,299. 76 in its first statement in 1961 to $6,230,607 in 1965. After graduating from the University of Arkansas, Jerral W. Jones was listed as an executive vice president. With the success of the company the couple assembled the 5,500 acre Buena Vista Ranch east of Springfield in Rogersville, Missouri in the Ozark Mountains. In 1971, after selling the insurance company, the couple carved out 400 acres of their ranch to start Buena Vista Animal Paradise, where tourists could visit exotic animals (now Wild Animal Safari in Strafford, Missouri, just south of Interstate 44).