Biography of James S. Davis

JAMES S. DAVIS – Mr. Davis is one of the most interesting and progressive men of our country. The tragic events of Steptoe’s expedition in 1858 are described in the body of this work, and need no repetition here. One of the most conspicuous landmarks in the region traversed by that ill-fated troop is the spire-like pinnacle of basalt which has ever since received the name of Steptoe. It lies in the midst of one of the richest and most productive farming regions in the world, the far-famed Palouse country. Long a solitude, it has lately been occupied by a keen and public-spirited citizen, known far and near as “Cash-up” Davis. Upon that lofty eminence, Mr. Davis has erected buildings of so fine and expensive a character, from which views of such superlative magnificence can be obtained, that the visitor has almost as much curiosity to know the career of the man who did all this as to see the scenes themselves.

Mr. Davis was born in Hastings, England, on November 16, 1815. At that historic spot, the site of the battle which left William the Conqueror in possession of England, he spent the first fifteen years of his life. His uncle, a captain in the British army, then appointed him his valet; and he entered a postilion school to learn how to take the proper charge of a pair of Shetland ponies which the Sultan of Turkey had given as a present to Lady Erskine. Having remained there a year, the boy took to wandering over all parts of the United Kingdom in company with an army officer, Captain John Guyun.

The Captain having died within a year and a half, the young man continued his travels in the south of England and in France. Next he was busy as foreman in charge of sixty men engaged in running the Dover tunnel under Shakespeare cliff. On the 8th of August he took ship for the New World. After four years in Seneca county, Ohio, he was married to Mary Ann Shoemaker of Columbus, Ohio; and two years later the young couple went to Wisconsin to make their fortune. There they lived twenty-two years; and there their eleven children were born. Their names in order of age are: William A., Laura C., Francis L., Ferdinand A., Henry E., James P., John, Clarence C., Mary Ann, Amy C. and Charles J.

Leaving their pleasant home in Wisconsin, they spent two years in Iowa. In 1871 they joined the increasing stream of immigration to Oregon. In the beautiful county of Yamhill they spent a year and a half, and then made still another home in Whitman county, Washington. Having purchased Steptoe Station of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company in 1877, Mr. Davis made some extensive improvements there.

In 1887 he purchased Steptoe Butte; and there he has built an imperishable monument to himself in the form of his observatory and other buildings. His lofty eyrie consists of a building sixty-four by sixty-six feet in size, in which is a hall running the whole width of the building and forty feet wide. Upon the summit of the building is a cupola encircled by a regular steamship deck. In the observatory is the next to the largest telescope in Washington. With its aid, a view, scarcely to be paralleled in the country, is spread out like a map. A foreground of vast rolling plains, checkered with grain fields; a background of towering mountains, rising, tier on tier, till they break at last against the barrier of eternal frost, – such is the outlook which daily greets the vision of this brave old pioneer of the Palouse. He is thus most happily situated; for his eleven children are located in comfort and prosperity in the fertile land at the foot of his castle.



History of the Pacific Northwest Oregon and Washington. 2 v. Portland, Oregon: North Pacific History Company. 1889.

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