Sunday, April 23, 2017

Banker, Idaho Governor, and Reclamation Manager D. W. Davis [otd 04/23]

Idaho Governor David William Davis was born April 23, 1873 in Wales. The family moved to the U.S. two years later, and the father found work mining coal in the districts northwest of Des Moines, Iowa. This being before strict child labor laws, David began working in the coal mines there in 1885, when he was twelve years old.
Boy miners were once common. Library of Congress.

After three years he landed a job in the mining company store. Personable and hard-working, Davis showed a talent for the retail business. Around 1894, he was hired as the Manager of a farmers’ co-op store in the town of Rippey, 35-40 miles northwest of Des Moines. Within a few years, he became Cashier of a local bank. (As noted in another blog, back then the Cashier was an important bank officer.)

According to later accounts, David continued to suffer the ill effects of his time in the mines. Around 1899-1900, he finally had to take some time off. Then, around 1905, he moved to Idaho, which reportedly completed his rest cure. In 1907, Davis founded the First National Bank of American Falls. The bank prospered, and, in 1918, Davis was elected President of the Idaho State Bankers Association.

In 1912, Davis was chosen as a delegate to the Republican National Convention, and then voters elected him to the state Senate. The 1913 session of the legislature passed some key laws, including the creation of a State Board of Education and a Public Utilities Commission.

In 1916, the party selected Davis as their candidate for Governor against a very popular incumbent, Moses Alexander [blog, Nov 13]. Despite a near-total Democratic sweep – they won a majority in both houses of the legislature and all but a handful of executive-branch posts – Davis lost by only 572 votes out of 127,000 cast.
D. W. Davis.
Library of Congress.

Two years later, Davis polled 60 percent of the vote in a successful run for governor. Supported by majorities in both legislative branches, Governor Davis led the state through sweeping changes in how it did business: rewording laws, restructuring and unifying state administrative offices (a badly needed reform), and addressing crucial needs.

The latter included provisions for veterans' welfare, a pension system for teachers, and an extensive road-building program [blog, Mar 13.] In 1919, the Governor also convened a conference that led to the formation of the Western States Reclamation Association. The Association, composed of fifteen states, sought to advise the Federal government on western irrigation projects. Davis was re-elected in 1920, and continued his program of reform and reorganization.

After leaving office, Davis was appointed Commissioner of the U. S. Reclamation Service, soon to the the Bureau of Reclamation. He served only briefly there before being selected as a special assistant to the Secretary of the Interior. He later held other positions in the Department before returning to Idaho. He lived to see enormous change in the state of Idaho, passing away in 1959.
References: [Defen], [Hawley]
“Commissioner of Reclamation Climbs Life’s Ladder,” Reclamation Record, Vol. 14, Nos. 11 and 12, U. S. Bureau of Reclamation, Washington, D.C. (November-December 1923).
"Idaho Governor David William Davis," National Governor's Association.

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