Saturday, July 7, 2018

Miner, Store Owner, and Dairyman Francis Marion “Frank” Davis [otd 07/07]

Francis Marion Davis was born on July 7, 1838 near Monmouth, Illinois, about 55 miles west and a bit north of Peoria. He lost his father when he was a boy, so he and his brother Thomas lived with and worked for a farm family there. Thomas is covered in my blog for January 2. As explained in that article, the young men headed west in 1860, probably in the spring.
F. M. “Frank” Davis. [Illust-State]

Whatever their initial plans were, at some point they learned of the new gold discoveries in what would become northern Idaho [blog, October 2]. They joined a large party traveling to the gold country. Victims of a swindle in central Idaho, they arrived at Elk City in July 1862 on pack animals with almost no supplies. By then, all the best prospects had been claimed, and many were already played out.

So they went to Walla Walla for supplies and prospected in Oregon and then in the Boise Basin. After awhile, they decided they could do better supplying the camps with fresh vegetables. So they claimed land in the Boise Valley and planted crops. Profits from their early sales of onions, cabbages and potatoes proved that their plan was sound.

Thus, they were there in July 1863 when Major Pinkney Lugenbeel picked a site for his fort [blog, July 4]. A few days later, a group of pioneers gathered in the Thomas Davis cabin to platt a town near the fort. Oddly enough, six lots were assigned to “F. M. Davis” but none to Tom. (Davis almost always went by “F. M.” or “Frank,” rather than Francis.) That was most likely a formality since it’s known that Frank remained a partner in Tom’s fruit ranch for several years.

In 1864, the brothers and two other partners imported seven thousand apple trees for the ranch. That investment paid off handsomely when the trees began to bear fruit. In 1870, Frank purchased a stock of merchandise and opened a hardware store on Main Street. That might have been when he sold his interest in the apple farm. However, he only seems to have kept the store for about a year.

That was because he was also running, with a partner, a business that dealt in milk and butter. In 1873, he took sole ownership of the dairy concern, which flourished under his management. Thus, in late 1875 and early 1876, he purchased a quarter section of land near the city and established a full dairy operation.

A year later, the Idaho Statesman reported that Frank had sold “a splendid piece of property” on Grove Street. That was probably to finance improvements to his farm. By 1880, he was heavily advertising his “choicest quality” milk and butter. Nor was that just advertising fluff. According to reports, he had “an enviable reputation for the excellence of his dairy products.”
Dairy Herd, ca. 1890. National Archives.

With the business going so well, in 1884 Frank had a fine new home built for his family. That fall, the Statesman editor visited the place and declared that it was “the best and most costly farm residence in the county.” Observers were equally impressed with his barns and other equipment for a modern, first-class dairy.

Francis “Frank” Davis passed away rather suddenly in March 1891. While not so well off as his brother, he left an estate that would be valued at about $2 million in modern terms. He was held in such high regard that, thirty years after his death, memorials still lauded his “sterling worth” and his prominent role as an Idaho pioneer.
References: [French], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
“[F. M. Davis News],” Idaho Statesman, Boise (May 1870 – March 1891).
“First Platt of Boise City,” Eighth Biennial Report of the Board of Trustees of the State Historical Society of Idaho, Boise (1922).
“Will of Francis M. Davis,” Probate Court of Ada County, State of Idaho, Record Book [hand-written], Boise, Idaho (1891).

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