Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Boise Developers and Patrons Thomas J. Davis and Wife Julia [otd 01/02]

T. J. Davis. J. H. Hawley.
On January 2, 1837,* Boise pioneer Thomas Jefferson Davis was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. His father died when Thomas was a boy, so he and a brother were indentured to an Illinois farmer. Before June 1860 (they were not listed with the household for the 1860 census), the farmer rewarded their years of labor by outfitting them for a trip to the West. They ended up heading for the newly-discovered Idaho gold fields.

Unscrupulous guides led their wagon train into impossible country in the Lemhi area. The scammers hoped the party would abandon their vehicles and supplies, or sell them for a pittance. Instead, the angry gold-seekers loaded what they could onto the draft animals and burned everything else. After considerable hardship, they found their way to Elk City.

However, by the time they arrived, the “bloom” had gone off the North Idaho rush. Thus, after a brief period in Washington and Oregon, Davis headed for Idaho City. He prospected “with fair results,” but decided that supplying the miners offered more certain returns. In late 1862, he moved to a homestead along the Boise River. The following spring, he dug a system of irrigation ditches and planted onions, cabbages and potatoes.

A few months later, Major Pinkney Lugenbee selected a site for Fort Boise [blog July 4]. Davis then became one of the founders of Boise City, with part of his homestead being inside the new townsite. (Over the years, the city grew to encompass his entire property.)

Davis prospered by selling vegetables and fruit locally and in the mining districts. The apple orchard he planted in 1864 returned substantial profits for some 35 years before the groves gave way to urban growth.

He also branched out into stock raising. His cowboys herded horses across ranges from near the Snake River all the way into Nevada. They kept his fine herd of Hereford cattle on pastures southeast of Boise City. Ahead of his time, Davis also owned several hundred acres of winter forage land in the Boise Valley and the hills further north. He not only fed his own herds, he supplied the Army at Fort Boise.

A strong Boise City booster, Thomas owned considerable real estate, was partner in a large mercantile store, held stock in at least two banks, and had many other investments in and around the city. A leader in the state Republican Party, Davis chose not to run for public office himself.

Julia Davis. J. H. Hawley.
Still, Davis was more than just a man of affairs. He loved music, played the violin, and served in the Boise City band in the early days. In April 1871, he married Julia McCrumb, a native of Ontario, Canada and niece of an Army surgeon stationed at Fort Boise. She became renowned as a gracious hostess and warm “greeter” to Boise newcomers. In her name, Tom Davis bequeathed a grand legacy to the city of Boise.

After she died, in September 1907, Davis gave a tract of land along the Boise River to the city. He stipulated that the bequest should be maintained as a public area under the name Julia Davis Park. He survived his wife by less than nine months. Today Julia Davis Park – now more than doubled in size – is the crown jewel of Boise’s extensive system of public spaces.

* The Davis biographies list 1838 as his birth year, but he gave several different ages to successive census takers. He was most likely born in 1836 or 1837.
References: [French], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
Julia Davis Park,

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