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Edward H. Davis

Edward Henry and Esther Arbon Davis

Samuel Deer Davis was the first Davis in the Bannock Valley. He came from the Samaria, Idaho area with two other men and applied for a water right on Crow Creek in 1892.  After that he seemed to disappear from Arbon Valley but made history in other areas as a prominent lawyer who fought against Idaho’s attempt to disenfranchise members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

However, other men with the surname Davis came into the valley and farmed for several generations, even into the early 2000s.  One of these was Edward Henry Davis, who married the daughter of George Arbon, the man for whom the valley is named today. It is not known at this time how or if Samuel and Edward Davis were related but they both came from Samaria and are presumed to be related.

Edward Henry Davis was born 4 April 1873 in Samaria, to parents David Price Davis and Elizabeth Griffiths.  Both his parents were immigrants from Wales. Edward’s parents married in 1870, with his mother the fourth wife in a polygamous family, a marital arrangement which was common in Utah and southeastern Idaho at that time. Edward was the sixth child of his parents’ union, and he eventually had ten full siblings. He also had at least four half siblings from his father’s other families.

Edward married Esther Rebecca Arbon on 25 September 1892 in Pleasantview, Oneida, Idaho, a small settlement just a few miles west of Malad and north of Samaria. They were both nineteen years old. Esther was the daughter of George Arbon, Edward’s companion in first coming into the valley, and who was an influence on getting Edward to homestead there. At the time Ed and Esther moved to the valley in 1894, they had one son, Edward Arbon Davis, born in 1892, and Esther was pregnant with a baby that was due in October of that same year, Sarah Maude Davis.

The couple eventually had four more children. These were Ernest Ray, 1899; Orval Clarence, 1902; George Arbon Davis, 1905 (named in honor of Esther’s father); and Elizabeth Pearl, 1910.

That wives and families came to settle in 1894 was an event that is easily overlooked as being insignificant. However, women were vital in the western frontier movement as they helped establish social organizations more quickly, such as schools, churches, and wholesome entertainment. With these early families, social organizations changed Arbon Valley from a frontier to a settlement. 

Homesteading was not for the weak. According to another homesteader’s account (David John Bowen, who kept a personal journal), in addition to planting and harvesting, it entailed digging the irrigation ditch, cutting cedar posts for fencing, hauling fencing logs and house logs, building cabins and outbuildings, plowing ground in preparation for farming, grubbing out sagebrush, hauling water, hauling the harvest to town (either Malad or Pocatello, which was a three to four day endeavor), and caring for the horses and cattle and other livestock – the work was never ending.  In addition, families had livestock to feed through the winter months, and chickens and hogs to raise at home, in addition to raising Arbon Valley’s most enduring crop – children.

Ed build a one-room cabin with a dirt floor just west of his father-in-law’s place. Esther sprinkled this floor with water and swept it clean several times a day, and soon the dirt was packed more like cement. Like everyone else, their homesteading existence in the valley was meager. Cold hard cash was scarce, as it usually is in any newly opened country. Ed often had to leave to take paying jobs outside of the valley and would be gone for weeks at a time. Esther remembered that quite often the native peoples would stop by to ask for food, and even though she never had any trouble, she was especially nervous when Ed was gone from home. 

Something so easy to take for granted today was always a challenge during homesteading days.  Esther was always careful to take buckets in the morning to dip water from the irrigation canal before the cattle got into it higher upstream. She put the buckets into the cool cellar for use later in the day, giving time for the dirt to settle to the bottom.

These original families shared what resources they had. Together they bought enough wire for each to fence a small portion of land in order to plant wheat and keep cattle out of it. Mr. D. J. Bowen had an implement called an Osborne dropper, which the pioneers used to cut the grain when it was ready, helping each other on harvest crews.  This first crop was too short to bind into sheaves, which was the tradition way to harvest the grain and the straw at that time.  They also got a thresher from Samaria where the men had come from; this threshing machine was brought down through Mine Canyon into the valley. Despite all their hopes and efforts, the crops were not very good that year, but they got better the next year, instilling more hope in the homesteaders.

When harvest was over, all the families except Esther’s father, George Arbon and her brother Joseph, returned to the Malad Valley for the winter. The winter of 1894-95 was the first anyone, white or native,  stayed in the valley, and since that time, someone has always “wintered through.”   At this time there was still a lot of strife with the cattlemen, who did not want to see the valley settled by farmers with their fences. The cattlemen were convinced that grain could not grow in the valley due to its elevation, low precipitation and frequent summertime frosts.

These early settlers were willing to help each other get ahead, and had foresight. They quickly formed the Bannock Valley Irrigation Company, filed on 18 March 1895, in Samaria. Edward Davis had 4 3/5 shares. They were diligent in digging canals for water out of Knox Canyon, and in a few years the canal got down to where the Bowen family lived (on the road now known as Bowen Lane).  Later on when the Arbon Irrigation Company was formed in 1910, Edward Davis was a charter member with fifteen shares.

Ed Davis is credited with discovering the farming method of “summer fallowing” in the valley.  He let a small field lie idle one year when he had too much to do to plant it in time, and the next year he realized that the crops were a lot better than they were in other fields. However, summer fallowing was a luxury for many years when most homesteaders were trying to make a living off their 160 acres, which was the average size allotted by the government for a homestead.

Edward Davis served his community in many ways. In August 1900 a ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized in the valley, with ten families and few single men. Ed Davis served as a counselor in the first bishopric. Then from 1914 to 1916 he served as the bishop of the Arbon Ward (this is now a branch). The ward met only during in the summer months for several decades before it was a year-round branch, as families left in the winter to provide education for their children.

In 1909, the Walter Nunnelley came from Kentucky to take up land in Arbon Valley. That winter was very severe. The Nunnelley family ran out of food for their stock and they “didn’t know what to do. Things surely looked bad. One afternoon we saw someone coming from the North. It was Joe Arbon and Ed Davis. Mr. Arbon had a load of hay, and Mr. Davis had their families and some groceries. They stayed all night and we danced and sang. The Nunelleys never forgot those wonderful people. A truly lasting friendship was enjoyed” (Bannock Valley, p. 267).  This example of generosity and concern for each other continues amongst the valley people today.

Ed Davis opened a store in Arbon in 1910. It was the best in the valley up to that time. According to the book, Bannock Valley, he “opened a general merchandising store and most of the residents of the valley patronized this store. It was very well supplied with staples.” This store was a small, square building with a false front typical of the times.  It was close to the Davis home so the family could carry on their daily family activities and then clerk in the store whenever any customers pulled up in their wagon or on horseback. He also sold gasoline and kerosene.

Being a new settlement area, Arbon Valley was home to many people short on cold hard cash. Many of these homesteaders went through eleven months of the year without any cash, only getting cash when they sold their crops – if there were any to sell. Edward Davis gave credit to many homesteaders who possibly would not have been able to get through the year without his help. According to Bannock Valley, “One of the early settlers, Kate Lee, who corresponded with [Ed’s daughter] Sarah…would remark in her letters how grateful she was to Ed Davis for letting them have credit. She said they would have starved without that credit.” In addition, “he was always good to the Indians at the store and this paid off later when he had cattle on the reservation. He never had trouble with them” (page 60).

In 1915, the Davis Store was pivotal during a tragedy that happened in Arbon. Julian Maes (or “Mays”) was a homesteader who became obsessed with another homesteader, twenty-six-year old Esther Westcott. She took up her homestead in 1914 and had resided in the valley with her two young children, a boy five years old and a daughter seven years old. Mrs. Westcott was married but separated from her husband at the time of this tragedy.[i] At noon on 24 January 1915, Julian, who was in love with Esther, shot her as she was running across a field trying to escape him. He then shot himself and ironically fell with his body over hers. In the meantime, Esther’s children had run for help from the nearest neighbors.  Both bodies were taken to the Ed Davis’s store.[ii]   This violent incident was quite a shock to the people in the valley, as Julian was well-liked and even just that morning had visited around with neighbors and seemed absolutely normal.

Edward Henry Davis died on 28 June 1945 at age seventy-two in Pocatello, Bannock, Idaho.  He was buried in the Mountain View Cemetery in Pocatello. Esther moved into a Pocatello duplex. She passed away 5 April 1954 and was buried in Pocatello next to Edward.

Ed and Esther’s oldest child, Edward Arbon Davis, farmed in the valley until the late 1960s. His brother Orval’s only child, Norm Davis, who was Edward Henry Davis’ grandson, ran the farm until the early 2000s.  

For those looking for a location, go west one mile on Church Road to where it converges with Bailey Road.  That is the location of the Davis ranch. The Davis Store was across the road to the west.

Sources:

Ward, Laurie Jean, Bannock Valley (Providence, Utah: Keith Watkins and Sons, 1982).

https://www.familysearch.org/tree/person/details/KWCR-JS6

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/43060840/edward-h-davis

The links provided here will lead to links for other family members.


[i] Esther’s maiden name was Oleson. She was a native of Denmark who came to Idaho by way of Nebraska.  A newspaper account of this tragedy stated she was separated from her husband at the time of her death, but her mother wrote on Esther’s death certificate that Esther was a widow.  However, in 1930, Esther’s son was living with his father, Fred Westcott, who was still very much alive and living in Omaha, so Esther was not widowed at the time of her death.  Her body was taken to American Falls and later to Pocatello, where she was buried in Mountain View Cemetery.

[ii] Julian was buried in the field just west of the cemetery, it being the prevailing custom of the day that murderers and suicides not be buried in hallowed ground.  Julian was both a murderer and a suicide. His exact grave location is not known; it is farmed over every year. Julian had left a note in his cabin leaving his land and any assets to Esther’s children for their support, proving that his actions were premeditated.