John L. Davis biography

JOHN L. DAVIS, a pioneer frontiersman of Western Texas and a veteran of many battles and skirmishes with the red men, is descended from a prominent and honored ancestry of Bourbon county, Kentucky. He was born at Paris, Kentucky, January 1, 1833, but spent much of his youth in St. Louis, Missouri, where he acquired a good common school education. He is a son of Mathias and America (Loring) Davis, who were residents of Bourbon county and were there married. The father is descended from Welsh ancestry, but little is known concerning the early history of the family. The grandfather wasMathias Davis, who was a school teacher and later the publisher of a paper at Paris, Kentucky, where he continued to make his home until his death, which occurred in the year 1833. He was a man of wide acquaintance, whose deference for the opinions of others, genuine worth and honorable principles made him highly respected. His wife, surviving him, removed in the year of his death to St. Louis with her family. Her father engaged in merchandizing and remained in St. Louis until called to his final rest. His daughter, Mrs. Davis, never married again and continued to make St. Louis the place of her abode until she too passed away. The members of the Loring family are: John, who is a tailor by trade; Frank, a brick mason; Charles, a printer; Mary, the wife of B. Martin; and America, the mother of our subject. There were two children born to Mr. and Mrs. Davis, John L. and Elizabeth, twins, but the latter died at the age of five years.

John L. Davis spent the days of his boyhood and youth in St. Louis and after leaving school he learned the plasterer’s trade. In 1854 he went to New Orleans to secure employment and remained for a brief period in the Crescent city, after which he removed to Texas, locating with an uncle, John Loring, in Fannin county. He assisted his uncle with his stock and the following year he went to Fort Arbuckle in the Indian Territory expecting to secure work at his trade there, but he was not successful in this and in consequence he left that place, going to Cooke county, Texas, where he secured work at plastering the house of Col. J. Bourland at Delaware Bend on the Red river, a noted place.

While there Mr. Davis formed the acquaintance of a niece of the colonel, whom he afterward made his wife. In 1856 he removed from Delaware Bend to Gainesville, where he was employed at his trade, and his next place of residence was at Paris, Texas, where he was married. He then returned to Gainesville, where the young couple began their domestic life, and in 1858 they removed to Weatherford, Mr. Davis thus gradually working his way into the cattle country. In the spring of 1859 he removed to Palo Pinto county, with a view of making it his permanent location and engaging in the cattle business there. He located his family at what was to be the county seat, the little hamlet of Palo Pinto then containing only a few houses and a block house or fort. Soon, however, the Indians became very hostile and murders were committed, also many depredations upon the stock. They made raids on the little settlement which was largely composed of men engaged in the cattle business, and it became absolutely necessary for them to live in the forts the greater part of the time or rather to shelter the women and children there while the men looked after the stock. Some of the ranchers were murdered and robbed of their clothing and their bodies mutilated beyond description. Great bravery and fearlessness, however, were displayed by these frontier settlers and the husbands and fathers did everything possible for the safety of their families and for the care of the stock. They formed themselves into a company of minutemen, were thoroughly organized and drilled, having efficient officers, and were ready to respond almost instantly to the call which frequently came in those pioneer days. Again and again the settlers were called out to follow the red men, who were driving off the cattle, and through this organization they saved much of their stock. The first noted raid and fight in the locality was known as the Agency fight and occurred between the minutemen and a band of Kiowa Indians. The settlers followed them to the Agency where the soldiers were stationed—a place in Young county, Texas, and there engaged them in battle. The minutemen were supplied with government guns and ammunition and for two hours a hotly contested engagement followed and the Rangers fought from behind an old rail fence and frequently rails were struck by the bullets, the splinters flying in all directions, but none of the minutemen were injured and after two hours withdrew from the fight. The raids continued with every full moon, it seeming that the Indians always chose that time of the month for their depredations. The next important raid in which Mr. Davis participated was concluded with the battle of Pease river, where Cynthia Ann Parker was retaken after being held in captivity for thirty-three years by the Comanche Indians, the place of this engagement being in what is now Foard county. Col. Ross in his report to Governor Sam Houston concerning the Pease river raid and the battle which ensued, said that he had forty men in his command with Sergeant Spangler of Camp Cooper in command of twenty cavalry troops belonging to Company H, and that soon afterward they were joined by Captain Jack Curington with ninety-two citizens or Rangers, who were well trained and were brave soldiers. They took up the march on the 19th of December, 1860, reached the village, where they had a fight, routing the entire camp and killing twelve Indians with no casualty to the white men. Among the Indians killed was the chief of the Comanche tribe, Peta Nocona, the husband of Cynthia Ann Parker. During the engagement Lieutenant Kelleher saw an Indian mounted on a fleet pony and in advance of all others. He supposed the person to be a warrior bold and started in hot pursuit, eager for a single-handed contest, but after a race of two miles he came up with the person he had been pursuing and was just in the act of firing when a white woman, whose face, however was sunburned red, held up her baby and cried “American.” It proved to be Cynthia Ann Parker, who had been taken captive in 1827 at the massacre of Fort Parker in Limestone county, Texas, when eight years of age. She had been reared by the tribe and the chief, Peta Nocona, made her his wife. She had almost forgotten all of the English that she knew and she was never reconciled to a lie among the white people again, although after this she was cared for through her remaining days by an uncle, Isaac Parker. The child in her arms soon afterward died and five years later she passed away, leaving, however, another child, Quanah Parker, who is now chief of the Comanche tribe and resides in Indian Territory, where is a wealthy and very prominent citizen. The Parker family were honored pioneer settlers of Texas and were leading and influential people there.

Mr. Davis was one of the escorts of Cynthia Ann Parker from the battlefield at Camp Cooper and he and his companions continued their raids and fights until the opening of the rebellion, when he enlisted for service in the Confederate army in Alexander’s regiment. He and two other men who had families were detailed to drive and handle beef cattle for the government and this was the duty which engaged his attention until the close of the war. The Indian stealing and the ravages of war left him with all to make and nothing more to lose. It was necessary that he find a source of providing a living for his family, and in the fall of 1865 he removed to Weatherford, where he engaged there until 1869. In that year he removed to St. Louis, Missouri, where he worked at his trade, but in the fall of the same year he returned to Cooke county, Texas, where he purchased a farm and raised two crops. Subsequently he removed to Paris and later returned to Cooke county, settling on a farm. By this time he had purchased a number of cattle and he invested all of his money with the Red River Cattle Company and went to Archer county. Later the company failed and he was again left without resources. In 1881 he removed to the town of Montague, where he continued until 1891, when he removed to Nocona, where he engaged in cotton weighing for two years. He then received the appointment of postmaster under President Cleveland and served for four years, at the end of which time he engaged in the confectionery business and subsequently was a salesman in a harness and saddlery establishment, where he yet continues. He now has a commodious residence at Nocona and he and his wife are enjoying the fruits of his earnest toil there.

In 1856 Mr. Davis was united in marriage to Miss Mildred J. Bourland, who as born in Red River county, in what was then the Republic of Texas, on the 24th day of December, 1839. She is a lady of intelligence and culture, who has been a worthy wife and good helpmate. She is descended from an honored pioneer family of the Republic and is a daughter of John M. and Nancy (Hood) Bourland, both of whom are natives of Kentucky, where they were married. On removing from that state in 1838 they took up their abode in the new republic of Texas, securing a large tract of land in Red River county, where the father improved a farm. Three years later he removed to Lamar county, where he purchased land and made another farm and eventually he bought land in Fannin county, becoming the owner of extensive realty holdings there. He also figured prominently in public life, serving as high sheriff of Lamar county. He was a leading Democrat of the community, prominent and popular as an official and as a private citizen and he was closely identified with the development and early history of the Republic. His acquaintance was extensive and he was highly esteemed because of his integrity and honor, which were above reproach. His father, Benjamin Bourland, was a native of South Carolina, where he was married and some of his children were born, after which he removed to North Carolina and eventually to Kentucky, then called the new Kentucky purchase, for it was shortly after Daniel Boone had made his explorations in that section of the country. There his children grew to manhood and womanhood and re remained a resident of that state until he removed to Texas and took up his abode in Fannin county, where his remaining days were passed. He was of Scotch-Irish lineage and displayed many of the sterling traits of the two races in his life work. His two sons had preceded him to Texas, John M. Bourland becoming a resident of the state in 138 and James in 1839. Both were actively associated with many events which formed the history of the Republic and of the commonwealth. James Bourland, familiarly known as Colonel Bourland, after arriving at years of maturity was married in Kentucky to Miss Catherine Wells and removed to Weakly county, Tennessee, where he engaged in buying and selling slaves and dealing in horses. He took the latter to Alabama and Mississippi and later he engaged with others in handling race horses but, meeting with financial reverses, he came to Texas in 1839 to recuperate from his losses and make another start. Northern Texas was then settled as far west as Paris and he found two families there, Col. G. W. Wright and Claiborne Chisholm living with their families in that locality. Col. Bourland engaged in surveying, acting as deputy and after a year he formed a county south of Honey Grove, where he settled. During his residence there he had many encounter with the Indians. President Sam Houston made him collector of duties up and down the Red river to the Louisiana line and there he had trouble with the United States government officials, whereupon they tied him and forcibly took the goods from his custom house, for which offense the United States government afterward to the Republic of Texas twenty-six thousand dollars. Subsequently James K. Polk was elected president and Texas was annexed to the United States. When in the Mexican war General Taylor asked for aid while fighting near Matamoras. Col. W. C. Young and Col. James Bourland recruited a regiment of a thousand men and marched to San Antonio, where they were mustered into service and all of the troops with the exception of those under command of Col. Bourland went to Matamoras. General Taylor, however, directed him to return to San Antonio, where it was expected that he would find General Wool, and for him to perform service in that locality. Before General Wool arrived, however, Col. Harvey took the regiment and four companies of dragoons and crossed the Rio Grande without orders. General Wool ordered him to return and to give up the regiment to Col. Young and Col. Bourland. Congress had passed an act that all enlisted soldiers must join the army for five years or during the war. The officers of the troops became dissatisfied with the management and disbanded, but some re- enlisted, joining other regiments and continued through the war, while the colonels and some of the men returned home. Later Col. Bourland was elected to the state senate and served with distinction, after which removed to Cooke county and settled a large farm at Delaware Bend, where he remained until the ordinance of secession was passed by the state. He took a conspicuous part in the proceedings there and in the second year of the war he organized a regiment for the protection of the property, patrolling up and down Red river in order to prevent attacks by Indians upon the homes of the settlers, having many skirmishes with the red men. During those days his regiment was stationed at Gainesville, where great excitement prevailed. Many men were accused of disloyalty and quite a number were hung. Col. Bourland was wrongfully accused of stirring up agitation and his life was threatened. In company with Col. Young he was going on horseback to his farm when from an ambush some one shot at Col. Bourland but hid and killed Col. Young. Subsequent to the close of the war Col. Bourland spent his remaining days upon the old homestead farm in Texas.

John B. Bourland was equally public spirited and identified with the early development and history of the state. In his family were thirteen children: Martha; Pauline; James.; Angeline; Mary, who died in childhood; Benjamin; Mildred, the wife of Mr. Davis; Cynthia M.; William; Nomely; George; Reuben; and Charles.

To the family of Mr. and Mrs. Davis there came six children: America B., who is now Mrs. Bulkley of Foard county, Texas; John L., residing in Custer county, Oklahoma; Scott B., the wife of G. M. Bush of Nocona; Donnie, who died at the age of fifteen years; William, of Fort Smith, Arkansas; and Frederick L., who is associated with a large wholesale house in St. Louis. Mrs. Davis is a consistent Methodist and an earnest and interested worker in the church. Mr. Davis is a stalwart Democrat and while in Cooke county filled the office of constable and deputy sheriff. He too is a devoted Methodist and he likewise belongs to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, in which he has filled all of the chairs and served as a representative to the grand lodge.

Source: B. B. Paddock, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906), Vol. I, pp. 133-136.