This well-known pioneer of Clayton
county was born in Utica, N.Y., in 1794. His parents
had emigrated thither and carved out a home among the
wilds of that then new country. It was then that Mr.
Davis acquired those habits of industry and frugality
which ever accompanied him through life. Inheriting a
strong physical constitution, and imbued in early
life with pluck and energy, he was well prepared in
after life to meet and battle with the world.
While yet a young man he left his
native State, and after traversing much of this
Western country, he settled in the town of West
Madrid, Mo., but afterward removed to St. Genevieve,
Mo., at that time the capital of Louisiana Territory,
embracing all of the country west of the lakes. St.
Louis at that time was a small village comared with
At St. Genevieve Mr. Davis began the
practice of law, a profession for which he was
evidently well calculated. Here he married, in 1823,
Miss Nancy Wilson, and here his oldest son, L.V.
Davis was born. After several years' residence at St.
Genevieve, during which time he took a conspicuous
part in the politics of the day, he removed to St.
Mary's, a town which he had himself laid out, where
he remained until his removal to Dubuque in 1836.
While in Missouri he was a candidate for the
Legislature on the Whig ticket, but that party being
in the minority, he was defeated. A like fate befell
him some years after, when he was nominated by his
party at Dubuque for a similar position. He was then
thoroughly conversant, as he was up to the time of
his death, with the political questions of the day,
and his acknowledged abilities as a speaker and
debater made him sought for on all public occasions.
One of the principal events of his
life, and one to which his friends point with pride,
was on the occasion of the timber suits in 1850, the
particulars of which the old residents well remember.
A number of settlers had been indicted and arrested
for cutting timber on Government lands, and Mr.
Davis, assisted by Platt Smith, Esp., of Dubuque,
defended the cause for the settlers. It was a matter
in which everybody in the Northwest was deeply
interested. Almost everybody, including prominent
men, made a practice of cutting and using Government
timber, and it may well be imagined that when the
prosecutions began there was an intense excitement
that pervaded not only Dubuque but the entire
Northwest. Indignation meetings were held and the
newspapers were filled with exciting discussions on
the subject. Mr. Davis rose to the full appreciation
of his task as an attorney and as a defender of the
rights of the people. In his speech on the occasion
he referred to the injustice of the prosecutions in
the most impressive and pathetic manner, and when he
alluded to the fact that the Government would have to
tera up the floors of the business houses, the seats
in the churches and school-houses and even the boards
of which the coffins had been made, and which were
constructed of timber taken from Government land, he
certainly struck the most tender cord of popular
sentiment; and the result was an entire acquittal of
the arrested parties, and immense rejoicings among
the sturdy old settlers, in which Mr. Davis was
rightly the hero of the day. Mr. Davis was engaged in
many other important suits among which were several
mining cases which excited equal interest and made
him conspicuous among the bar of the country.
In 1857 he was nominated for Congress
by the Republican party and elected by a handsome
majority. The State was then divided into but two
Congressional districts, and Mr. Davis had a large
constituency to represent. Though then advanced in
years he was a prominent member of the House, an dhis
voice and vote was ever on the right side. He had
been an ardent Whig, but when that party dissolved
and the encroachments of the slave power rallied the
Republican party of the North into existence he
became one of its first adherents, and firmly and
steadfastly defended the cause of freedom.
Mr. Davis, however, was not a mere
politician. He identified himself with all the
substantial interests of the country, and a full
sketch of his life would contain a history of
Northern Iowa. The settlement and development of
Elkader originated with him. He was on a political
tour through Clayton in 1845, and had come to Turkey
River, to the present town site of Elkader, where he
found Elisha Boardman, who showed him the magnificent
water-power and the beautiful town site. Impressed
with its beauty and importance, he returned to
Dubuque and soon after laid the matter before Messrs.
Thompson and Sage, the latter of whom was sent up by
Mr. Thompson to inspect the mill site. He returned
equally pleased with it, and the result was that the
property was bought of Mr. Boardman, and the building
of the mill began the following year.
The honor of naming the town fell to
Mr. Davis. At that time there was great excitement
about the exploits of the Arabian chief, Abd el
Kader, and being an admirer of that daring chieftain,
Mr. Davis named this place Elkader. He was identified
with its interests up to the time of his death. To
him it was always the best place in the State. It had
the best mill, the best stores, the best society and
the best newspapers. He was always a warm defender
when Elkader was assailed, and he lived to see the
home of his adoption rise from the wilderness to one
of the most important towns north of Dubuque.
In 1854 he removed from Dubuque to
Elkader, remaining there till 1857, but after the
death of Mrs. Davis, in the spring of that year, he
returned to Dubuque. In the fall of 1857 he was
married to Mrs. Jane B. O'Farrell, with whom he lived
happily until his death. A few years after his second
marriage, he determined that he could not stay away
from Elkader; so he moved back, built himself a fine
residence, and passed his last years in the sunshine
of his old friends and amidst those nearest and
dearest to him.
He died Sunday, April 27, 1872. He
was sitting on the porch of his residence, engaged in
a lively conversation with John Thompson, his
surviving partner, joking and laughing with him over
old reminiscences, when he suddenly fell back in his
chair, threw up his hands with an exclamation of
"O!" and immediately expired. Mr. Thompson
held him in the chair until the family came to his
assistance, and with their aid carried him into the
house. The funeral ceremonies took place the
following Tuesday, and a large concourse of people
followed his remains to the grave. The business
houses were all closed and sorrow pervaded the whole
He lived a life of usefulness to
himself and fellow-men, and was an active worker for
the development and prosperity of his country. The
State lost in him one of her choicest intellects, the
community an exemplary citizen, and his bereaved wife
and children an affectonate husband and kind father.