Monday, April 4, 2011



Stop! Do not think the man above is Joseph Clinton Davis. It is not. Old Joseph is in his tomb. This fellow, for the time being, can remain anonymous. It is the tomb that is what I want to call to your attention. There is a family story about old Joe that needs telling.

He is the husband who deserted his wife, Nellie Stevens Davis, and their child Jessie, my grandma. The family story was that when Jessie went to school all the kids made fun of her because she didn't have a "real" father. You may remember from yesterday's story that her mom had remarried and Jessie was raised by Jim Eungard, her stepfather. The story continues that one day she came home from kindergarten crying and she hid under the bed, telling her mother she was sad that she didn't have a "real" daddy. She refused to come out. When Jim came home from work, he laid on the floor beside the bed and told little Jessie that he would always be there for her and that he loved her. Reassured, Jessie came out from under the bed and lived happily ever after with Jim as her "real" father.

So now look at the bottom of the tombstone above. Can you make out what it says? How about "In Sacred Memory of My Father." Joseph Clinton Davis had only one wife and one daughter in his lifetime, and that one daughter was my grandma Jessie. The way the family told the story, Jessie never knew her natural father. The tombstone says otherwise. And in my research, I certainly learned that the family story was fairly skewed.

For a long time I doubted that a marriage between Joseph and Nellie had even taken place. There was no marriage certificate on file in the county (Rice County, Kansas) where they lived, so I figured there was an unexpected pregnancy -- it happened in those days too. One day in looking at a map, I happened to notice that the county seat of Rice was a far piece from where the Davises and the Stevenses lived, but the neighboring county seat (for Barton County) was just a stone's throw. I checked that county seat and sure enough, there was a marriage! So much for that theory!

Later I found the divorce papers back in the Rice County Courthouse. Between the time of the divorce (1887) and 1910 there is no record anywhere of Joseph C. Davis. Here's where the man in the photo above comes in. This old photo was in a family album my mother had kept, and I knew the man to be my great grandfather, who lived in Colorado Springs. So checking the cemeteries there, I was able to pinpoint the location of the tombstone.

Colorado Springs Penrose Library has indexed their old newspapers, and I found two ads from the Colorado City Iris placed by JCD. The first one on September 9, 1910, announced that he had bought the Spot Cash Grocery, and the second that he was opening it on October 21, 1910. An article followed that said J. C. Davis was from Meeker, Colorado. Apparently that was where he had been since he "deserted." (His death certificate said he'd been in Colorado for some 31 years.)

In March of 1916 the Colorado City Independent printed the following obituary:

Davis: J. C. Davis, formerly the proprietor of the "Spot Cash" grocery in Colorado City, died Monday morning at St. Francis Hospital after a long illness. His sister, Mrs. Fannie McClure of Humboldt, Arizona came Tuesday, and his son-in-law, Mr. Ryland from Kansas. The funeral was held Thursday morning from the Boone Mortuary. Rev. Stuntz officiating. Miss Fanning sang several selections. Interment in Fairview Cemetery.

The Mr. Ryland (actually Byrd W. Ryland) from Kansas was my Grandma Jessie's husband. The man at the tombstone was Byrd's father and Jessie's father-in-law. As nearly as I can judge, Jessie had known her natural father for most of her life, which of course was not at all what the family story led us to believe.

J. C. Davis left a will and in it stated that Jessie was his only heir. Jessie's father-in-law was executor of the will, and Jessie was left some $3,000.00.

This is probably as much of the story as I will ever know. And it just goes to confirm that one shouldn't try to drive a stake in on old treasured family stories!

RIP, Great-grandpa Joe.

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