The Botanist

Week 20: #52 Ancestors – Nature

By Eilene Lyon

You’ve met my great-grandmother, Clara Ransom Davis in several earlier posts. Clara moved to Idaho as a teen and attended Moscow High School, becoming a teacher at 16, while still in school herself. She attended the University of Idaho, and graduated with the third class in 1898. She continued teaching and was the Latah County Superintendent of Schools from 1902 until her marriage in 1905.

Clara Ransom, right front, with her graduating class in 1898. (University of Idaho Special Collections)*

Losing her career due to discrimination against married women was a terrible blow to Clara. Instead, she continued to build her real estate portfolio and managed her rental properties in Moscow. She later went back to the university and obtained her Master’s degree in botany in 1922.

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Clara’s grandson expressed to me her great love of nature. She was always quizzing her grandchildren on the names of the wildflowers growing around the family farm. Clara also took up watercolor painting, using it to create many botanical sketches, among other subjects.

Prior to marrying Sterling Price Davis, at 28, Clara took up a homestead near Orofino. Her brother, Arthur L. Ransom, had also taken a claim and encouraged her. Apparently, Arthur never “proved up” his homestead, but Clara did. No doubt this untamed land provided her with colorful specimens to sketch.

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She wrote a story about homesteading that includes some of her observations on the beautiful landscape and its occupants. Describing the journey to her land, she wrote:

“We rode sixty-five miles on horseback over those wonderful foothills of the mountains, studded here and there with groves of pine and fir trees. The road was not much more than a trail, clinging in places to the bare and rocky banks of the river where we could look down over steep bluffs of brownish red and hazy purple and yellow to the water several hundred feet below. Then the paths dipped into canyons where small streams flowed toward the main river or wound through bunches of cool growing cedars, the way deep in rotted wood and leaf mold.”

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She spent summers on the homestead, and even ventured to spend one Christmas at her little cabin. She went on to share a few wildlife sightings:

“We enjoyed the woods and the creatures of the forest. One morning we stepped out of the cabin and there, within fifty feet, stood a doe and her fawn. She stood gazing at us a moment and when we made the first move, she was away and gone. Across the canyon a tiny white signal moving caught the eye. It was the flipping short tail of a deer.

“Once while wandering we came upon a weak, snarling cat, too large for the domestic variety and of a different tawny color. It was the starving baby of a wildcat whose mother had been killed. We could only dispatch it to put it out of it’s misery. Often across our path would wriggle the rattler, never dangerous if given the right of way. They will scurry away at the first sight of a human.

“We’d slip up to the pools in the little mountain stream and see the lazy trout slowly moving at the bottom; but throw your fly in and a dart was made for it! One expert with the line often drew out a three-pounder.”


Clara used her homestead land, and another 80 acres she acquired from the government, to finance the education of her two daughters and niece, passing on a legacy of education that persists to this day. Four more generations of women (so far) have benefited from her example and foresight.


Clara Ransom’s homestead patent. Click on image to see a larger version

Clara Ransom Davis passed on a love of nature to her descendants. They have worked in dairy farming, for the Forest Service, in environmental consulting, and more. I took up the study of plants long before I learned all this about my ancestor. I wonder if my interest in botany is genetic?


Feature image: All watercolors by Clara Ransom Davis. (Botanical illustrations courtesy D. Wickward. Framed watercolor from the collection of S. Halse, photo by E. Lyon 2013.)

*Other graduates in the Class of ’98 (L to R): Ollie M. McConnell (Mrs. Max Lueddemann), Charles Simpson, Edward Smith, Margaret McCallie (Mrs. Fred Cushing Moore), Lola Margaret Knepper, Marcus Whitman Barnett.

30 thoughts on “The Botanist

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  1. Through all the change in the world, plants and their uses are an ever interesting study. Nature is a dwindling art in this concrete world of convenience. Great post again Eilene.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I think I would have liked to have met Clara. She seems to have been a very talented and intelligent woman. I wonder, also, if there is some genetic disposition in the interests we have and choices we make. When you learn of ancestors that held similar paths, it makes you wonder!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I wish I had met her, too. She wasn’t a nurturing sort, I understand, but she was strong-willed. Her grandfather seems to have had some interest in plants, and I’ll bet her mother knew a thing or two about medicinal herbs.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The sketches are beautiful. The photo of the graduating class is wonderful. I adore the homestead patent. I’ve never seen anything like it but if Theodore Roosevelt approved it, it has to be good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! All those homestead patents sport presidential approval, but of course were actually signed by one secretary or another. I have the original patent for the other 80 acres Clara got. When my mom gave it to me, she said “It’s signed by Teddy Roosevelt!!”

      Liked by 1 person

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