Week 23: #52 Ancestors – Namesake
By Eilene Lyon
My great-grandfather was the fourth child born to Melville Cox Davis and Sarah Rebecca Livengood in Elmwood, Saline County, Missouri, on December 15, 1867. A few months earlier, Sterling Price, former governor of Missouri and Confederate General, had passed away.
Because the Davises were from North Carolina, former slave owners, and Melville fought for the Confederacy, they named their newborn son Sterling Price Davis. Though he never experienced the war, slavery, or any part of the confederate world, Great-grandfather was saddled with that southern name for life.
My grandmother, Clare Davis Smith, wrote the following story about her dad, which I have lightly edited. It seems fitting to share now, because I will be meeting some of my cousins from the Davis side of the family, and visiting the old homestead and Moscow farm later this month.
My Father – Sterling Price Davis
I have many fond memories of my father. When I knew him he was middle aged and bald (married at 37). I know from family pictures he was tall, dark and handsome as a young man.
He was born in Saline County, Missouri, December 15, 1867, to a hard-working farm family who were southern sympathizers, hence his name, Sterling Price. There were ten children – six boys and four girls. All lived to maturity, which was no small accomplishment in those days.
The Davises moved to northern Idaho in 1885. A farm and woodland on Texas Ridge had been purchased by the father and oldest son Charles who had come on ahead. They chose terrain similar to their Missouri land – with water and a wood lot. In 1886 the family made the move by railroad.
The horses and cattle were herded from the Moscow rail stop to the new home, and the household goods hauled by wagon. The men of the family built a sturdy home and in the years ahead the Davises were considered one of the “first” families on the ridge.
In 1893 a young woman (age 16) came to the Ridge one year to teach school. Sterling proposed to Clara at the time but she had plans for further education and that romance was put on hold. Many years and events passed before they met again and married 12 years later.
I was born nine years later – seven years after the only other child – a sister, June.
Besides being a farmer, my father was expert with horses. He did some buying for a livery stable in Moscow when he moved to that town. During his life all farming was done with horses. He often would buy some scrawny-looking piece of horseflesh and by good care and feeding develop it into a fine horse.
He was particularly proud of a Standard and Morgan saddle horse that he broke and trained himself into a fine six-gaited riding horse. “Cy” (short for Cyclone) was ridden at the head of the annual Ag Parade put on by the University of Idaho.
I dearly loved everything about the farm, particularly anything that my father happened to be doing. I followed him everywhere I possibly could, and he seemed glad to take me along when conditions allowed. I spent many hours riding behind him on Cy when he rode about his work on the farm.
It was my pleasure to be around where he was working, and when I got older (five or six) he would send me to the tool shed for some piece of equipment he needed. His care and storage of his tools was so methodical that he could tell me exactly where to find it.
Tools were valuable and he tended his with care. A spade was never put away unless it was shiny clean – probably polished off with a bit of corn cob. Axes were sharp and the handles tight. All tool handles were clean and oiled. The harnesses and saddles got their maintenance cleaning with saddle soap and oil.
My father could cook a good meal. I especially remember his baking powder biscuits – for breakfast with butter and honey blended together. I think we ate beans often, both small white and brown navy ones with salt pork. He liked green onions and usually pulled and trimmed fresh ones for supper.
He was a good neighbor and helped out when needed. It was customary then to trade work with neighboring farmers when an extra hand was necessary. His farming methods were good. He looked down on a farmer who left the clods too large in a field. In later years his main crop was alfalfa hay – which he sold entirely to the University of Idaho Ag Farm.
His formal education was through the 4th grade only, but he was an avid reader (especially the Saturday Evening Post) and could do whatever figuring he needed to do.
In the summertime, we used to play croquet on the front yard – I won’t say lawn because by that time the grass had dried up. I’m sure he played many a game when he would probably have been resting. The yard and farmyard were always neat, as he allowed no unnecessary items to collect.
Our home was on a hill which afforded a good view of Moscow (six miles away). On July 4th we had a marvelous view of the fireworks. One year the town fathers must have collected more money than usual because the firework display was unforgettable.
I mentioned my father’s love for horses. He never was comfortable driving an automobile, though he was finally forced to buy one. It was a 1915 Dodge touring car, and I’m sure he never got it up over 30 mph.
The years that my father had to spend the winter alone on the farm batching it were very hard, I know. When he could get away, he would spend a few nights in town. Someone had to be lined up to take care of the stock at the farm. He rode the saddle horse into town and back. (In those days people had barns in town). Several times I would go out to the farm for the weekend to keep him company.
My mother did not want my father to smoke, so he quit, but took up chewing instead, which was no improvement. I think he smoked some when he was alone on the farm, because he developed a few beginning lip cancers. Those did not seem to reappear, but he later developed cancer of the colon which caused his death January 1, 1933.
Dad was not one for going out socially unless it was just to visit friends. He did not attend church, saying he had no use for ministers. This probably stemmed from some incident either in Missouri or something involving a circuit riding minister in the west. I do not know the reason. However no church member was more upright than my father. He had many good friends among the neighbors.
My father used to entertain us rarely with his fiddling on the violin. “The Arkansas Traveler” was his favorite tune. I heard that in his younger days he used to play for the local country dances.
A New Namesake
Meet Sterling the Dog!
Sterling Price Davis on Ancestry.com
Feature image: View from the Davis’s Moscow farm (E. Lyon 2013)