Monday, September 1, 2014

C Davis Blacksmith, St Johns, Arizona Territory

Research   (ˈrēˌsərCH)

Noun - The systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions...


There really can be no Family History without research. Occasionally, and possibly more often then we want to consider, what we term family history research has really been nothing more than a reliance on family tradition, the postulations of disconnected, though well-intentioned, individuals, and a lack of perspective.

The first problem, over-relying on family tradition, can be seen in the light of a simple elementary school game. In this simple game the teacher whispers a pure unaltered story into the ear of a student. Upon receiving the story that student then repeats its into the ear of the next student, who then repeats it to the next student, and so on, and so on, until it reaches the last student's ear. Without fail, discombobulation of the facts occur in this orally transmitted story, which is exponentially expanded by the number of ears the story passed through; the original facts became lost in the unwritten translation.

The second problem, the assumptions of well-meaning individuals, is really nothing more than fancy. By this I don't mean to be critical, but without close examination, study, and articulated reasoning, we are left with nothing short of conjecture - guess work.

Lastly, our view is limited by our lack of perspective. The narrower our approach, the more likely we are to reach a limited conclusion.

All that being said, this post is my effort to reach a conclusion, through research, about two (2) family history photographs. Both photographs, according to family tradition, are of the "Charles William Davis' Blacksmith Shop" in St. Johns, Arizona.

Photograph 1:

Photograph 2:

Let's first begin with a study of the photographs themselves. At first glance, it should be obvious that each building is made of completely different material. 
  • The building in Photograph 1 is a combination of adobe, wood, and concrete block. 
  • In Photograph 2 we have an all wood building. 
Next, let's examine some finer details about the structure.
  • Photograph 1 does not have a gabled (pointed) roof, as does the building in Photograph 2.
  • Additionally the boards used in the facade, or face, of the buildings run different directions (horizontal vs. vertical). 
Though we don't have enough detail in which to measure the physical size of each building, it does appear that the building in Photograph 1 is wider than the other, though the building in Photograph 2 appears taller. I won't bore you with ideas of how we could measure the buildings.

Suffice it to say, I am confident that these are not the same building. But let's not stop here. Photograph 1 shows the building being advertised as "_____ Repair Shop" while Photograph 2 clearly shows the building as "C Davis Blacksmith." Let us assume that at least this much is true about both - the buildings were owned by the Davis family. With that in mind let us interject the name Davis into the name of the business being advertised in Photograph 1, making it the "Davis Repair Shop."

I performed a Google search on the phrase "Davis Repair Shop." In doing so I found an obituary for Paul Davis, the youngest son of Charles William Davis. The obituary indicated that Paul owned and operated the Davis Repair Shop in Ramah, New Mexico. Additionally I located an article from the Gallup Independent dated 19 December 1946. The article, under the heading "Ramah News," described how the Davis Repair Shop was enlarged with a "cinder brick addition," while the "adobe front of the old building" was white washed (see the last full paragraph in the article).

Upon closer examination, the building in Photograph 1, matches the description of the 1946 modifications. The adobe front is obvious, while an examination of the right side of the building reveals the new cinder block addition. Additionally, the sign for that building, upon a closer look reveals hints that the word DAVIS may have been painted just above the words Repair Shop; the bottom of what could be a D and an S are visible.

Lastly, the sign states that the Repair Shop is involved in "Tractors and Implements." This advertisement appeared in the Gallup Independent on 14 August 1949. The advertisement announced the new appointment of Davis Repair Shop as a dealer for Ferguson Tractor and Farm Machinery, which is a polite way to say implements. Again it points out that the repair shop in in Ramah.

Based on this research I am satisfied that Photograph 1 is Paul Davis' Repair Shop in Ramah, New Mexico.

So what then of Photograph 2. Taken at face value, the sign clearly reads "C Davis Blacksmith." So let's act under that assumption, and assume that the C Davis mentioned is in fact Charles William Davis. We could compare the man standing on the left in Photograph 2 to other known photographs of Charles William Davis.

Consider these pictures of Charles William Davis. The picture on the right we see him standing to the right of his five boys. My grandfather, Charles Joy Davis, is seen standing next to him.


Charles William has a certain stiffness to his back. He stands very straight and his shoulders seem naturally held high and back, in what we would call good posture. He has a strong neck, that slopes easily to his shoulders, and his chest is wide and powerful. I could post other photographs, but for the sake of time, both men from these three pictures appear physically similar. Additionally, we can rule out the young man on the right in Photograph 2 as being the owner of the business, as he is obviously too young. Alone, this comparison of physiques would be circumstantial at most, but it holds more credibility, when we consider that both men in all three photographs probably share the same initials and last name, "C Davis," and both were blacksmiths.

But this still leaves most of our original question unanswered. Can we confirm that this building is in St Johns, Arizona? Fortunately for us we have two photographs to study. There is Photograph 2, which is the most often published photograph of the building. Then we have Photograph 3, which was discovered several years ago. It happens to be the original picture, uncropped, and unedited, and gives us an amazing perspective!

Photograph 3

This is our best clue for determining the exact location this photograph was taken, and the key is that lovely building off in the distance. Its unique and distinctive shape can only be an asset in our search.

Acting under the assumption that this is in St Johns, Arizona, I conducted a search on the history of St Johns, and included in that search a search of historical images.

Turning to Google I located a blog post "St. Johns: Town of Friendly Neighbors Had Unfriendly Start." It is a lovely post regarding the early days of St Johns. About half-way through the article there is a digital rendering of a court building and this description:

This cut stone courthouse was built in 1884. A jail with a metal roof was added on the east side in 1885. In 1891, Apache County was split in two to create Navajo County from the western half. In 1917, county officials had the existing courthouse built on the hill where the white schoolhouse was located and the old courthouse building became an elementary school. 
Further into the blog post another picture appears showing an addition attached to the east side of the courthouse along with this detailed description:

When the new courthouse was dedicated April 2, 1918, the old building became District 1 elementary school shown here. The building on the right was the town’s second jail, built in 1885. The school burned in the early 1930s and was rebuilt as Coronado School. It was demolished after a new building was constructed in 1987 on the playground.
By blowing up the section of Photograph 2 that contains the old building we can compare it to the above photographs and renderings and we can see that this is the same building. Obviously the rendering has additional features that are not present in the actually constructed building, but there are more than sufficient details to make our conclusion sound: roof line, roof style, roof material, block construction, decorative block courses mid-height and at the foundation level, window placement, window styles, the number of windows, door placement, chimneys, front door steps, etc.

Based on this conclusion we can be certain that the "C Davis Blacksmith" shop as seen in Photograph 2 is in St Johns, Arizona. More importantly, based on the Coronado School reference from the blog post we located, we can know precisely where the blacksmith shop was located. Coronado Elementary is located at 50 N Water Street, St Johns, AZ.  In the cropped photograph of the court building there is evident, on the lower left, a set of steps that clearly leads to the building from a lower elevation. Using street view in Google Maps one can see that on the west side of the Coronado Elementary there is a significant elevation change where the landscape quickly drops off to the west. From this clue we can surmise that the blacksmith shop was built on the west side of the school at the corner of 2nd East and Cleveland Street.

Let's not stop here though. Let's compare the timeline of when Charles William Davis was living in St Johns, and see if it corresponds with the history of this building.

From his own history we know that Charles William Davis, who was affectionately known as Charley, married Harriet Martha Bloomfield on 13 September 1896, in Ramah, New Mexico. He reported that shortly after the marriage the family moved to St. Johns, Arizona where he began working as a blacksmith, cabinetmaker, wheelwright, and barber. Though he does not report what year he arrived in St Johns, we know that the couple's first surviving child, Charles Joy Davis, was born in St Johns on 20 May 1901. In 1910, Charles had removed his family back to Ramah where he operated a Grist Mill. This places the family in St Johns somewhere between 1896 and 1910, and these dates firmly place the family in St Johns after the court building was constructed, and prior to it burning down.

But, can we conclude that the "C Davis Blacksmith" shop is in fact Charles William Davis' blacksmith shop? Yes, we can.

This conclusion is solidified with research of newspaper articles from the St Johns Herald. A search of the newspaper archives for the Herald identified several advertisements for the "C W Davis Blacksmith," and that these advertisements were published between 1901 and 1909. 

Additionally there are articles referencing C W or Charley Davis, that confirm that he was not only a blacksmith in town, but the newspaper referred to him as, "Our blacksmith."

Check out this articles from 22 June 1901.

This next article was published in August 1901, and suggests a reason behind the stiffness that Charles William Davis displays in his back.

Printed in January of 1902, is article appears the most telling as it describes a very particular detail about the blacksmith shop, for which we have photographic evidence - a very neat sign on the front of the building.

In October of 1901, C W Davis had been working through the night when he suddenly put down his hammer and walked home to commit an act of murder for which he was never convicted.

Then, how about this one from 15 June 1906.

Here the article clearly indicates that C W Davis' blacksmith shop is located on "South Side Block, West of Court House, St Johns, Arz."

Still not enough?

I know from the personal history of William Charles Davis, Charles William's father, that he and his wife moved from St Johns to Clifton, Arizona around 1903, while still serving as First Counselor in the St. Johns’ Ward bishopric. William Charles was then chosen superintendent of the Sunday School in the Clifton branch organization on 25 May 1905. Members of the branch then regularly met for Sunday services in the Davis' home in Clifton.

With that in mind, consider these two short articles which appeared, respectively, in the St Johns Herald on 24 October 1903 and then a week later on 7 November 1903.

From these articles we know that C W Davis operated a blacksmith shop in St Johns, just west of the courthouse, that he was also known as Charley Davis, that he added a new sign to the top of his shop around 1902, that he occasionally suffered from a bad back, and that he helped his parents move to Clifton, Arizona around 1903.

Based on all of these facts, I feel confident that the C Davis Blacksmith shop in Photograph 2 is in fact the Charles William Davis blacksmith shop, and that it is located in St Johns, Arizona. More importantly the adult subject in the photograph is Charles William Davis himself, and that the photograph was taken between 1901 and 1910 - more likely closer to 1901 because the sign still looks new and does not appear to be too badly weathered, as does the rest of the building.

Would you agree? Do you find any holes in my conclusions?

I would like to hear your thoughts on my research.

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