Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


The amazing merchandise executive, Andrew J. Davis

The son of Welsh emigrant Asa Davis, Andrew began working in a Boston store as an errand boy. After trading along the Ohio River, Andrew engaged in a mercantile business in Nashville, then went to Iowa in 1838 where he formed a partnership with Ed Manning at Keosauqua.

With headquarters in Fairfield in 1839, Davis had several little stores in various places and spent most of his time traveling from place to place to look after them. He was very adept at making trades and turned most deals into a profit.

Well acquainted with the Indians, Davis purchased from them 800 acres of land on the west side of the Des Moines River opposite Iowaville. He had several small stores at Iowaville, along with a grist mill and a distillery on the other side of the river. In fact, his enterprise could well be considered to be Iowa’s first Industrial Park. Most of his operation was in one huge building that included living quarters for some of his employees.

Andrew spent from 1853-1856 in California while brothers John and Calvin were placed in charge of his Iowa holdings. He returned for eight years to engage in the mercantile business. During this time, he was defeated when he ran for the Iowa Senate in 1860.

In 1864, Davis explored the country along the Pacific Coast from California to the Puget Sound and made his way back through Montana. Spying the need for miners’ supplies he began bringing merchandise from the east by ox team, eventually including his distillery machinery.

For a cheap price, Davis purchased a couple of quartz mines near Butte, built a mill, engaged in raising cattle, and made a fortune. In 1881, he sold his holdings for $1 million in cash, plus he retained 15% ownership of the new corporation. In that year he organized the First National Bank of Butte.

Although Davis was one of 13 children, he never married. Several of his brothers also became very rich men, including John and Calvin. He left an estate valued at $7 million.

Andrew J. Davis was an enjoyable companion with a modest manner, cautious in method, and was very well informed on many subjects. He was fond of children and well liked but never sought popular approval.

Andrew left no will, which put his estate into turmoil. Not only relatives poured over his holdings, but “illegitimate children” suddenly appeared to claim a portion. John produced a will that mysteriously surfaced in Iowa, and seems to have been a forgery. After making a modest bequeath to a “pet” and to the mother of the children, nearly the entire fortune ended up in the hands of John Davis.

Litigation went on in the state courts of Montana, Massachusetts and New York for years, and eventually the matter went to the U.S. Supreme Court. With an estate far smaller than it was originally, all potential heirs including the spurious children, reached an agreement to divvy up what was left according to a formula that gave something to everyone.

On a website, Frank D. Myers states “Both Andrew J. Davis’s life and its aftermath were amazing performances--and to think, it all started in little Iowaville.”

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick