Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


Andrew Jackson Davis

Montana’s richest man, worth an estimated $70 million at the time of his demise, left an indelible impression in Van Buren County history, as he was Iowaville’s largest employer for at least a dozen years.

In 1848, Davis linked by chain ferry an “Industrial Park” across the river, which he called Black Hawk City. It was actually a massive mill with a half dozen or so other operations, all housed in one building.

On August 26, 1854 Keosauqua’s The Democratic Union described the operation as “the most extensive flouring mill--steam--in the county, also a steam saw mill, lathe machine, carding machine, etc., also an extensive distillery that makes most of the whisky sold in the valley, and furnishes high wines to Keokuk and other larger towns for the manufactory of brandy, gin, rum, wine, etc.”

The base for whisky did not present a friendly environment in Iowa. Prohibition was legislated for the state in 1855 and heavy taxes on liquor were assessed during the Civil War.

During the 1860s, the entire operation at Black Hawk ceased, the equipment was removed and dispersed and by 1866, the mill complex was torn down. A. J. Had built up a large inventory of whisky. He commissioned an ox-drawn wagon train to haul the supply up to Montana, where he sold it at a tremendous profit, helping to fuel his economic success in that state.

Near his distillery and mill, he owned an 800-acre farm over the line in Davis County, which he kept until he died. A probate battle over this land and some of his Montana holdings drained his estate of many millions.

What isn’t usually told about A. J. Davis is that he owned several stores in Iowaville as well as his mills and distillery. In the early 1850s, he placed his brothers John and Calvin, in charge of the Iowa interests while he went to California for two years, seeking gold.

He only met with fair success in California, so he returned to Iowa, and ran for the Iowa Senate on the Bell-Everett ticket in 1860, and was defeated.

After this embarrassing defeat, Davis made a second trip to California and explored the coast country as far as the Puget Sound near the Canadian border. On his way back, he discovered that Montana presented a huge market for mining supplies and merchandise from the east, so he began moving his operation from Iowa to Butte by teams of oxen.

Davis organized the 1st National Bank in Butte, traveled to Europe, bought out mining claims and raised cattle. Judge A. J. Davis takes rank as one of Montana’s pioneers. He was an Iowa entrepreneur who followed his own judgment, had a modest manner and operated with cautious method. He was an enjoyable companion and was always ready to assist others.

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