Carbon copy: Utah family re-creates 110-year-old, 4-generation photo
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — The Deseret Evening News from Feb. 25, 1903, contains news from the Senate, train schedules, an article about the Panama Canal treaty, baseball results and an advertisement for Dr. Williams’ Pink Pills for Pale People.
In that same edition — wedged between a detailed weather report and a notice about "the semi-monthly meeting of Ladies" in the 14th Ward hall — is a large black and white photograph with an obituary for 89-year-old Roderick Davis, of Scofield. He's pictured with his son, grandson and great-grandson — all firstborn males in the Davis family.
The headline says "Four Generations of a Sturdy Stock."
Nearly 111 years later, the Davis family re-created the unique photo with the next four firstborn males of the clan. Together, the photos make eight generations of "sturdy" firstborn sons.
“It makes me want to be worthy to look these men in the eye and shake their hands when I greet them on the other side,” David Barwick Davis, of Logan, said.
Once his grandson — the eighth in line — was born in 2012, he decided to re-create the photograph. The century-old picture has been displayed in family members' homes throughout the years, and Davis has always felt a tie to his ancestors. But finding the news article in November renewed his interest.
From Welsh coal miners to electricians to solar panel salesmen, the Davis line insists it continues to have the value of hard work instilled within them.
Davis humbly calls himself a “yo-ho electrician,” but he takes on hard projects knowing that he comes from “tough coal-miner stock.” He’s made many decisions, he said, based on his tough, hard-working ancestors.
“Just looking over the children of this one man that all died (only three of 14 survived past age 8) just helped me understand that a lot of people have it pretty tough, and I’ve got it pretty darn good,” Davis said of the man in the 1903 obituary, his great-great-great-grandfather.
The first of the firstborns was Roderick Davis, born in Wales in 1813. There he was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the spring of 1847. After serving as the Treorky branch president and sharing his Mormon beliefs for many years, he brought his large family in 1880 to Scofield, Carbon County, where he died at the age of 89.
The article's headline and photo caption say he was 90, but a close reading of the obituary text and family history reveals he died a few months before his 90th birthday.
Roderick Davis, perhaps the sturdiest of the "sturdy stock," was a miner in Wales and Utah. He, his son and grandson all worked at the Winter Quarters mine in Scofield. He escaped the famous Winter Quarters disaster in 1900 but suffered the effects of the post-explosion toxic gasses when he tried to help rescue others.
“He was then placed in a row of bodies at the rooming house being used as a temporary morgue. But when he was being washed, Davis regained consciousness and walked out of the room on his own strength,” wrote Ronald Lewis in his book “Welsh Americans: A History of Assimilation in the Coalfields.”
Davis said he read that “while he was laying on the gurney, three days later he came to life and startled the poor attendant there.”
His obituary states he was “a man of noble character, honored and loved by all who knew him.” He was a “very durable” man and left a legacy of hard work.
“It makes me want to be more like him, makes me want to be useful to society, really makes me want to step it up a notch,” Davis said.
The other three in the photo are John Roderick Davis (1850–1921), John Henry Davis (1869–1934) and David Adamson Davis (1896–1942).
John Roderick Davis was blessed by LDS apostle John Taylor when he was barely a day old and was baptized 28 years later. He’s said to have dedicated his life to the building up of the LDS Church.
He passed on his work ethic to his son John Henry Davis, who was sent to school in Spanish Fork at age 11, unable to read or write.
“He was much older than the beginners, and he could see that the students were laughing at him, but not for long did they laugh. His jolly good nature, his quick intelligence, his strength for one so small his age, and his beautiful singing voice soon made him friends all around,” David Barwick Davis read aloud from a family history.
John Henry Davis caught up quickly. He later left Scofield, returned briefly to serve in an LDS bishopric and then spent the rest of his life in Spanish Fork, where he worked as a mailman.
His son David Adamson Davis lived in American Fork and owned a restaurant called the Owl Inn on State Street.
“It was a very popular place for after-school activities and dances. The kids would all meet there and eat pies, and they had a soda jerk fountain. Back in those days they served beer right on the same tap as the soda,” David Barwick Davis said.
He and his wife died within two years of each other, but the name of David continued on into the next four generations: David Merrick Davis (born in 1932), David Barwick Davis (1957), David Cole Davis (1984) and Cruze David Davis (born in 2012).
To keep them straight, Eileen Davis said they call her husband David, her son Davey, her grandson “Young Dave” and her great-grandson Cruze.
David Merrick Davis, orphaned at age 12, was raised by an aunt in American Fork. As the story goes, he managed to set the church doors ablaze with Roman candles. The bishop and the sheriff came to see him, and he was baptized shortly after.ward
After attending the University of Utah and serving in the Air Force during the Korean War, David Merrick Davis worked to develop a hydraulic car and spent three years with the National Security Agency — a secret that his own son didn’t learn until interviews later brought it out of the woodwork.
He developed a green thumb when his wife, Eileen, said she wanted roses. To start, he simply “bought roses.” Now at 81 years old, he’s rumored to still have the prettiest yard in their Taylorsville subdivision.
David and Eileen Davis, who have lived in Taylorsville since 1969, taught their children the value of hard work. David Barwick Davis said his dad worked them hard and would give them jobs like turning the soil.
He marvels now at the memory of his perfectionist father taking on project after project — building a garage, raising rabbits, digging a swimming pool and building boats in the living room for family trips to Shoshone Lake in Yellowstone.
“How did we get through that, Eileen, the full boats? You let me do it,” David Merrick Davis said to his wife.
“Well, you were going to do it anyway!” Eileen Davis replied. “And you did a beautiful job on them.”
Knowing how to put in a good day’s work is something David Barwick Davis, 56, has passed on to his six sons. As they grow up, he works with each one of them in his trade, so they can see what it takes to make a living. They also help care for the family's fruit trees, perform service projects and care for neighbors.
“I really believe it’s important to work with them, to put in a day’s labor, shoulder to shoulder with them,” David Barwick Davis said.
Firstborn David Cole Davis said working side-by-side with his dad made him realize what a hard worker his father is. The 29-year-old Provo man carried his learned work ethic with him through an accounting degree at Utah Valley University and his work with solar panel systems.
Now he’s setting the same example for his own son, 1-year-old Cruze David Davis, who sat contentedly on his dad’s lap for the photo re-creation. Cruze wore a wide-rim smile and toddler-size suit coat, which his great-grandfather got a kick out of.
David Cole Davis said he plans on following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, who taught him how to fish at Strawberry Reservoir and “could pull a trout out of a mud puddle.”
“That’s something I’d like to pass on, how to fish, how to hunt. It’s tough to do these days because kids just want to play video games, but get them outside and teach them how to work,” David Cole Davis said of his plans to pass along the sturdy Davis family tradition.
His father agreed when he said people can’t be successful without hard work.
“The kind of work that does take you places is when you work with people and you accomplish common goals,” David Barwick Davis said. “And it sure doesn’t hurt to get out and dig a ditch every once in a while.”
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @madeleine6
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