Edward H. Davis (1862-1951) was a field collector for the Museum of the American Indian and ranch and lodge owner in Mesa Grande, California. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, he was the son of sea captain Lewis S. Davis and Christine Smith Davis. Davis attended grammar and high school in the Brooklyn public school system and then went on to art school where he developed his sketching and drafting skills. While in New York, he worked in the accounting office of Jonas Smith Co., his family’s shipping company.
At the age of twenty-two, ill with Bright’s disease and wishing to improve his health through a change of climate, Davis headed west – eventually arriving in San Diego in January 1885. Davis soon found work as a surveyor with T.S. Van Dyke, running a survey from the San Diego River into El Cajon Valley. He also worked as a draftsman, drawing maps and house plans. He studied architecture in 1887 and helped to draw the plans for the Hotel del Coronado. In October 1885, he returned briefly to New York to marry Anna Marion (Anna May) Wells and brought her with him to settle in San Diego. They eventually had four children, Harvey, Stanley, Marion and Irving.
In 1887, Davis made a considerable profit on the sale of a lot in downtown San Diego which he and his father originally purchased for $2,500. This sale allowed him to acquire 320 acres in Mesa Grande, approximately 60 miles northeast of San Diego. In February 1888, Davis moved Anna May, his son Harvey, Anna May’s mother Mrs. Sophronia Bellows Wells, his brother-in-law Benjamin Wells and brother Irving Davis to a small cabin on the property. Davis learned various farm skills and eventually developed the land into a working ranch, raising cattle and growing fruit, notably cherries, on the ranch he named Cereza Loma. Davis also served as Deputy County Assessor in 1902 and Justice of the Peace in 1903.
Fascinated by Indian life and culture, Davis became friends with his neighbors, the Indians of Mesa Grande. In 1907, he became a ceremonial chief of the tribe which allowed him to participate in their meetings and ceremonies.
His interest in Indian culture soon led him to collecting Indian artifacts. Davis was concerned by what he saw as the loss of traditional Indian way of life and the decimation of their population by disease. Convinced that evidence of Indian culture should be preserved for historical, educational, and museum purposes, Davis began collecting mortars, metates, bows, arrows, stone implements and other household items. Davis also did advocacy work on their behalf and ran food and clothing drives, distributing goods during the winter to the most needy.
As a natural hoarder, he filled up the small adobe building he built to store his collection of Indian artifacts. He valued his collection at $6,000 but discovered that it would have no tangible value unless cataloged. He began the work of recording the history of each object. His efforts proved fruitful because in 1915, a representative from the Museum of the American Indian (now part of the Smithsonian) visited Davis and purchased nearly his entire collection.
The following year, George Gustav Heye, founder of the Museum of the American Indian, hired Davis as a field collector of ethnological specimens. Working from 1917 to 1930 on behalf of the Museum, Davis’ collecting duties focused on the Indian tribes of San Diego County/Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, and northwestern Mexico. He would eventually visit over two dozen tribes and travel over tens of thousands of miles by wagon, horseback, boat, train, car and foot. The tribes he visited included the Paipai, Kiliwa, Cora, Huichol, Opata, Mayo, Seri, Apache, Cocopa, Tohono O’odham, Papago, Maricopa, Mojave, Hualapai, Yaqui, and Yuma Indians.
In 1915, Davis built the Powam Lodge, a summer resort designed by Emmor Brooke Weaver. The lodge, whose name means “place of rest,” provided visitors a place to enjoy San Diego’s back country and listen to the tales of Davis’ experiences as a collector. Davis encouraged the neighboring Kumeyaay Indians to make and sell their pottery and basketry at the lodge which served as a showcase for their skills.
Davis’ skills in art and photography allowed him to preserve and capture what he saw to be a disappearing way of life. He was able to document a range of Indian experiences, from the everyday to ceremonial. Also a gifted-storyteller and writer, his adventures were recorded in articles published in Desert Magazine, The Scientific Monthly, Touring Topics, San Diego Business and Indian Notes and Monographs.
Davis operated the Powam Lodge until it was destroyed by a fire in 1930. He continued to take short trips throughout southern California and to Arizona in his seventies and eighties.
Edward Harvey Davis passed away at the age of 89 in 1951.
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