Edward H. Davis Collection – Finding Aid

Collection Title: Edward H. Davis collection

Publishing Institution: San Diego History Center

Collection Date: (bulk 1903-1947)

Collection Identifier: C36

Extent of Collection: 5,967 digital items

Abstract: Images in this collection pertain to Edward H. Davis’ work as a field collector for the Museum of the American Indian and life as a rancher and lodge owner in Mesa Grande, California.

Language of Materials: English

Access Conditions: Access to some culturally sensitive items and fragile materials is restricted, except by permission of the Director of the Photograph Collection.

Publication Rights: All requests for publication of images in this collection must be submitted in writing to the San Diego History Center. Permission for use is not granted until all fees are paid.

Acquisition Information: In 1986, Nancy Davis Wilson donated the collection of photographs, negatives, postcards, as well as related letters, essays and field notebooks to the San Diego History Center (then known as the San Diego Historical Society). In 2010, Julianna Wilson Davis made an additional donation of Davis’ collection of lantern slides and his camera.

Scope and Content:  This collection contains photographs, negatives, lantern slides, and photographic postcards which primarily document the lives of Indians in San Diego County/Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico. Tribes represented in the collection include the Kumeyaay (Diegueño), Luiseño, Cahuilla, Cupeño, Paipai, Kiliwa, Cora, Huichol, Opata, Mayo, Seri,  Apache, Cocopa, Tohono O’odham, Papago, Maricopa, Mojave, Hualapai, Yaqui, and Yuma Indians. A large portion of the collection features Edward H. Davis’ family, friends, his ranch (Cereza Loma) and lodge (Powam Lodge) in Mesa Grande, California. Collection also includes 80 images taken by linguist and ethnologist John P. Harrington on a trip to Baja California, Mexico, ca. 1926.

Biography/Administrative History:

Born in 1862 in New York, Edward Harvey Davis was the son of sea captain Lewis S. Davis and Christine Smith Davis. Educated in the Brooklyn public school system for grammar and high school, Davis went on to develop his drawing and drafting skills in art school. While in New York, he worked in the accounting office of Jonas Smith Co., his family’s shipping company. In 1884, wishing to improve his health, Davis headed west by ship to California. Traveling through Panama, Davis eventually arrived 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, Davis returned briefly to New York to marry Anna Marion (Anna May) Wells and bring her to San Diego. They eventually had four children, Harvey, Stanley, Marion, and Irving.

In 1887, Davis made a considerable profit on the sale of land in downtown San Diego, which allowed him to purchase a 320 acre lot in Mesa Grande, located approximately 60 miles southeast of San Diego. In February 1888, Davis moved his growing family to a small cabin on the land. 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 ceremonial chief of the tribe. Due to Davis’ interest in Indian culture, he began amassing Indian metates, mortars, bows, arrows, baskets, and other household items. His large collection of Indian artifacts eventually attracted the attention of the Museum of the American Indian. In 1915, a representative of the Museum purchased nearly his entire collection. In the same year, Davis began building the Powam Lodge, a summer-resort designed by Emmor Brooke Weaver.

In 1916, George Gustav Heye, founder of the Museum of the American Indian (now part of the Smithsonian) hired Davis to work 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.  Davis eventually travelled thousands of miles and visited over two dozen tribes including the Kumeyaay (Diegueño), Luiseño, Cahuilla, Cupeño, Paipai, Kiliwa, Cora, Huichol, Opata, Mayo, Seri,  Apache, Cocopa, Tohono O’odham, Papago, Maricopa, Mojave, Hualapai, Yaqui, and Yuma Indians. He frequently photographed or sketched the tribes he visited as an additional form of documentation. His photography work appears to be based on his own interests in Indian culture.

Davis operated the Powam Lodge, which also served as showcase of Indian arts and crafts, 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 H. Davis passed away at the age of 89 in 1951.

Online Items URL: https://sandiegohistory.org/davis/collection

Creators, Personal Names:

Davis, Edward H., b. 1862


Subject Headings


Indians of Mexico

Indians of North America–Arizona

Indians of North America–California

Ranch life–California–Mesa Grande

Apache Indians

Cahuilla Indians

Chemehuevi Indians

Cochimi Indians

Cocopa Indians

Cora Indians

Cupeño Indians

Guaycura Indians

Hualapai Indians

Huichol Indians

Kamia Indians

Klamath Indians

Kiliwa Indians 

Luiseño Indians

Maricopa Indians

Mayo Indians

Mohave Indians

Opata Indians

Paipai Indians

Pima Indians 

Seminole Indians

Seri Indians

Tohono O’odham Indians

Yuma Indians


Family Names:

Davis family

Geographical Locations




Mesa Grande (Calif.)


Forms/Genres of Materials:

Lantern slides



Photographic postcards