Jonathan George Davis
Jonathan Davis died Sunday evening, March 30, 2014 at the Bonnie Bluejacket Memorial Nursing Home south of Greybull, where he had been a resident since last August. He passed away just six days short of his 99th birthday. He was a member of the First Baptist Church in Greybull. A memorial service for Jonathan will be held during the summer.
Jonathan was born in the family home on Germania (now Emblem) Bench on April 5, 1915. He was the youngest child of John and Osie Anna Davis. Except for living and working briefly in Greybull during the early 1940s, he was a farmer and rancher who lived at Emblem all his life.
Living next to the main road from Greybull to Cody and Yellowstone for almost a century gave Jonathan a unique perspective on all the changes that took place during those years. He loved to tell stories, and just the stories he told about that road would fill many pages. His earliest memory of that two-track road is waking up on winter mornings to the sound of wagon wheels squealing through the snow as farmers hauled wheat or oats to Greybull. He remembered rushing to the window, which was covered with frost on the inside, and blowing a hole so that he could watch each farmer pass by; walking beside his wagon with the reins tied around his waist, and swinging his arms to keep from getting too cold.
Jonathan could read some and had a pretty good grasp of “numbers” before he started attending the one-room East Emblem School in 1921. In 1922 he moved to the new building, a mammoth two-room structure. His mother warned him never to accept rides from strangers as he walked to and from school, but one afternoon he was just starting home from school when a big Lincoln touring car stopped and the driver offered him a ride. The second Jonathan got in the car he said, “My mom told me not to ride with strangers.” The driver looked startled and said, “Oh dear, you don’t know me.” The first grader replied, "Of course I know you. Your license plate is ‘Wyoming 1.’ You’re Jakie Schwoob!” Mr. Schwoob roared with laughter. He was the owner of the Cody Trading Co., and the State Highway Commissioner; before the governor of Wyoming appropriated the number, the highway commissioner always got the “Wyoming 1” plate. For several years, the commissioner would hold the Lincoln’s horn button down each time he passed the Davis farm.
Jonathan attended Basin High School where his sister was teaching school during his freshman year, and graduated from Greybull High School in 1932. He married Melba Turner in Greybull on December 29, 1937. The couple had enjoyed 69 years together before Melba passed away in 2007.
He served on several boards, and especially enjoyed his twenty years as a district supervisor for the Greybull-Shell Valley Soil Conservation District. Always an avid reader, he was very interested in local and regional history; in 1976 he and Melba were part of a group under the auspices of the Wyoming State Historical Society, which published "Re-Discovering the Big Horns." In 1987, Jonathan and Melba compiled and published They Called it Germania-The History of Wyoming’s Emblem Bench-1893 to 1937, a book based on interviews with many of Germania’s early settlers. Jonathan served as president of the Big Horn County Historical Society from 1970 until 1979, and resumed the office again for nearly a decade in the 1990s. He always said he resigned as president, but his resignation was ignored and he had to serve three more years.
Jonathan loved photography and won many ribbons, including “Best of Show,” at both the Big Horn County Fair and the Medicine Lodge Archaeological Site photo contest. He loved playing the harmonica, and until very near the end of his life greatly enjoyed playing tunes for people—“Little Brown Jug” and the hymn “Whispering Hope” were his favorites.
Jonathan was preceded in death by his parents, his brother Claude of Basin, and his sister Lucille Doty of Signal Hill, California. He is survived by his three children: Philip (Gina) of Oceano, California; Thomas of Emblem; Susan (Chuck) of Chester, Pennsylvania, and five grandchildren.
Finally, in Jonathan’s best tradition, there always has to be one more story: Late one cold evening after holding a service at the East Emblem Schoolhouse, Rev. Hopton, a Baptist minister who traveled throughout the Big Horn Basin, pulled into the Davis farmyard in his old Model T; it had a brass radiator, straight fenders and no top. Hoping to keep it as warm as possible, he parked it as close to the house as he could get it--then drained the radiator before spending the night. In the morning, Jonathan’s dad and big brother went out with the preacher to help start the Ford—they jacked up one hind wheel, then one poured hot water into the radiator and on the engine block while the others took turns and cranked and cranked. The Reverend had come inside to warm up when finally the old Ford went “chug.” Dad always remembered the pastor excitedly saying, “She’s a talkin’.” At last the Ford spluttered to life, and Dad’s eyes would sparkle as he told how the minister said, “Hallelujah—now she’s singing!” Such stories are the legacy of Jonathan Davis. His stories and the sounds of his harmonica playing “Whispering Hope” will echo through the minds of his family and friends for a long time.