When an excited Max Black called one winter day and told me he had a great story to tell about “Diamondfield” Jack Davis, the centerpoint of one of the Old West’s most notorious murder cases, I needed – truth be told – some convincing. I knew Max as a state legislator, a cool and easygoing guy not apt to exaggerate. But what could he have to say?
Davis was moderately well known in the modern era in parts of southern Idaho, but only but so well known anymore. Two books, decently researched biographies, had been written about him, which I would have thought would cover the waterfront. There had been any number of other long and short articles written about Davis – I had occasion to write one of them some years before – over the years. What more was there to say?
Then I listened to the rest of what Max had to say, and proceeded to be astonished.
Most history these days – including most of the history I have written – is based foremost on documents, paperwork, letters, reports and even other histories. Max had gotten interested in the Diamondfield Jack case because of so many of the missing physical elements of the case. Where was the gun, or guns, that had been used? Missing. The bullets? Still gone, at least some of them never entered into evidence. The location, the exact spot, where the shooting occurred? Remarkably, that was unknown. The gaps and missing pieces were all over the place, along with most of the details about what happened to Davis after, having been convicted of a double murder, he was released and headed south to Nevada.
Through years of patient research, he found the gun. And the bullets – at least one still in the ground into which it had been fired more than 120 years ago. He found the long-lost spot where the shooting happened. Nor did he stop there: He found the piles of paperwork, the boxes of records, kept by Davis’ attorney and never seen by any previous historian.
He went south to Nevada and patiently pieced together Davis’ sometimes astonishing story there.
This is a book to treasure if you like Old West stories. Or if you like history. Or even, for that matter, just a good story. – Randy Stapilus