Diamondfield: Finding the Real Jack Davis, by Max C. Black. November 2013. 224 pgs. Softcover. ISBN 0-945648-06-5. $15.95.
The Old West yielded few murder trials more spectacular – or more misunderstood – than that of “Diamondfield” Jack Davis. In this history as real-life detective story, author Max Black brings the truth of the case to light.
After near brushes with the noose and after years of legal maneuvering, Davis was pardoned – though many people continued to believe him guilty. Max Black has spent years researching the Diamondfield saga and found startling new evidence never before uncovered – including the weapon and one of the bullets involved in the crime – and now sets out the definitive story, about how Davis wasn’t and couldn’t have been the killer – and about who was. And he tells the story of Davis’ little-known second life after prison, when he made and lost fortunes in the mining fields of Nevada.
Interwoven with the story of the past is Black’s story of the present – how he came to find key elements of a fabulous Old West story a century and more after they had been presumed lost forever.
From the chapter “The Bullet”:
After finding what we thought was the site of the shooting, I reviewed some of the testimony of the witnesses trying to find some additional verification that we had located the correct site. While reading the testimony of E. R. Daley the thought occurred to me the bullet could possibly still be in the ground near the camp site.
A week later Alex and I returned to the area with metal detectors, hoping the find additional evidence to further verify the camp site. The two of us covered a large area around where we had staked out what we felt the camp site.
We again found items one would expect to be camp debris. Just below the ground surface we found a few rusty screws, nails, and a wagon bow clip. A bow clip is attached to the side of a wagon to hold the bow in place which forms the framework over which the canvas covering is stretched forming the camp wagon cover. We also located a few more rusted out tin cans in the same area where we had found the rusted cans the previous week. The two areas where we found these items were about ten feet apart and we conjectured that if the wagon had been placed between them it would have been reasonable that the cans could have been thrown out the front door to one side and the other items could have been worked on the other side of the wagon. From testimony we knew that the front of the wagon faced north towards a small knoll, the base of which, according to Sheriff Perkins, was approximately 60 yards from the wagon.
After satisfying ourselves where we thought the front of the wagon would have been, I stepped off 30 feet (the “two rods”) from the front of the wagon to where the saddle was described to have been thrown over a sage brush. The area was at the edge of a flat rock formation resulting from a lava flow lying on the surface of the ground. The area is made up of small spots of soil and grass interspersed between patches of solid rock.
I started to use my metal detector at the edge of the rocks but still out in the dirt. Two or three feet towards the rock was a spot that was broken up where a lone sagebrush was growing up through the lava flow. The area around the sagebrush had two or three inches of soil and some grass growing amid the rocks. I could visualize a larger sagebrush, perhaps in this same spot a hundred years ago with a saddle spread over it, and I tried to imagine a bullet going through the saddle and into the ground behind it. I moved the metal detector around to the opposite side of the smaller sage brush and as I did the detector immediately sounded the familiar buzz indicating some metal under the ground. I knelt down with my probe to clear some dirt away to find what was under the soil.
As soon as I probed down I hit rock just an inch or so under the ground. I had to brush only a small amount of dirt away to reveal a lead bullet lying on the flat surface of the rock just barely covered by the dirt. I had anticipated and imagined in my mind the possibility of finding that bullet, but never thought I would be lucky enough to find it. It was a lead bullet flattened out slightly but definitely with the rings and markings of a bullet.
But was it the bullet? The next thing we had to do was to satisfy ourselves that the bullet could have been a bullet shot from one of the guns on that February day in 1896.
We talked first about the slim probability that the bullet would still be in the ground beneath where the saddle was, as described in court testimony 115 years earlier. The next question was whether this was a bullet of the period or whether it was fired from a gun more recently. The bullet would have lain in that spot for more than 115 years.
Alex and I decided that we needed to take the bullet to someone with ballistic expertise and get an opinion of its age. He knew an individual with such expertise and to him fell the task of verifying the bullet’s age. Alex reported back that the bullet was definitely a bullet of the period.