Idaho History April 22, 2018

Diamondfield Jack

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Jackson Lee “Diamondfield Jack” Davis (1864–1949) was pardoned for the 1896 Deep Creek Murders in Idaho and would later strike it rich in Nevada, where he established several mining towns, one named after his nickname “Diamondfield”.

Davis got his nickname when he came out west to Silver City, Idaho on the rumor of a diamond strike. The rumor led to nothing but after talking so much about it he got the nickname Diamondfield Jack.

After the failed prospecting attempt Jack was hired by Spark-Harrell cattle company on the Idaho-Nevada border. Davis’ job was to keep sheepherders off the cattle’s land and after a confrontation that led to wounding of a sheepherder named Bill Tolman; Davis was on the run.

He began working for the cattle company again the next year and almost immediately as he came back to work two sheepherders were killed in the area were he was working. Davis became the prime suspect for the killings. A magazine was found in the sheepwagon with a diamond drawn in blood by one of the victims. The sheepmen were killed with .44 caliber bullets shot out of a .45 caliber gun. Diamond field jack was known to have bought .44 caliber cartridges when the correct ones were not available.

As he was heading towards Mexico Jack was picked up be authorities in Arizona Territory. He was transported back up to Idaho and sentenced to hang on June 4, 1897. The day before his execution date he was reprieved due to the confessions of two other men to the murders. In February 1899 Davis was transferred to the Idaho State Penitentiary where he stayed until December of that year. Davis was then transferred back to a cell in the Cassia County jail.

After Davis had exhausted his appeals another execution date was scheduled for July 3, 1901. By the time public opinion had shifted in Jack’s favor mostly due to the confessions of James Bower and Jeff Gray and also to the easing of tension between sheep and cattle herders. The Board of Pardons extended the execution date to the July 17, much to the outrage of state prosecutor and future Idaho Senator William Borah. Three hours before Davis’ scheduled execution, word arrived to the Cassia County sheriff that his sentence had been changed to life imprisonment. Davis was moved back to the Idaho State Penitentiary in Boise, Idaho until he was finally pardoned on December 17, 1902 by Idaho Gov. Frank W. Hunt.

Upon his release Jack moved down to Nevada where he finally stuck it rich and established several mining camps in Nevada. In 1949 Diamondfield Jack was killed by a taxi cab as he was walking in Las Vegas, Nevada.

source: Wikipedia
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The Owyhee Diamonds

… [Caleb] Lyon was reappointed governor in the autumn of 1865, and he returned to Idaho. J. S. Butler, a local historian of the time, said of Lyon: “He was a conceited, peculiar man. and made many enemies and misappropriated much public funds.” Lyon, indeed, Bancroft adds, accepted his reappointment in the hope of gain. While in New York, pending his confirmation, he was approached by one Davis, who had in his possession a number of small stones which he declared to be Idaho diamonds, found in Owyhee county.

The secret was to be kept until they met in Idaho. Lyon arrived first, and after waiting for some time, having become convinced that Davis was drowned on the Brother Jonathan, went to Owyhee and imparted his secret to D. H. Fogus, to whom he presented one of his diamonds, receiving in return a silver bar worth five hundred dollars. One evening the governor and the miner stole away over the hills toward the diamond fields, as described by Davis, in order to make a prospect. But the sharp eyes of other miners detected the movement and they were followed by a large number of treasure-seekers who aided in the search. “The result,” says Maize, “of two days’ hunting was several barrels full of bright quartz and shiny pebbles. Lyon was greatly disappointed and showed us the specimens, on one of which the carbon was not completely crystallized.” Along the beach line of the ancient sea, bordering the Snake river valley, there are a number of stones described in mineralogical works as allied to the diamond.

Lyon, who was once described by a newspaper correspondent as “a revolving light on the coast of scampdom,” found himself in such disgrace that at the end of six months he abandoned his post, leaving the administration of public affairs in the hands of the territorial secretary, S. R. Howlett, who acted until June, 1866, when David W. Ballard, of Yamhill county, Oregon, was appointed governor. The latter reappointed Howlett secretary.

source: pages 106-107, “An Illustrated History of Idaho” 1899 (58 meg)
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Caleb Lyon 2nd Governor of Idaho Territory 1864-1865

Appointed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1864, as Governor of Idaho Territory, Lyon proved to be extremely unpopular. One journalist wrote he was “a conceited, peculiar man, who made many enemies and misappropriated much of the public funds.” During Lyon’s administration, the territorial capital was moved from Lewiston to Boise, reputedly because Lyon thought it was better to have the capital in a larger city.

Lyon started a diamond-prospecting frenzy when he claimed that a prospector had found a diamond near Ruby City, Idaho. Although hundreds of men staked claims, no genuine diamonds were found as a result.

In 1866, an audit showed that Lyon had embezzled $46,418 in federal funds which were intended for the Nez Perce people. He was never convicted on any charges.

source: Wikipedia
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Idaho Diamond Fields; the Gems Which Have Been Brought From the District. Expert Testimony to Their Discovery in Owyhee County — One Professor Says They Are Not of the First Water — Rules Which Were Formulated Years Ago.

Jan. 3, 1893 New York Times

Boise City, Idaho, Dec. 26. — All doubts as to the existence of diamonds in Owyhee County, on the south side of the Snake River, about thirty miles from this city, seem to have been dispelled.

source: NYTimes archives (pay wall)
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Diamond Gulch

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In December, 1865, Idaho’s governor — Caleb Lyon of Lyonsdale—set off a wild rush to Diamond Gulch, visible a few miles west of here, with a story that was too good to be true.

He told miners in Sliver City that a prospector had given him some priceless diamonds from that area. Enough gems of interest to rock hounds were found there to maintain a diamond frenzy that winter. A similar escitement followed in 1892, but no actual diamonds ever were recovered in Diamond Gulch.

source: Idaho Untraveled Road
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The “Diamondfield Jack” Tragedy

At that time, Cassia County was one of the most important range sections of the State for both cattle and sheep. The cattle men had claimed that the sheepmen were trespassing on the range which belonged to them and much unfriendly feeling had been aroused. On February 16, 1896, two sheepherders were discovered dead in their wagon, at a point on the : range known as Shoshone Basin, in Cassia County. Both victims had evidently been shot a number of days before. Their emaciated sheep-dogs were found tied to the wagon and their sheep were scattered about on the range.

Jack Davis, who was commonly known as “Diamondfield Jack,” was suspected and put on trial for the murder. He was in the employ of a large cattle company and had been riding the range looking after the interests of his employers. The State could not produce any witness who had actually seen the shots fired, but it was shown that at the time Jack Davis had been in the vicinity where the murder was committed and that he had made a number of threats to kill sheepmen. These and other facts and circumstances were sufficient to cause the jury to convict him of murder, for which he was sentenced to be hanged. This sentence, however, was not carried out, but the defendant was, instead, sent to the penitentiary and later pardoned. The case aroused intense feeling among the stockmen of the State, the cattlemen favoring the acquittal of the accused man, while the sheepmen desired his conviction.

source: page 160, “History of the State of Idaho” By C. J. Brosnan 1918 (18 meg)
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The South Fork Companion has more stories about the Murders and Trial

link: to home page, then search for the headlines.

Sheepmen John Wilson and Daniel Cummings Found Dead

Cattleman Bower Describes “Self-Defense” Shooting of Sheepmen Wilson and Cummings

Unjustly-Convicted “Diamondfield Jack” Davis Finally Released from Prison
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The Meridian times. (Meridian, Idaho), 28 Feb. 1919.

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source: Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
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Diamondfield Jack

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Little is known about Diamondfield Jack’s early life. He was born about 1879 somewhere in the East.

By 1892, he was working in the Black Jack mine in the Silver City district of Owyhee County. He left the Black Jack to follow rumors of a diamond strike in the nearby hills. He failed to find any diamonds, but talked so much of the diamond field that he earned the nickname “Diamondfield Jack.”

In 1895, Diamondfield Jack began working for the Sparks-Harrell cattle company of southern Idaho and northern Nevada. He was paid $50 a month to keep sheepherders off of what was considered cattle territory. The company instructed him to “…keep the sheep back. Don’t kill but shoot to wound if necessary. Use what measures you think best. If you have to kill, the company will stand behind you – regardless what happens.”

After “shooting up” several sheep camps, and wounding a sheepman named Bill Tolman, Diamondfield Jack headed south into Nevada to stay out of sight. He realized he might hang if Tolman died. While in Nevada, he bragged about his activities and said he was paid $150 a month in Idaho to kill sheepherders.

He came out of hiding in 1896 and continued working for Sparks-Harrell. In February of that year, two sheepherders, John Wilson and Daniel Cummings, were shot and killed at a sheep camp in the Shoshone basin area of Twin Falls county. Because he had been in the area at the time of the killings, and because he often bragged about shooting up sheepherders, Diamondfield Jack was the prime suspect in the murder case.

He headed south again, and was eventually captured in the Arizona territory, where he was serving time in the Arizona Territorial Prison for a shooting incident. He was tried in the courthouse in Albion, Idaho, found guilty, and sentenced to hang on June 4, 1897.

Diamondfield Jack was confined to the Cassia County jail in Albion, Idaho, where the day of his scheduled execution date drew closer. He made hair ropes and other trinkets for children who visited the jail. The week before his execution date, he watched the gallows being built and tested, declaring them “capable of doing the job.”

In the mean time, two other men, James Bower and Jeff Gray, confessed to the murders. Although they were tried and acquitted by a jury, their stories raised doubt, and Diamondfield Jack was granted a reprieve the day before he was scheduled to die.

On February 24, 1899, the Idaho Legislature approved an act which ruled all executions must take place at the Idaho State Penitentiary. Because he was still under sentence of death, Diamondfield Jack was moved to the prison in Boise.

At 1:30 a.m. on the morning of February 27, 1899, Diamondfield Jack arrived at the Boise Depot. The Warden’s Report for that day states, “The Warden, with guards, met the party at the depot and took charge of the prisoner, who was, without delay, taken to the Penitentiary, where he arrived without mishap.” He was placed in the new cell house and watched by special guards. On December 24, 1899, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that Diamondfield Jack must go back to the Cassia County Jail as a county prisoner. He was taken back on December 28, 1899.

By 1900, Diamondfield Jack had exhausted all of his appeals. He was again scheduled for execution, this time on July 3, 1901. The public was opposed to this and believed Diamondfield Jack to be innocent. Aware of public support from some very influential citizens, the Board of Pardons extended the execution date to July 17. Word arrived in Cassia County three hours before the sheriff would have carried out the execution. On July 16, 1901, the Board of Pardons commuted Diamondfield Jack’s death sentence to that of life imprisonment. He was again moved to the Idaho State Penitentiary to serve his time. On December 17, 1902, the Board of Pardons granted Diamondfield Jack a pardon. He moved to Nevada and made a fortune in the Tonopah mining district. He later lost his fortune and was killed in 1949 when he was struck by a taxi cab in Las Vegas, Nevada.

source: Albion Historical Society
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Jackson Lee Davis A.K.A.: “Diamondfield Jack”, Inmate #820

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source: Max Black
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Cassia County jail in Albion, Idaho

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(click image for larger size)
Jail House and Sheriff’s office on the “Public Square”, today the City Park.

source: Albion, Idaho History
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Lucky Judge.

The Prospector and Thunder Mountain News February 4, 1905

“Diamondfield Jack” Davis gives $10,000 worth of Goldfield stock to Salt Lake Judge who once secured his conviction for murder and drew up his death warrant.

“Diamondfield Jack” Davis, the central figure in one of the most remarkable criminal cases on record, has given the man who drew his death warrant at Albion, Idaho, six years ago, mining stock valued at $10,000, says the Salt Lake Herald. Judge O. W. Powers, of Salt Lake, is the recipient of the gift. In 1898, Judge Powers, with W. A. Borah of Idaho, assisted the state in prosecuting Diamondfield Jack for murder, secured a conviction and by order of Judge Stoskslager, drew Davis’s death warrant.

Afterwards, having become convinced of Davis’s innocence, Judge Powers appeared before the Idaho board of pardons to urge that Davis be released. This was done and about two years ago Davis came to Salt Lake penniless. Judge Powers loaned him money enough to get to Tonopah, Nev., and Davis departed with the promise that he would repay the money. As one of the original locators of the famous claims at Goldfield and Diamondfield, he secured large holdings in the camps, changed his way of living and is said to be a leader of the law and ordor [sic] element in the mining section where he resides.

Recently Judge Powers received a letter from the secretary of the Diamondfield Gold Mining Company, enclosing 2,500 shares of stock with the statement that it was the personal gift of Davis.

The shooting for which Davis was thrice sentenced to death was a double killing, committed in Cassia county, Idaho, in 1896. The legal proceedings ran through six years. The case at one time reached the supreme court of the United States and almost attained the proportions of a political issue in Idaho.
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Will You Follow Him in Wonder?
Diamondfield Jack Davis
(The Man Without a Failure)

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source: More stories at Murderpedia
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Jack “Diamond Field” Davis

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Added by Miracle Mile Tim
Birth: 1864
Death: 1949 (aged 84–85)
Burial: Woodlawn Cemetery Las Vegas, Clark County, Nevada
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Added by Miracle Mile Tim

source: Find a Grave
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Jackson Lee “Diamondfield Jack” Davis

by Sharon Hall Dec 3, 2014

No one seems to have a definitive history of Jackson Lee “Diamondfield Jack” Davis’ early life. Even the date and place of his birth appears to be a mystery. A cursory internet search will yield results spanning the years between 1864 and 1879 as his purported birth year. His place of birth is uncertain, but the name “Jackson Lee” would suggest Southern roots like perhaps Virginia or West Virginia.

Most historians consider him a gunslinger, famous for wearing his rifle slung across his back and carrying pistols, as many as three, either holstered or in his coat pocket and a Bowie knife strapped to his leg – he was armed to the teeth at all times. He made a name for himself in the mining camps of the west and later as an “enforcer” of sorts, working for cattlemen who were constantly battling for grassland with the sheep ranchers, a familiar saga of the 1800’s West.

Some have written about Davis as if he was an all-out hired gun, his only mission in life to shoot and kill sheep herders. If that was indeed true, then it’s easy to see how he was mistakenly accused and convicted of killing two sheep herders in 1896. That miscarriage of justice would become the most remarkable and memorable of his storied life.

How did he come by the nickname “Diamondfield Jack”? In the summer of 1892 Davis worked in a Silver City, Idaho silver mine. Not long afterwards, Idaho had a diamond rush and he later claimed to have discovered a diamond mine. He was known to have been a big talker, regularly embellishing his stories. After taking a job with the Sparks-Harrell Cattle Ranch and bragging about his adventures as a diamond miner, someone gave him the nickname “Diamondfield Jack” and it stuck.

In 1895 Davis was hired by James E. Bower, general superintendent of the ranch, ostensibly to bully and intimidate sheep herders in the area who were thought to be intruders on the cattlemen’s grassland. His reputation for carrying all those weapons was no doubt meant to intimidate and from time to time he included threats to kill someone.

In fact, he did carry out one of those threats by wounding Bill Tolman in the shoulder. Davis left the area for awhile until things cooled off, drifting into Nevada to avoid an warrant for his arrest for attempted murder. In late January of 1896 he ventured back into southern Idaho, later testifying that he was on his way back to turn himself into the sheriff for Tolman’s shooting.

Along the way he joined up with Fred Gleason, another cowboy employed by the Sparks-Harrell Ranch. Together they seemed to have meandered along, not in any real hurry, looking for horses. On the evening of February 2 the two were riding after dark near a sheep camp. Davis stopped and fired off a few rounds in the direction of the camp and then the two men continued on their way back to the Brown Ranch where they were staying.

The following day Davis and Gleason hung around the ranch and shoed their horses. The following morning they decided to leave and head up the river to the Middle Stack Ranch. They continued to meander their way through, again, in no particular hurry. On February 6 they met with James Bower at the H.D. Ranch and Bower rode with them to Wells, Nevada. Witnesses later testified that Davis and Gleason remained there for several days – drinking and talking too much.

Meanwhile, the bodies of sheep herders Daniel Cummings and John Wilson had been found, a grisly discovery made by a sheepherder named Ted Severe at Deep Creek. The crime scene was littered with .44 caliber bullets shot from a .45 caliber gun. It was known that Davis had a reputation for using .44 caliber bullets when he couldn’t find the exact caliber for his weapons of choice. Thus, he became the prime suspect in the murders.

Another cowboy with the Sparks-Harrell operation later testified that Davis had decided to leave the country and head south – his friend Gleason was drunk all the time and threatening to kill sheep herders in Deep Creek. Until he was arrested in March of 1897 in Yuma, Arizona for his alleged crime, no one knew of his whereabouts. Because Davis and Gleason had been in the area of the killings and Davis had the reputation of bullying and intimidation, the locals just assumed Davis was guilty.

Adding to the assumption of his guilt, Davis was arrested while jailed in the Yuma Arizona Territorial Prison. Gleason had been found in Deer Lodge, Montana. By mid-March the two were brought to Albion, Idaho to stand trial. The sheep herders and their supporters, including the Wool Growers Association, mounted an all-out effort to see them convicted. Davis and Gleason, however, had the cattlemen on their side. John Sparks and Andrew Harrell, former employers, put up most of the funds for their defense.

Davis and Gleason had the best defense lawyers money could buy and testimony and evidence was carefully and methodically presented. The prosecutors were also well-qualified and able to establish that the two men had at least been in the area of the crime on that day. When it came time to decide Davis’ fate, the jury took only two hours to find him guilty of first degree murder. He was sentenced to hang on June 4, 1897. Gleason’s trial, however, had a different result – he was acquitted.

The next five years of Jack Davis’ life turned out to be most harrowing. Appeals were mounted by his attorneys and several times his execution was stayed. At one point he was transferred to the Idaho State Penitentiary, only be to returned to the Cassia County Jail where he had first been imprisoned during and following his trial.

Following another series of appeals, another execution date was set for July 3, 1901. This must have been frustrating for Davis and his attorneys, for you see two other men, James Bower and Jeff Gray had finally confessed to the killings, claiming self-defense. Davis received a short reprieve from the Board of Pardons with a new date of execution scheduled for July 17. His attorneys had been unable to convince the Board of his total innocence, even with the knowledge of Bower and Gray’s confession.

Three hours before his scheduled execution on the 17th, his sentence was changed to life imprisonment – no exoneration yet, but Davis would be allowed to live out his life in the Idaho State Penitentiary. After another round of legal wrangling and appeals, Jackson Lee “Diamondfield Jack” Davis was finally pardoned by Idaho Governor Frank Hunt on December 17, 1902.

His case had been covered by newspapers all around the country. When released, Davis unsurprisingly left Idaho and moved to Nevada. He kept his name and reputation in the papers over the ensuing decades, striking it rich in the mining camps of Nevada. He later wrangled with the Industrial Workers of the World and continued to carry four guns with him at all times. When asked why he did that, Davis replied, “Well, if I ever get into a mix-up and don’t have my guns and got killed, I’d never forgive myself as long as I lived.”

By the late 1930’s Davis, then in his seventies, was still seeking more fortune. He made his way to Las Vegas and for several years afterwards alternated between residences in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The man who seemed to have nine lives (or more), finally met his end not in a spectacular fashion befitting his gunslinger image, but in an accident with a taxi cab after stepping off a curb in Las Vegas on December 28, 1948.

While on the way to the hospital, he told a friend that he intended to live to the age of one hundred. Jack Davis lingered for a few days but passed away on the morning of January 2, 1949. One obituary printed in a Salt Lake City newspaper was full of misstatements about his life, and was probably picked up by other papers across the country.

But, that was the story of his life apparently, largely misunderstood and misreported. As Max Black pointed out in his book entitled Diamondfield, the irony of the incorrect obituary was perhaps fitting, for Davis himself was known to be an exaggerator of the truth.

Diamondfield Jack was definitely a “Wild West” character and a part of Idaho folklore and history. A National Forest campground is named in his honor, as well as a restaurant in Twin Falls, Idaho.

If you’re interested in learning more details about Diamondfield Jack and his legal entanglements and woes, followed by his successful business career, Max Black’s book was written to finally tell the truth about what really happened. The book is available on Amazon for $3.99, and if you have Kindle Unlimited, it is free to borrow.

source: © Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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page updated Dec 19, 2020