|Other People | Frank J. Bradley | Olive Rambo Cook | Jerry Litton ||
Past and Present of Livingston County
Volume 2. Biographies
by Major A. J. Roof. 1913
It is the peculiar function of a lawyer to participate in various lines of activity wherever he makes his home. He sees diverse sides of life and in his hands rest the peace, balminess and sometimes even the life of his clients. Upon the lawyer's honesty depends our national justice, upon his soundness of judgment depends the efficacy of our legal institutions, in his hands rests the faith men have in the laws under which they live. The Hon. J. M. Davis, whose life work has had an important bearing upon the business and professional life of Chillicothe, has worked in the cause of right and justice not only as practicing attorney but also as judge of the county and circuit courts and as prosecuting attorney and is in years of service the second oldest lawyer in the state of Missouri, having been located in Chillicothe since 1895, while he has followed his profession since 1860. His record is that of an official who has ever been faultless in honor, fearless in conduct and stainless in reputation. Entirely free from ostentation and display, the simple weight of his character and his ability have carried him into the important public places, which he has filled, and he has fully demonstrated his ability to capably handle intricate and important law problems on the bench as well as before court or jury.
Hon. J. M. Davis came to Livingston county in 1852 with his parents, when fifteen years of age, on their removal from Clark county, Illinois, where he was born September 25, 1837. He is a son of Alexander and Priscilla (McKay) Davis, the former one of the pioneer farmers of this county, having settled here in Grand River township. The father acquired land here and broke the soil, gradually putting his farm under the plow and bringing it to a high state of cultivation, following during his life agricultural pursuits and attaining a gratifying degree of prosperity by his systematic and time-tried methods, his progressive spirit, ever leading him to make such improvements and institute such equipment as would promote the yield of his acres and increase the returns from his land. He passed away in 1893, in Grand River township, having survived his wife four years. The latter died in 1889 and both are buried in Monroe cemetery, Grand River township, Livingston county. The families on the father's and mother's side are of old and distinguished Welsh and Scotch origin and both settled in the United States long before the Revolutionary period, the ancestors of the father founding a home in Virginia and the mother's progenitors settling in Maryland. The great-grandfather of our subject was one of the heroes of the Revolutionary war.
Judge J. M. Davis was as reared under the parental roof and received his early education in the pioneer log schoolhouses in Livingston county, typical of the period and of the frontier district. During those times in which he was not occupied with school work he assisted his father with the work on the farm but at the age of eighteen years started out on his independent career and hired himself out for one season, for work in one of the pioneer sawmills in this section. Studious of mind and gifted with the perception to readily acquire the lessons taught him, he had made himself the master of all the learning his teachers could give him and in 1858 became a school teacher, instructing during the summer, while in the inter he studied law, having decided upon legal work as his life vocation. Two years sufficed him to grasp all the details and technicalities of the law and in 1860 he had prepared himself so thoroughly that he was able to pass the bar examination, and from that date engaged in practice. While advancement at the bar is proverbially slow, his business increased as he demonstrated his ability and he soon enjoyed a clientage which assured him of fair financial returns. Gradually he made a name for himself and won favorable criticism for the careful manner in which he handled his cases. He has remarkable powers of concentration and application and his retentive mind often excites the surprise of his colleagues, and as he gathered experience he became more and more at home in handling legal problems and soon manifested before court and jury such comprehensive knowledge of the law and took his point so well, that he seldom lost a case. His reasoning is logical and his deductions sound, and seldom is he surprised by an unexpected attack of opposing counsel. In 1880 he was elected to the distinguished office of circuit judge and he held this position for eleven years, when he resigned to again take up private practice, in which he has ever since continued. As the second oldest lawyer of the state and in his many relations with various interests of importance he has acquired a reputation which far exceeds local limits and his name is well known and stands honored in this part of the state. His position at the Livingston county bar is enviable and his reputation as a lawyer has increased by the decisions which he has given while sitting upon the bench, where he was ever fair and impartial rendering verdicts strictly based upon the law and the equity of the case at hand. He was conceded by all to be one of the most capable judges ever presiding over the circuit court. Judge Davis also presided for two years over the county court and for the same period of time served in the important office of prosecuting county attorney, handling his cases with expediency and forcefulness. He conducts his practice at present under the style of J. M. Davis & Son, William W. Davis, the youngest member of his family, ably assisting him in his extensive practice.
On October 18, 1863, Judge Davis was united in marriage to Miss Sevilla McKay, a daughter of James and Rebecca McKay at Wapello, Iowa. The father had been district court clerk and held other offices of trust, and when on his way to California in 1850, to seek the golden treasure that country held out, died on the way and was buried at Fort Laramie, Wyoming. His wife has also passed away and is buried at Wapello, Iowa. Judge and Mrs. Davis became the parents of two children: Archibald B., who is the able successor of his father, wearing the ermine as judge of the thirty-sixth judicial circuit; and William W., who is engaged in practice with his father. The family residence is on North Locust street, Chillicothe, where they hold forth in winter, but in summer the judge and his family spend their time in the country.
As prosperity has come to Judge Davis his interests have increased manifold and he has become an important factor to this section in various relations. He is one of the largest landowners, holding title to three thousand acres of valuable farm land which he rents out and which returns to him a large income. He also has extensive city property. In financial circles he has become known as the organizer of the First National Bank of Chillicothe, of which he served as the first president and he has also founded a number of other banks in the county. His political affiliations are with the progressive party, in the platform of which he finds embodied sentiments which he professes and such measures as he would like to see enacted. For forty-four years he has been an ardent and devout member of the North Methodist Episcopal church and is actively interested in all the work of this organization. A fact worth mentioning in connection with his legal career is that he has the largest and most complete private law library in the state of Missouri, of which he is justly proud, as his comprehensive collection of books has taken him a lifetime to collect. From whatever angle we may consider the life work of Judge Davis, we find that in all relations he has done his full share of work and has done it well. His record is, indeed, remarkable and he can look back proudly upon his career, no phase or wrinkle of which needs to fear the light. He is a man strongly marked by character yet softhearted, kind and genial and, though a forceful element in the community, popular and beloved, enjoying the highest regard and esteem of all who know him. He is successful in the truest sense of the word, broad-minded and tolerant, yet shrewd and of wide experience. Never grasping or mercenary, believing in something greater than mere material wealth, he has in the course of a long life, simply and unostentatiously spent, become a factor for good in almost every phase of endeavor.