Gold claim measures up to fame and fortune for Twelve-Foot Davis

For a 12-foot man, Henry Fuller Davis was actually quite small.

At a height of around five-feet tall, he earned the nickname ?Twelve-Foot Davis? for his prowess panning for gold rather than his physical size. In time, his legend would match his moniker in the Peace River country.

Born in Vermont in 1820, Davis got his start in life far from the area that would become the province of Alberta in 1905. Prior to setting out on a life of adventure out West, he honed his culinary skills as a chef in Boston.

Setting aside his aspirations in the kitchen, Davis soon got caught up in the gold rush. Joining others hoping to strike it rich, he travelled across the continent to California in search of gold.

Davis then travelled north to British Columbia. The gold rush took him to the shores of the Fraser River in the Cariboo Mountains.

In addition to gold, Davis was also rewarded with his nickname ? a source of pride among prospectors.

Upon arriving in the area, Davis quickly took notice of two of the richest claims. He believed the claims exceeded their registered size of 100 feet each, which he confirmed when he paced them off one night.

The claims were staked side-by-side, but they did not touch each other. Instead, they were separated by a strip of land 12-feet wide.

Davis immediately filed his claim on this piece of land. Estimates of the amount of gold he removed from the claim vary from $12,000 to $20,000.

From that point on he was known as Twelve-Foot Davis.

When the gold rush slowed down to a trickle, Davis traded his gold for goods and set up a series of trading posts along the Peace River. He set up his main post near the rival Hudson?s Bay Company outfit at Fort Dunvegan along the banks of the Peace River.

As a trader, Davis was well served by his polite demeanour. Rather than the rough and gruff characters that were typical of frontier life, he was known for his honesty and generosity.

The honesty extended from his personal life to his business transactions.

According to one tale, Davis once received beaver pelts from a trapper, but the trapper died before he could receive payment. Upon encountering the trapper?s son 10 years later, Davis promptly repaid the debt.

As a result, he was well liked among the people he traded with and met during his travels.

Despite being illiterate, Davis was a success in business ? as a prospector and trader.

Eventually, the years took their toll on his body. With his eyesight and legs failing, he spent the last years of his life blind and unable to walk. Although he had to be carried between canoes, wagons and his trading posts, he still kept active.

After falling ill during a trip, Davis ended up at the Anglican mission at Lesser Slave Lake. He spent his last days there, passing away on Sept. 13, 1900 at the age of 80.

Davis was buried at the mission, but Jim Cornwall eventually fulfilled a promise to his friend by moving Davis?s body to a hill overlooking the river near the present-day community of Peace River.

Cornwall also left the following tribute to his friend: ?Pathfinder, pioneer, miner and trader. He was every man?s friend and never locked his cabin door.?

(Paul Spasoff is a freelance writer with an interest in Western Canadian history. Paul can be reached at backtothepast@sasktel.net)