As a child, he called his aunt Velera Davis “Mommie,” and would listen to her stories. “Since I was a child, I listened to the older folks talk. Unfortunately, my memories of the stories and the people are vague.”
One of his favorite memories of growing up in Kansas was the sense of connectedness.
Exoduster advertisement: Courtesy of Homestead National Monument of America
“The older people were always ‘Cousin’ or ‘Aunt.’ It seemed like a big, extended family. They’ve since moved all over the U.S. and some are quite famous,” he said.
Davis also moved quite a bit, working as a “Jack of all trades, master of none,” he said.
His experience includes stints as a roofer, farmer, painter and a mechanic. He’s driven 18-wheelers in all 48 contiguous states, as well as dump and oil field trucks. A third assistant engineer, he’s served on ships around the world, including tankers, ore carriers, dive boats, supply boats and fish processors and catchers.
“I was going to sea making good money. While at home, I was rebuilding buildings and fences, trying to keep the place up,” he said. “Then, from 1979 to 1986, vandals destroyed the property. No one knew anything. My family tied up the farm. When I got it back, I could not rebuild. There were no others that I could pass it to that could and would successfully farm the place. I sold the family farm that my Dad and his father spent their lives building.”
It was a close friend’s eldest son, Terry Lyon, who helped “Uncle Jack” erect the monument along Road 300, Lyon County, in Americus, Kan.
“He has been an invaluable help, loaning tools, equipment, his help, the use of his place,” Jack said. “This would have been a lot more difficult without him.”
Although it is tucked away in rural Kansas, the monument is important to Davis personally, and should be important to the descendants of all Exodusters, he said.
“Very few people are even aware of the Exodusters. People forget, or deny, their history. Many have never heard of the contributions of their ancestors,” Davis said. “The descendants of the Kansas colonies have moved all over the U.S. and various countries. Some are successful; others are on welfare or in between.”
It is his hope that a local historical society will help preserve the monument. His lifelong friend Ustaine Talley, now in her 70s, is gathering notes and oral histories for the event. She is planning a dedication ceremony in August 2010.
“I have tried to use durable materials so it will last for centuries,” he said. “I hope it lasts as long as the land.”
POSTCRIPT: Jack L. Davis was born on April 22, 1932 and passed away on Monday, December 13, 2010.
A Monument to Exodusters by Robin Van Auken is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.robinvanauken.com.