Benjamin Franklin Davis
Back in 2011, one of the first blogs I ever wrote dealt with the history of the house at the southwest corner of Themis and Fountain streets, which was then in the process of being restored. I mentioned then that the house was built by Cape Girardeau lawyer Benjamin Franklin "B.F." Davis, who met his unfortunate demise in the spring of 1918.
Published May 15, 1918, The Southeast Missourian:
JUDGE B.F. DAVIS DROWNED TUESDAY EVENING; BODY WAS RECOVERED THIS MORNING
Prominent Citizen Lost From Boat in Drainage Ditch While Returning from Farm in Flooded District.
Judge Benjamin F. Davis, one of Cape Girardeau's most distinguished citizens was drowned Tuesday evening about 6 o'clock in the great diversion channel, a few miles south of Cape Girardeau. His body was found at an early hour this morning.
Judge Davis, with his law partner, Benson C. Hardesty, had spent the day viewing the effects of the flood and were returning to their starting point in a flat-bottom boat, which was overturned.
The news of the accident spread rapidly over the city and no loss ever caused such genuine sorrow. He had expected to leave for an extended visit to his boyhood home and his only daughter just a few days ago preceded him, expecting to meet him in Washington.
It was announced that the funeral will probably be held Friday morning.
All court will be closed, as well as the banks and many other business institutions.
The Body Found.
The body of Judge B.F. Davis, drowned Tuesday evening, was found at 8:12 o'clock this morning in the floodway between the diversion channel and the smaller ditch at a distance of 75 yards from the place where the boat capsized and the body disappeared from sight in the swirling water, Tuesday evening.
Lawrence Hahn of Chaffee, a member of the Frisco railroad crew which is now at work repairing the damage to the bridge, found the body lying face down against a stump. As the water receded the body evidently rolled to that place and caught against the stump. Matt Hahn, B. LaCroix, B.C. Hardesty, M.D. Wilson, R.S. Douglass and a number of other men were just a short distance away when Hahn informed them that he saw the body.
The body was lying in a sort of bent position with the hands reaching out slightly higher than the head. The position showed that Judge Davis had made a determined effort to pull himself to something after lodging against it but in vain. A pair of knee gum boots which he wore were still on his feet and his watch and fob were in his trousers pocket. His hat was missing, having been swept away by the water. He did not have his coat on, that having been left in the skiff.
Railroaders Join in Search.
The water was from three to four feet lower this morning than Tuesday evening when the drowning occurred. When the work train arrived at the bridge this morning it was met by Superintendent C.H. Claiborne, who is constantly on the job seeing that the work is rushed to completion, and he advised that the searching party first go into the floodway to look for the body.
The stronger current ran into the floodway and Mr. Claiborne said he felt sure that the body had been carried there. A small, but deep hole of water stood at the place where Judge Davis was seen to submerge Tuesday and Claiborne stated that he would have several charges of dynamite set off in the deep hole if a search through the floodway failed to find the body.
Every member of the railroad force, as well as the members of the searching party, set to work immediately after the train stopped and in less than 20 minutes the body was found.
A reporter for The Missourian who went to the scene of the drowning this morning was shown just how the accident occurred. Judge Davis and B.C. Hardesty had started to float their skiff down the stream under the railroad trestle and were approaching the space between two bents of piling when the bottom of the boat struck an object, swerving it to one side so that it struck against the piling. Judge Davis was riding in the front of the boat and Mr. Hardesty in the stern.
Both were toppled over into the water and were carried out into the strong current immediately. Railroad workers who witnessed the accident say that Judge Davis came up twice and then sank from view. It all occurred in such a short time that they could give no assistance whatever.
Hardesty Swam Out.
Hardesty wore a pair of hip boots, which were much heavier than the ones Judge Davis wore, but he managed to kick them off and swim ashore. Mr. Hardesty's first thought was for Judge Davis' safety and he swam to the spot where his law partner went down, but found no trace of him. Mr. Hardesty then swam to the shore and crawled out on the bank.
The railroad employees did everything they could last evening to assist Hardesty recover the body, but all in vain.
When word was sent to Cape Girardeau of the drowning many persons went to the scene of the accident and made a search, remaining till about midnight when they returned to Cape Girardeau on the Frisco work train. The arrangements were then completed for the further search today.
After the finding of the body this morning it was carried out from the floodway, to the railroad tracks. Superintendent Clairborne of the Frisco immediately telephoned to Cape Girardeau and ordered a special train sent to the scene The body was placed in the train and brought to Cape Girardeau and removed to the Lorberg Undertaking Company, where an inquest was held.
On Inspection Trip.
Judge Davis and Benson C. Hardesty, his law partner, had spent the day on Judge Davis' farm below Dutchtown, looking after conditions caused the the floods which had submerged the country for several days.
They left Cape Girardeau early Tuesday morning in a wagon, taking a flat bottom row boat along to be used in crossing the creeks, drainage ditches and floodways that would have to be passed over in their day's inspection.
Toward the close of (the) day they floated down the smaller drainage ditch that parallels the big diversion channel through the south part of the county and which diverts the water of the mountain streams into the Mississippi River.
Arriving at Ranney's bridge, where the Frisco railroad crosses the ditch, which structure had been swept away by the recent floods, Judge Davis and Mr. Hardesty got out of their boat to watch the railroad men at work repairing the bridge and were interested spectators for some time.
Entering their boat they started on their home trip, expecting to drift under the bridge and continue to the Rock Levee Road to take their conveyance to Cape Girardeau.
Boat Capsized at Bridge.
They considered the feat perfectly safe, the water being apparently calm enough to offer no hazard. Workmen on the bridge must have considered the undertaking safe enough, also, as none of them, according to Mr. Hardesty, advised against the attempt.
Judge Davis had been seated in the prow of the boat, Hardesty in the stern when they were precipitated into the water, which was very deep and flowing at a strong but not very turbulent current.
Hardesty says that Judge Davis was about twenty feet, the length of the boat, from him when the struck the water. As he fell into the stream he kicked off his rubber hip boots as he knew they would handicap him in swimming, and instantly made toward the spot where the judge went under.
Seeing nothing of his companion he swam to the shore, after which the railroad men working at the bridge building joined him in a search for the body, which was kept up until darkness overtook them but without success. Judge Davis was never seen after disappearing under the water.
Just below the bridge is a break in the levee through which the water ran swiftly into the floodway between the ditch and the large diversion channel running parallel to it It is the opinion of those who were witnesses to the tragedy that the body was carried through this break in the levee into the floodway where the water is shallow and if it were not carried on through another break in the levee of the larger ditch and thence into the Mississippi
River that it would lodge on some obstruction.
Hardesty Notifies Friends.
Mr. Hardesty telephoned to friends in Cape Girardeau and in a short time the news had spread all over the city, many friends going to the Davis home to offer aid to Mrs. Davis, a number going in automobiles to the drainage ditch to search for the body.
At 7 o'clock this morning about twenty men, friends of Judge Davis, left on a work train for Ranney's bridge, where the judge was drowned, to resume the search for the body.
Assistant Superintendent Frazier of the Frisco, who is supervising the repair work at the bridge and washouts, was in the party. The Frisco officials and employees have given every assistance possible in the search for the body and carried the party of searchers to the scene this morning.
While there was a possibility that the body was carried down the drainage ditch into the river, Mr. Hardesty thought it was taken through the break in the levee out into the floodway between the two ditches, where the water is shallow and which was rapidly receding last night. Railroad men working at the bridges were also of that opinion, so the searching party leaving this morning went with that idea in mind, to carefully search the shallow floodway, expecting the body to be visible because of the water having become shallower.
How Accident Occurred.
This morning just before the train left Cape Girardeau with the searching party, Benson C. Hardesty, Judge Davis' law partner, who was in the boat when the tragedy occurred, told The Missourian how the accident happened.
The two men floated along on the current of the drainage ditch on their return to the wagon road to get their vehicle for the trip back to Cape Girardeau.
The current was not dangerously swift and they had no trouble at all with the boat. Arriving at the Ranney bridge, which was being replaced after being washed away by the recent floods, they left their boat and for some time mingled among the workmen watching their activities in rebuilding the bridge.
Re-entering the boat they started to drift under the bridge but the boat struck some hidden obstruction which caused it to be whirled around by the current and to upset.
Both were thrown into the stream and Judge Davis immediately sank from sight. Hardesty, quickly kicking himself loos from his hip boots, swam to the place where he had seen his companion go under the water but failed to get another sight of him, so he swam to the shore and with the aid of the railroad workmen began a search for the body which was kept up until late in the evening before being abandoned for the night.
Friends in Cape Girardeau were notified by Mr. Hardesty by telephone and the news was broken to Mrs. Davis, who hade only a short time before returned from a church function.
Miss Elizabeth Waples Davis, their only daughter, is in Washington, where as vice-president of the Missouri Women's Council of Defense for the Ninth District, she went as a delegate to the meeting of the national body.
Judge Davis was to have joined her shortly to accompany her east, where he expected to attend the annual meeting of his class at Amhurst College. A telegram was sent to Miss Davis advising her of her father's death.
A Distinguished Citizen.
Benjamin Franklin Davis was born in Delaware in 1855, the son of Thomas J. and Mary J. (Potter) Davis, residing at Milford, Delaware. He was educated at Amhurst College, in Massachusetts, from where he was graduated in 1878, afterwards taking up the study of law at Dover, Delaware, being admitted to practice in 1882, which year he came to Cape Girardeau, remaining here ever since.
When he first came to Cape Girardeau he was an instructor in the Normal School for several terms (teaching Greek and Latin), but as his law practice increased he gave up that work.
He was a law partner of D.L. Hawkins until 1886. In November 1887, he married Miss Olivia Waples of Dover. To them one child was born, Miss Elizabeth Waples Davis.
In 1910 Mr. Davis was elected judge of the Common Pleas Court, which he held for one term. He formed a law partnership several years ago with Benson C. Hardesty which continued up to the time of his death. He was attorney for the Cape Girardeau Building and Loan Association and the First National Bank.
In his many years of citizenship in Cape Girardeau Judge Davis has been an active man. A leading member of the bar, he has had a large legal business, but he has always had time to work for the best interests of the community, having been an active member of the Commercial Club since its organization, a tireless worker for the schools and churches and for everything tending to better citizenship.
While not a strong man physically, Judge Davis has done a wonderful amount of work and right up to the recent campaign for the Third Liberty Loan he made numerous trips about the county. He has been interested in every patriotic campaigns since America entered the war and never refused to respond to a call for his services.
The arrangements for the funeral cannot be made definitely owning to the absence of Miss Elizabeth, the only daughter, who was in Washington and to whom a telegram was sent last night. It is thought the funeral will be held Friday morning as that is (as) soon as she can arrive. Burial will be in Cape Girardeau.
The funeral for Judge Davis was held May 17, 1918, a brief service being held at the family home at 401 Themis St., conducted by the Rev. Thomas D. Bateman, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, of which Davis was a member. Entombment took place in the new mausoleum at Lorimier Cemetery, where a second, abbreviated service was held.
According to a May 16, 1918, front page story in the Missourian, "Miss Elizabeth Davis, the only child of Judge and Mrs. Davis, arrived in Cape Girardeau on the noon Frisco train today, the train having been held in St. Louis a short time this morning so that she could make connections. This courtesy was extended through Superintendent C.H. Claiborne, who made the arrangements.
"Miss Davis was in Washington, D.C., attending a meeting of the Council of National Defense, she being a vice-president of that organization in Missouri, when her father met his tragic death.
"The news of her father's death was not broken to her until this morning after she had boarded the Frisco train in St. Louis. Mrs. Al Chenue, a relative of the family, then imparted the news to her."
Olivia Waples Davis, the judge's widow, died in Philadelphia on Aug. 29, 1933, but was buried in Cape Girardeau.
Elizabeth Wapples Davis, his daughter, became an educator, teaching English at Jackson and Cape Girardeau Central high schools, before moving to Philadelphia. There she continued her work with the public schools "as a supervisor of special cases among the handicapped in the system." She died in Philadelphia on Sept. 20, 1972, at age 81. Her ashes were interred at New Lorimier Cemetery.
Benson Cahoon Hardesty, the judge's law partner, died of pneumonia in 1951 in Cape Girardeau, having been a practicing attorney for nearly 50 years. For a while after Judge Davis' death, Hardesty partnered with Rush H. Limbaugh Sr. In 1939 he lost his eyesight, but, with the assistance of his wife, who read to him and ran his office, he continued to practice law.