Daniel "Peach" Davis

 

Well into the 1950's, every school child knew the name of "Peach" Davis; or, if not his name, knew the story of the lone Mountie who took charge of hundreds of Assiniboine from a regiment of US cavalry and escorted them single-handedly over 150 miles to Battleford, Saskatchewan. His nickname of "Peach" was given to him early in his career by his fellow policemen when it became obvious that he had a great love for peaches and any desert made from them. Bob McCutcheon claimed to be the one who gave him the nickname.

Daniel Davis joined the NWMP in 1876, at the age of 19, and came West with his fellow recruits under the command and care of James Walsh. Many of the details of this journey are known from Davis' writings. The group of young recruits took the standard route out West, using the American Northern Pacific Railroad to reach Bismark North Dakota, up the Missouri River by stern wheeler to Fort Benton then overland to Fort Walsh in Cypress Hills.

During the summer of 1876, the American Army was heavily involved with it's war against the Sioux and the group's arrival in Bismark coincided, almost to the day, with the Battle of Little Big Horn. The American Army had booked all of the boats headed up river for their own use and the group of Mounties faced the prospect of spending the entire winter in Bismark. In a wonderful tactical move, Walsh headed down river, intercepted a paddle wheeler before it got to Bismark and hired it; much to the chagrin of the American Quartermaster.

In the meantime, Peach and one of his new comrades decided to go for a night on the town. They ended up in Swede Pete's Saloon and were invited to join in a poker game by two miners with whom they had struck up an acquaintance. An argument broke out between the two miners which was settled in usual Bismark fashion. In Peach's words, "That's when we found out why the revolvers had been placed on the table". The argument ended with both miners dead. Peach and his fellow recruit had beat a hasty retreat on their hands and knees when the shooting started.

Upon returning to their hotel, the two teenagers accounted their exciting story to the other recruits. The innkeeper, overhearing the tale just laughed, saying that what they had witnessed was a common occurrence in Bismark. Walsh's standing orders for men staying over in Bismark were to be polite to the locals but not get involved in anything. A dressing down from Walsh was reported to bring the toughest men to tears and I wouldn't have wanted to be in Peach's shoes when Walsh found out about his escapades that night.

Peach had further adventures at Fort Walsh and the Wood Mountain outpost but his great moment of fame occurred on May 23 1882 when he received an assignment from Superintendent Irvine. It had been decided to relocate the entire population of Assiniboine people from their reserve at Maple Creek and disperse them to existing reserves in the Battleford area. The various groups had been following the hunting into the United states and had been literally rounded up by a regiment of American Cavalry. A detail was assigned to go to the border and receive the group from the Americans. That detail consisted solely of Daniel Davis.

The Assiniboine were quite resigned to their relocation but there had been some conflict between them and the Blackfoot for some time. The first trouble began when the group arrived at Fort Walsh to replenish supplies for the journey. The Blackfoot made a show of force nearby and the following morning, one of the Assiniboine was found dead.

The group travelled slowly, making only 10 miles a day, and faced many hardship along the way, including theft of a large number of the group's horses and supplies. After reaching Battleford, Davis was given a new uniform and asked by his fellow policemen to burn his old one. Davis was said to have a "long fuse" and a good sense of humour, but the stress of the journey probably got the best of his patience. The native people gave him the name, "God-Mad-All-The-Time".

The story did not end there, however. Davis, stationed at Battleford during the North West Rebellion, saw action at the Battle of Cut Knife Hill. At least two of the native people killed during that battle had been in the group which Davis escorted three years earlier. Early on in the Rebellion, a farming instructor named Jim Payne was killed by a man named Ikteh who was also one of the Assiniboine in Davis' group. Payne was married to the daughter of Grizzly Bear's Head, chief of the Assiniboine, again a member of the group from Cypress Hills. Although the incident was the result of a private dispute and not part of the Rebellion, Ikteh was hanged at Battleford in November of 1885 and is buried there in a mass grave. Davis had the sad duty of witnessing the death of people who he had gotten to know intimately a few years before.

Davis served under a number of the greats in NWMP history; Walsh, Herchmer, Sam Steele and R. Burton Deane among others. Although he left the mounties of a few occasions, he kept re-engaging until he finally purchased his discharge in 1888 at Fort Macleod.

The story of the journey from the border to Battleford was well known amongst the Mounties but was given great public attention during the NWMP Jubilee celebrations in 1923-24. A number of newspapers reported Davis' exploit and he was widely sought after for interviews. The tale grew somewhat with the telling, but Peach's accomplishment remained for sometime an icon of the dedication and determination of the small force of Mounted Police. He was said to be the only Mountie to still possess a complete uniform of the old days, which he wore in several Stampede and veteran's parades. Davis was quite active in both the Veteran's Association and the Southern Alberta Pioneers and Old Timers Association.

Later in the 1920's, Peach was forced into retirement from his job as a janitor with the City of Calgary due to his age. His wife had been an invalid for some years and the Davis' soon found themselves almost destitute. The Veteran's Association, the IODE and the citizens of Calgary rallied around them at this point and in 1928 staged a benefit concert in his honour. The Master of Ceremonies for the concert was Gilbert Sanders and the Keynote speaker was Sir Archibald MacDonell who gave an illustrated magic lantern show of the early days of the NWMP.

The evening of Peach's funeral had been scheduled for the annual Policeman's Banquet, which was attended by policemen and veterans from the across the province. Following the banquet, Julian Nash, the president of the NWMP Veteran's Association proposed the Silent Toast to fallen comrades, with special mention given to "Peach" Davis.

Photo of Peach Davis at Fort Walsh Historic Site

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