Huerfano County
Ory T. Davis

Page contributed by Karen Mitchell. Data contributed by Debra Davis Trautmann
NOTICE All data and photos on this website are Copyrighted by Karen Mitchell. Duplication of this data or photos is strictly forbidden without legal written permission by the Copyright holder.

O.T. Davis – 1859-1945
Colorado Pioneer Photographer

O.T. Davis sets off with his heavily packed mule carrying his livelihood: Eastman Kodak camera equipment, primitive portable darkroom and Winchester Rifle. He treks high into the Rocky Mountains to shoot spectacular landscape photographs of the San Luis Valley and the Sangre de Cristo mountains. His was born Ory Thomas Davis, but is better known as O.T. Davis, which is imprinted on his many black & white photographs shown in books and displayed in museums throughout Colorado. O.T. Davis was one of the West's first photographers, settling in Colorado and making it his home for 39 years. His black and white photographs were important in documenting the building of railways and the settlements of Walsenburg, La Veta, Alamosa and Blanca, Colorado. Although O.T. Davis is widely known as a landscape photographer, he was also a very talented portrait photographer, taking many portrait photographs of the residents of Walsenburg, La Veta, Alamosa and surrounding areas in Colorado. These portrait photographs are now valued by the families of these long ago residents as their prized photographic history of their ancestor's lives.

Ory was born in Oskaloosa, Iowa on October 17, 1859. His father, Sylvester J. Davis (1835-1912) and his mother Lavina Thomas Frantz Davis (1837-1915) were farmers, and due to the Homestead Act of 1862, were able to take three yoke of oxen and a cow and journey to eastern Nebraska, where Ory's father, Sylvester J. (S.J.) Davis, took up a homestead.  His mother Lavina Davis became one of the first teachers in the State of Nebraska.  While living in Nebraska Sylvester trapped fur in the winter and gained profit from wolf and mink pelts. When Ory was 15 years of age, his family moved to a neighboring county where they took up a timber claim. But grasshoppers and dry weather struck and they had to secure supplies from the government in order to keep their business going. They were able to build their own mill and house with the help of oxen. 

In 1881, a railroad was built up the Republican River over Chief Creek to Denver, Colorado.  Ory seized the opportunity and secured a job on the construction line.  He became acquainted with some men from Iowa and they urged him to return to Iowa with them, which he did.  But mining interested Ory a great deal so he became a member of the mining force.  When the operations of the company sent them to Colorado, where they operated the Pass Creek copper mines, once again Ory seized the opportunity and decided to move to Colorado, along with his family - his grandmother – Ruth Brown Davis, his Uncles Isaac and Merrick Davis and his parents Sylvester J. Davis & Lavina Thomas Frantz Davis.

1885 - Ory worked at a copper mine near Pass Creek, just west of La Veta Pass. When the mines failed, he briefly took up a ranch at the head of Pass Creek and ran a small herd of cattle.  Because of dry weather, he gave up the ranch and entered photography in 1888.  His first studio was in a tent in Walsenburg, Colorado and his first assignment was with the Hesperus Mining Company to take photographs of their mines.  For a number of years Ory worked as a photographer in the coal mines at Hastings, Colorado.  In the early 1890's O.T. Davis would pitch his photography tent in La Veta, where the Hall filing station once stood, taking the earliest photos of the town and its residents.

1888 - Ory moved to La Veta, Colorado. At 29 years of age, Ory married Rosalie Goerke Braun of Pueblo, CO on November 21, 1888. Rosa originally moved to Colorado from Austria and married Theodore F. Braun, a prominent businessman living in Pueblo. Mr. Braun was elected assayer for the boom town of Rosita, Colorado in 1875. Theodore was originally from Grosshersogthum Hessen in Germany and it's not certain when he came to America, but he did return to Germany for about six months in 1876. While living in Colorado Theodore was next door neighbors to Paul Goerke, Rosa's brother, who was a mine owner. It's possible that Theodore met Rosa when he was neighbors with her brother.

Theodore passed away leaving Rosa alone with three children. Rosa started a new life marrying Ory in December of 1888, and together they had only one son, Edmond Theodore Davis (born: 9/9/1889). Apparently Ory wasn't able to support Rosa in the way she had been accustomed to at the time, so they divorced in 1893. Rosa moved to California with her three children from her previous marriage, along with their son Edmond Davis. Ory was heartbroken about her moving and taking Edmond so far away from him. Ory wrote a letter to Rosa in 1905 pleading with her to convince Edmond to use his Davis name instead of going by Braun. Upon Edmond's 18th birthday he still had not taken the Davis name and he and his father were never in contact with each other again.

1893 - Ory moved to Walsenburg, Colorado. He started his "Davis, Home Gallery" studio in Walsenburg in a tent. His photographs documented the town's early construction. Hesperus mining company hired him to take photos of their mines.

Photo - Davis Camp, Placer Colorado – O.T. Davis Photo - 1893 Family of Ory's from left to right:
1)Issac Davis (brother of Sylvester Davis-Ory's father)
2)Martha “Mattie” Kimsey Davis holding baby
3)Floyd Sylvester Davis. (Corin & Martha Davis' son)
4)Corin “Frank” Davis (Ory's brother) married to Martha Kimsey – their children were Floyd Sylvester Davis & Mabel Davis.
5)Merrick Davis (brother of Sylvester Davis-Ory's father)
6)Ruth Brown Davis (Ory's grand mother) holding her great-granddaughter - 7)Mabel Davis (Corin & Martha Davis' daughter)
8)Sue Davis (wife of Merrick?)
9)Abbie Davis (wife of Issac?)

Floyd and Mabel's mother, Martha “Mattie” Kimsey Davis, was the daughter of William Simpson Kimsey (1844-1913) and Sarah Rosella Patterson (1845-1901).  In 1872 the Kimsey's left their home in Georgia and traveled in wagons drawn by oxen and mules to Huerfano County in Colorado.  Their journey took almost six months traveling west to Arkansas and then through Indian Territory and Kansas.  At that time Colorado was still a territory and wouldn't become a state for another 4 years in 1876. William was the local magistrate and his homestead was on Valley Road and he had a ranch on Middle Creek near LaVeta, Colorado.

In 1869 Sarah's brother, Joseph Decator "Kate" Patterson (1836-1911) had built a large plaza in Huerfano County, Colorado west of Butte.  Kate Patterson first came to the Huerfano County with his boyhood chum William Green Russell in search of gold in the Pikes Peak region of Colorado.  They were very successful gold miners and businessmen and wanted to share their rich discoveries with their family and friends in Georgia.  Kate wrote to his family and friends in Georgia encouraging them to join him in Colorado.  Kate arranged for his father, Samuel Patterson, Sr. "Uncle Sammie" (1805-1879) to bring a part of the "Georgia Colony" to Colorado.  The newcomers, including the Kimsey/Patterson family, were impressed with the outlook of a new start in the untamed wilderness and encouraged more of their friends to travel west.  It is generally conceded that Kate Patterson and his father, "Uncle Sammie" did more work in moving the Georgia Colony to Huerfano County than any other one man connected with the enterprise. (Parts of this information were taken from “The History of The Georgia Colony” by Benton Canon)

Photo - “Our Pass Creek Home”. Opposite view of Log cabin of Davis family. Located on Pass Creek, Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Colorado – O.T. Davis Photo - 1893  
From Left to Right: In chairs: Sue Davis, Ruth Brown Davis; on ground: Abbie Davis, Mattie Davis, Corin Davis holding son Floyd Davis; men standing: unknown, unknown, Merrick Davis.

1895 - At age 36, Ory remarried to Viola Wheeler of Walsenburg, Colorado on June 11, 1895. They had no children and they were married until at least 1930, when Viola was listed in the 1930 Alamosa,  Colorado Census.  It is listed on Ory's death certificate that he was a widower, but in research of obituaries and cemeteries in the area, when Viola passed or her final resting place.  This mystery continues as I search on.....

Viola Wheeler Davis – photo taken by O.T. Davis

In an article in the Alamosa Journal – December 22, 1905:
"O.T. Davis, the Walsenburg photographer was in Alamosa Monday making arrangements to open up an up-to-date picture gallery. The room over Ambler's real estate office will be repaired and fitted up and Mr. Davis will locate permanently with us. He will open up the 15th of January or possibly sooner. His work ranks with the best in southern Colorado." 

1906 - Ory heard of an opening in his line of work in Alamosa, Colorado. He moved to Alamosa and opened "O.T. Davis Art Studio" which was housed above the land sales office.

In 1917, Ory moved his business again to another location in Alamosa in the Emperius building. In an article in the Alamosa Journal – May 10, 1917:
"O.T. Davis, the photographer, has purchased the gallery, equipment and business formerly conducted by C.B. Shepard, thus consolidating the photo business. O.T. is a live wire and is one of the best photographers in the state." 

From the Emperius building he moved to his studio to its final place of business on Fourth Street. The Davis Studio remained open until just before his death in 1945. (See photo below taken by O.T. Davis) 

Ory was quoted in a newspaper article in 1939:
“When I first came to Alamosa it was a small town with only a few stores and streets. The first automobile to come to Alamosa was brought in by Cliff West and Dick Blakey. At just about the same time, Dr. C.L. Orr also sported a Ford.....Ory recalled many such interesting events in the town and is among Alamosa's oldest businessmen." 

Ory had a great love of Alamosa, Colorado. Although he had taken brief trips to Mexico and Wyoming, he was always glad to get back “home” to Alamosa, Colorado.   While living in Alamosa Ory also served as the U.S. District Commissioner for about 14 years.

Davis Studio – Fourth Street, Alamosa, Colorado

From the 1880's until his death in 1945, O.T. Davis documented the building of railroads and highways, the settlement of Walsenburg, La Veta, Alamosa and Blanca, and Colorado's spectacular scenery in thousands of black and white photographs. (Quote from Denver Post newspaper article- Colo. History comes alive in photos). He would pack his large, wooden camera and primitive portable darkroom onto a burro and climb high into the Rockies of Colorado to shoot landscapes. He was a freelance artist and depended on corporate assignments. The Denver & Rio Grande hired him to photograph the construction of the line over La Veta Pass. Mining companies hired him to photograph their mines and land developers paid him to promote their properties. All the newspapers of the time encouraged everyone to go West, and O.T.'s black & white photographs were important to the railroads, the mining industry and the agricultural interests in Colorado. Now they are important to the history of the San Luis Valley, showing places and buildings that no longer exist. According to the National Register of Historic Places, O.T. Davis may have been the first person to photograph San Luis (Valley).  . 

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