Henry Fuller “12 Foot” Davis was a man who seemed larger than life, but that’s not how he got the nickname. That came from a lucky strike.
Davis, originally from Vermont, was a man in search of adventure in the form of gold. He headed out to California, joining the stream of “Forty Niners”. Then the Cariboo rush came along and brought Davis up to Canada. That’s where his sharp eyes and quick action earned him the nickname that would go down in history.
Davis knew that two miners were pulling a lot of gold out of their claims, and he must have been the first to figure out that there was a narrow piece of land, 12 feet, between the two claims, just waiting to be snapped up. Davis didn’t waste any time, not in filing, and not in collecting $12,000 worth of gold. 12 Foot Davis was born.
Once he had extracted all the gold to be had from his claim, Davis enjoyed a spending spree in Victoria, then moved on to the Peace Country. It was an up and coming region, a perfect place for a man like Davis. He set himself up in the fur trade business in direct competition with the Hudson’s Bay Company – in fact, his headquarters were directly across the river from the HBC post at Fort Dunvegan. Davis later moved to Fort Vermilion.
The trader’s life suited him from head to toe. He was known to be dirty, crusty, and generally unkempt. Same went for his cabin, but he had lots of visitors because everyone knew Davis’ door was never locked. He was as strong as he was kind, able to carry 200 pounds on his back and running more often on chewing tobacco than on food. Even as he went blind and suffered from arthritis, Davis never gave up the reins. He hired men to transport him in a cart (see a picture here).
His final trip was conducted by Davis, lying flat on his back and seriously ill. He died at Lesser Slave Lake in 1900, but not before declaring his final wish: to be buried on a hillside overlooking the confluence of the Smoky and Peace Rivers, at what is now the Peace River town site. His monumental grave is fitting for 12 Foot Davis, a man who was larger than life.
You can visit the grave site at any time, just be sure to get directions first because it is difficult to find the correct road.
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