Chuck's Cowboy Shooting Blog is a simple little place where I log my activities in the world of Cowboy Action Shooting. I am new to this hobby, so I hope to grow in experience and wish to share any knowledge that I come across. This blog will also be used to share some of the rich history of the Old West that I come across. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Fight of the Week: Captain Jonathan R. Davis vs. 14 Bushwhackers

 The date: December 19, 1854. The place: The Sierra Nevada Mountains, near Coloma, California. The man: Captain Jonathan R. Davis, a Southern prospector and gun/knife fighter. The fight: an ambush gone wrong for a fourteen man bandit gang in the middle of a crime spree, who realized at the last minute that they had messed with the wrong South Carolinian.

Captain Jonathan Davis
On December 19th, 1854, Captain Davis and his two friends, James McDonald and Dr. Bolivar Sparks, were doing some prospecting in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Following an old miner’s trail, the three men entered a small canyon with brush and rocks on both sides. Unbeknownst to them, however, a crew of fourteen bushwhackers was hiding in the brush hear the mouth of the canyon. To put how many men this is into perspective, here’s a picture of fourteen hard-as-nails old western lawmen.

The guys in this picture don’t even have guns. Now imagine the same number of men armed to the teeth with pistols, rifles and knives, lying in ambush, and filled with malicious intent to kill and rob any unwary travelers that may come their way. They had already robbed and/or killed ten men in the past couple of weeks using this tactic. On this day, the unfortunate travelers were to be Captain Davis and his two friends.
As the three men approached the top of the gully, the bushwhackers sprung their trap, leaping from the brush and opening fire. McDonald never knew what hit him, dying in the first volley. Dr. Sparks fared a bit better; he was able to pull his pistol and get off two shots before being hit and falling to the ground. With one friend dead and the other gravely injured, Captain Jonathan R. Davis stood alone in the hail of gunfire. Unperturbed, he did what any good Southern boy living in the Old West would do when faced with such a situation; he bit off a wad of chewing tobacco, pulled his pistols and began to return fire.
Though it’s not implicitly stated what kind of heat Davis was packing (such minutiae are unfortunately lost to the mists of time and legend), I like to imagine that the good Captain was handling a pair of these bad boys:

This is the Walker Colt, according to the description that came with the above picture when I found it to be “the most powerful handgun until the introduction of the .357 Magnum.” To give you an idea as to the size of this thing, the barrel is 9 inches long and the whole thing weighs four and half pounds. The reason I like to think he’s toting a matching pair these around is because for what he’s about to do with them, having Davis carrying a pair of the most powerful handguns in the world at the time just makes things better.
Anyways, with a six-gun in each hand, Davis began to return the bandit’s fire, and with downright deadly results. With the outlaws’ bullets passing harmlessly through his hat and clothing, Davis unloaded both pistols on the bandits, dropping seven of the cut-throats while managing to suffer only two slight flesh wounds from their fusillade. That’s seven dead men hit with twelve shots; for those baseball fans out there, that’s a .583 batting average. Which is pretty good.
Their own pistols empty, four of the bandits, including their leader, rushed in to finish Davis off the old fashioned way: with a knife fight. Three of the men pulled out knives while the leader himself drew a cavalry saber.

U.S. Model 1840 Cavalry Saber
Captain Davis was ready for the onslaught. He holstered his still-smoking pistols, spat out a stream of tobacco juice, and went to his belt to draw his own weapon, a pretty sweet Bowie knife with a twelve inch blade.

A pretty sweet Bowie knife
As we learned last week from the Sandbar Fight, a man armed with a Bowie knife that knows how to use it is a deadly man indeed. Captain Davis was no exception. Without blinking an eye, he threw himself at the gang’s leader with the saber, swinging his knife with skill and efficiency. Davis slashed at the leader, the razor sharp blade slicing off the bandit’s nose and finger, causing him to drop his sword. Davis stabbed him for good measure, and then went after the other three. They fell just as easily, some of them having been weakened during earlier robberies.
When the dust settled, Captain Davis was left alone standing over the four sliced up bodies. Having just seen eleven of their comrades either shot or stabbed in front of them in a span of about two minutes, the remaining bushwhackers did the smartest thing they had done all day and ran away. Taking no notice of his own wounds (which were pretty much just scratches), Captain Davis ripped up his own shirt to start banging up Dr. Sparks. While he was doing this, he noticed movement from the trail and instinctively dove for the dead McDonald’s still loaded revolver, expecting more enemies.
Luckily for the three miners that had witnessed the entire fight from an adjacent hilltop and were now coming to help Captain Davis, the good Captain didn’t shoot them outright. They started going through the bodies of the eleven dead men and found nearly $500 in gold and silver coins, some gold dust and some fancy pocket watches, which they gave to Davis. Davis then thanked them, picked up Dr. Sparks, and carried him back down the mountain to his house, where Sparks would die of his wounds a few days later. Being the selfless type, Davis gave the gang’s loot to Dr. Sparks’ family.
At the time, Davis and his exploits became famous all across the country, even inspiring an epic ballad. Even though he had witnesses, several men challenged Davis, saying that what he had done was impossible. Captain Davis challenged each of these men by saying he would personally lead them to the eleven shallow graves containing the bushwhackers’ bodies. No one took him up on this, and Davis slipped from legend into anonymity.
For a straight version of the story, see
For a hilariously embellished (but R rated) account of Captain Davis’ fight, see
For a contemporary epic ballad concerning the fight, see

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