Although some of Harold Lenoir Davis’s writing presents locales such as North Carolina, Paris, or Natchez, most of his fiction is set in that region of the United States in which he was born and grew up—various parts of Oregon. The son of a country schoolteacher, Davis was born in the now-vanished community of Rone’s Mill on October 18, 1894. (The year 1896 has also been given, but the sources on which the latter date is based are now considered unreliable.) At that time, the American frontier and all it represented in the political, economic, and sociological patterns of American life was fast disappearing. This fact is important, for the passing of frontier life—its values, personal justice, and colorful people—forms the subject matter characteristically associated with Davis’s work.
In later life, perhaps because he believed that the public demanded adventuresome authenticity, Davis tended to exaggerate the frontier experiences of his childhood. The family did move often, however, allowing Davis a chance to observe many parts of Oregon and many types of characters. Davis spent some time as an unpaid printer’s helper at age twelve, and he herded sheep for a few weeks while living in Antelope, aspects of his experience which he later made much of. In 1908, the Davis family settled in The Dalles, Oregon, which would remain the home base of H. L. Davis until 1928. After graduating from high school in 1912, he became a deputy county assessor as well as a deputy sheriff, the latter position being largely honorary, contrary to later claims by Davis.
Davis visited Stanford University briefly and then, during 1918, served in the Army (not, however, as...
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