Notable Oregonians: H.L. Davis - Writer
Harold Lenoir Davis was born north of Roseburg, Oregon at Rone's Mill in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Davis moved with his family east to Antelope and then to The Dalles on the Columbia River while his father worked as an itinerant teacher. After his father became a principal, Davis lived in The Dalles for the next 20 years.
He worked as a cowboy, typesetter, and surveyor and in other jobs before being recognized for his writing. Davis saw his first literary success from his poems, which imitated the work of Detlev von Liliencron, a 19th-century German poet. Later he was encouraged by writer H.L. Mencken to try prose.
Davis went to Mexico on a Guggenheim Fellowship where he stayed to write Honey in the Horn (1935), an epic novel of Oregon homesteading at the turn of the century. The book won a Pulitzer Prize in 1936 and secured his reputation as a novelist of the West whose slow-moving books explored the magic of landscape. His style was wry, ironic, and cryptic with the plot remaining secondary to the quiet overall portrait of the era when the last pioneers flooded into Oregon. Davis mistrusted heroics and instead wrote honestly of the problems facing frontier men and women. His later books included Beulah Land (1949) and The Distant Music (1957).
Davis died in San Antonio, Texas on October 31, 1960. His legacy is one of writing realistically about the West instead of following the romanticized stereotype of the heroic cowboy.