Willaim Harper Davidson
January 30, 1972
X: Born July 16, 1904. Early recollections of his grandfather,
William N. Sheats.
D: My earliest recollections of my grandfather is when my grandmother
used to invite us over to xiixVk visit and my mother would take me from
Quincy, where we were livin', to Tallahassee, a distance of about
20 miles, on the old Railway. And, uh, either my
grandfather or my uncles would meet us in the station in the
horse and buggy and uh, take us up to the house. I was about
four to five and I would stay about a couple of weeks with 'em
and then my mother would come back and get me.
X: William Harper Davidson is now age 11; he is living with his
grandfather Willaim N. Sheats and he's going to discuss with us
Sheats's ideas about life for a young boy and a young man.
D: UH, my grandfather was not only a very religious person, but
he was also an ardent Si a m His, uh, religious teachings
were given to me through evening bible readings, and uh, the
practice of 'em or the disciple that he gave to me, was given to
me as a sportsman. Such things as don't shoot birds on the ground
and uh, give them a chance and uh..uh..don't shoot birds over a
baited field, 'cause that's not sportsman-like. And uh, don't
shoot birds sitting on a wire. Give them a chance. Let them
have as equal a chance as you would have of destroyin' them.
And those are the kinds of teachings, he practiced himself, and
I learned the disciple of a sportsman which actually parallels
the teachings of the bible. HE always taught me,"Pray the good Lord
that you are right." Try to be right. Try td know his will. Once
you've made up your mind that you-are right, then stick by your guns
regardless of the consequences and that was the kind of a life
that he followed and I've tried to follow.
His old dog Jack, want me to tell about him? His old dog, Jack lived
to be 19 years old, and uh, he was livin' after grandfather died.
But during the time Jack was just beginning to lose his teeth, and, uh,
I found a pair of grandfather's, a spare pair of his false teeth
and I tied 'em into old Jack's mouth and then fed him a bone. You know
what happens...and..and..I suppose if grandfather ever came to hitting' me...
Well, he wanted to...
X: He didn't hit you, though?
D: No, he didn't. As a matter of fact, I would rather have been hit
then to take the punishment of how he felt about that from the
expression that I loved and respected so much and I'm really sorry
that I did it.
X: William Harper Davidson going camping with his grandfather, William
D: Always after I had come to live with 'em and after I had gotten into
high school, why, on the twentieth of November, when the huntin'
season always opened,why, we had been planning' for these annual
camping trips down at the mine which were just this side of the
St. Mark's Lighthouse which is now a government reservation or
Wildlife Preserve, but in those days, it was owned by Mr. H. a
Crawford, Secretary of the State; his family had owned it for years;
and, uh, we had this, uh, set aside this camping ground that was all
prepared. Had a spring there and some of the tent foundations were
there...but for the whole year grandfather would just plan. He bought
a new tent and we had all these cast iron cooking utensils and uh,
he had a special ten-gauge shot-gun. He always carried that. I always
called it the mask unsportsmanlike thing he ever did. I shot a
twenty gauge, but uh, it was a beautiful twisted steel Parder;
double-barreled hammered shotgun and he was very proud of it. And, uh,
I shouldn't call him unsportsmanlike for shooting' that big a gun,
for Mr. Charlie Kay, who used to go with us, had a two-gauge mounted
on the bow of a row-boat. That's what he used to shoot 'em with.
Well, we planned these trips and uh, though he was very conscious of my grades
in school, when he was ready to go on this camping trip, why, I had to
go with him. he pulled me out of school and I always said hat
if he hadn't x4-hkae had a in his library, IkdxkEax that he didn't
know that I found, that I would have nExxxpnrxssxxnExasa never have
passed Caesar. I'd have never gotten out of Brittany. Cause when I
leave, Caesar was going into and when I was back home, why he'd
already been there and was on his way back. But these trips were all
planned and they seemed to be the whole lives of these people that
were members of the cabinet and old friends of theirs and we used to
have a wonderful time down there.
X: Harper Davidson, talking about going camping with some of Florida's
most important citizens and close friends of his grandfather,
William N. Sheats.
D: Uh, these camping trips were an annual affair and I guess they were
known all over the state and they had groups of people like, uh,
Mr. H. Clay Crawfor4 who was Secretary of State, he owned the camping
ground; and Mr. faxiam who was with grandfather in the educational
system; and Mr. Haney, who was a professor at the University of
Florida; and Mr. Williams,who was a,..lumberman from uh, Jacksonville;
And then there was several other people like Mr. Charlie Kay, an
old citizen of Tallahassee. They'd make these trips
and we would carry a Negro cook with us by the name of Jim Griffith.
And Jim was pretty will crippled up and he was about the ugliest man
I ever knew and one of the nicest I ever knew, But uh a bo1-r had
fallen on him and one evening we were all sitting around the campfire,
and uh, a screech owl was giving Jim Griffith all the trouble in the
world, he was pmtixn hi cap wrong side out, pullin' his pockets
out and getting' ready to take his pants off and about that time,
we heard this "Boom, Boom," and Mr. Coffin, though it was not quite
kosher, he had decided that he'd been able...he couln'd slip into
this cove which was south of the lighthouse where the geese would
come in late at night and uh, they would be there in the morning' but
when he'd have to slip down there in the morning to try and slip into
his b\i why, ever time, they'd fly away. So, he decided that he
was goin' down and getting into this blid and spending the night
there...and uh, he did. We took him down there and put him on this
poirdb and he set hiscamp stool up, and his gun across his lap,
and put out his decoy ducks and we went on back to camp and this
"Boom, Boom," was going on and, uh, one by one Mr. Crawford. he'd get
up and said "I'm guetiHgxsleepy," (It was pretty early to go to bed),
and uh, finally Mr. Williams, he went in, said he was going fishing
early in the morning, and uh, finally grandfather went into his tent.
Left nobody but Jim Gfiffith and myself out there and a few minutes
this booming was going on And grandfather said, "Son, you and Jim
better go out there and see what old man Coffin is doing!!"
I said, "Aw, he's alright." I said, "We put him out on that
I said, "He's just maybe shooting' some geese. You're not supposed
to shoot tonight, but he knows that." I said, "This is Mr.
Crawfod's place. He can't be doin to wrong."
"OH, you better go down and see what's the matter with him."
I said, "Alright, sir." So Jim an elwent down in there that was
nothing' but salt flats before. It had a spring tide. And the
water was up three feet above everything. Had to walk abut half
a mile wadin' up to almost up to our belts to get to
and finally got out to here with Mr. Coffin was standing on his
camp stool, with his gun on his shoulder, the decoy ducks tied around'
his neck and his coat over his head, just fired away. TEy to get
in there another half an hour and he would have been gone, but uh,
he always gave us credit for savin his life that night, and uh, we
always thought it was a big joke. But the thing that bothered me was
at that time I was just a kid and uh, later on I became a mason and
I remembered those distress signals, how you could fire with a gun
so to this day I know how I was that night.
X: William Harper Davidson hunting quail with his grandfather, William
N. Sheats in north Florida.
D: Well, these uh, camping trips were annual affairs and they were
4i prearranged as to who was going to be there and there was usually had
no trouble fillin' up the space; usually had the same people. But uh,
after the camping trips were over, uh, the quail-shooting anix in
Lynn County and other counties nearby was a matter of every weekend
that grandfather was available and mostly every day with his son,
William N. Sheats, Jr. And uh, I would have the job of dipping the
14 peze5s oaxt tdkrs ~t ,we had and grandmother had the job of feeding
them. I have a little dachsund now, and it cost 30-40 cents a day to
feed him. We used to feed fourteen dogs for less then a dime a day.
And uh, how times have changed. But, anyway, we would go out in the
little hunting surry we had, spend the day eat out lunch in the
field and it was Wquite a treat for me as a youngster to watch
grandfather and uh, my Uncle Bill work the dogs and uh make them
hold and train them in the field and I remember one day we were
standing by and the dog was pointing an uh, my grandfather was down
aways and uh, I was standing right close to my uncle and he said,
"You don't move," and uh, he started flushing a covey, something I
had never seen before, one bird at a time. And he had a little
twenty gauge pump gum and he kept pickin' off these birds until
he had gotten about eight or ten. Then, he quit shooting and
walked in to flush the rest of the covey and the dog and made him hold there,
and I said, uh, "Why'd you quit, Uncle Bill?" He said, You always
want to leave seed birds. I'll never hunt this covey again this season.
Nex season we've left enough birds there. We'll never hunt in this
Always do that." So I remembered. You just don't want to
be greedy. You don't want to wipe out the wildlife. They're something
that give people pleasure and they're a natural resource. And I
learned to protect them then, and I always remembered that story.
But, nh, they worked together as father and son and I just sat around
and walked around and listened and j: a few field At5 when they'd
get up and that's.the way I learned to shoot quail. But it was always a
pleasure to be with 'em and they got along so nicely.
X: William Harper Davidson recalling his grandfather's feelings about
his sons,Willaim N. Sheats Jr. and Howell Sheats.
D: In the early visits when I was just a real young boy, uh, my Uncle
Howell, uh, was living and he was attending college which was
oh, k q F/aor' a Seminary and uh, my Uncle Bill Sheats had been to
school therefor a couple of years and he had uh, refused x1p
to take some capital punishment, I think, and had jumped out of the
window My grandfather had had quite a time vi.th him, so he
sent,Bill to Peabody Institute in Nashville where he graduated.
But after both of 'em, both Howell and Bill were the finest of
athletes and baseball of course, was the real sport in those days
and they were both excellent baseball players and Howell, uh, Bill
went into professional baseball and uh, caught TB while pitching
for the Giants and came home to live wiikxfax in Tallahassee with
grandfather. Howell had picked up TB earlier from his older
brother and died when I was, oh, he died about the time or just
before I went over to Tallahassee to live with kSm my grandparents,
which is about 1917. 1916 or 17. But uh, he was very fond of
t both of his boys and uh, they were both as boys will be at that time,
and I'm sure both of 'em gave him the full amount of trouble that
anybody would.have. But Howell, of course, was the younger and the
more passive of the group and uh, they were all devoted. Home
was home base to them. Any of 'em that got into any trouble of any
kind, why, it was go back to grandfather.
Back in those days the family was the prime unit and uh, my grandmother,
she just held the family together. Mgrandfather, he did the
worrying and was the provider and when anybody in the family go into
any situation where they had to somplace they wanted to go, it was
always to go to grandfather's and grandmother's place. My mother
uh, Elizabeth Sheats Davidson, when my after my father died, we went
over to live with my grandparents. And uh, at the time, my aunt
Mrs. Lawrence from Monroe, Georgia had just lost her husband,..
who was grandmother's sister andAuntie was there with us. Then
my other aunt Mrs. Lizzie L)Ca-ro u, lived in Tampa and she was married
to Dr. Carrou whoc, was an M-D there and after he died the family would
all get together in the summertime, the whole group, and so it was a
family where everybody was concerned with everybody else's welfare
and everybody knew, like Uncle Bill and Uncle Howell that the place
of shelter was homer; When they were in trouble that was the place to
be. Just as mother and I wanted to live with grandmother and grandfather
after my father died. It was a place of love and shelter and I have
cherished it all of my life and always will.
X: William Harper Davidson recalling his grandmother. (Now, let's see how we did,
let me go back her.)