Samuel Post Davis was one of the most talented, versatile, popular, and politically active of the late nineteenth century group of Nevada writers known informally as the Sagebrush School.
The son of an Episcopal priest, he was born on April 4, 1850, in Branford, Connecticut, and moved, as his father changed pulpits, to Newark, New Jersey, and Racine, Wisconsin. In Racine, his father enrolled him in a seminary with the hope that he might become interested in the clergy, but instead he and the seminary agreed to part company. Davis subsequently followed a career in journalism, taking jobs in Nebraska, Missouri, and Chicago. Early on, he displayed ethical courage in reporting and a talent for wit and imagination. He followed his father to California in 1872, and then moved on his own to Virginia City, Nevada, in 1875.
Once in the West, Davis quickly established himself as a bold and original wit and humorist and immediately found common ground with other Sagebrush writers—such as Mark Twain and Dan De Quille—who were fond of subtle but audacious hoaxes. In addition to his regular journalism, Davis wrote poetry, plays, and humorous sketches. In 1879, he joined the Carson City Morning Appeal, whose distinguished editor, Henry Rust Mighels, had recently died. Within a year, Davis married Mighels's widow, Nellie, and adopted her four children. Two daughters were subsequently born to the couple.
As editor, Davis maintained and enhanced the reputation of the Appeal as a public-spirited and independent newspaper. He was active in politics, embodying a combination of political astuteness and personal integrity, and he vigorously strove for honest and progressive government.
Davis regularly produced humorous sketches for western papers, and soon branched out into short stories. In 1886, encouraged by Ambrose Bierce, he published Short Stories, a misnamed collection of his fiction, humor, and poetry. He continued to publish fiction and poetry on a wide range of subjects for the rest of his life. He attempted some novels but did not complete them. In 1905, Davis copyrighted The Prince of Timbuctoo, a comic opera comparable to Gilbert and Sullivan's. In 1913, he published his two-volume History of Nevada, a major historical achievement.
Because Davis did not collect his literary productions after 1886, he was largely forgotten until the twenty-first century, when his work was rediscovered and published. Much of his writing—fiction, memoirs, and nonfiction—is excellent. His work often displays ethical concerns and depth as well as literary genius.
Davis died on March 17, 1918. As Sagebrush literature is revived, he is being recognized as one of its leading and outstanding talents.