"Nothing But The Truth" airs Thursday, Oct. 14, at 8:30 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 17, at 7:30 p.m. Passport members can stream it beginning Thursday, Oct. 7.
By Bill Manny/Idaho Public Television
Max Black is not someone you’d expect to become obsessed with the 130-year-old tale of an accused gunman, murderer and bully.
For 20 years, this mild-mannered insurance agent represented Boise in the Idaho Legislature. He became interested in the story of Diamondfield Jack Davis while traveling regularly for work to the Magic Valley and south-central Idaho, where campgrounds, foot races and menu items are named for the famous outlaw.
He can’t explain why, but Diamondfield Jack’s story grabbed hold of him.
“There is a Native American saying that says a story stalks a writer,” Black told Idaho Public TV for an episode of its history series, Idaho Experience. “And if you are found worthy, your responsibility is to give the story verse. And I have become obsessed.”
Black spent years researching the case, visiting key places and tracing the movements of Jack Davis and other characters in the story. Davis was an enforcer for cattle ranches on the Idaho-Nevada border. He threatened – and at least once, shot – sheepherders who were pushing onto what had been traditional cattle range.
In February 1896, when two sheepherders were found dead in their sheep camp, Jack Davis was the obvious suspect.
Historical marker in Albion, where the Cassia County Jail sat in the 1890s.
Nobody would be talking about Diamondfield Jack Davis in the 21st Century if his case hadn't represented one of the last big clashes in the range war between cattle and sheep interests in the late 1800s.
Nor would we be interested if the trial of this braggart and bully hadn’t attracted Idaho’s two best-known lawyers and politicians.
William Borah, left, and James Hawley, right, when they teamed up for the prosecution in the 1907 Trial of the Century. (Courtesy Hawley Troxell)
William Borah was hired by the sheepherders to aid the Cassia County prosecution. Borah would become a U.S. senator 10 years later, run for president and become one of the most powerful men in America.
“This is before his days as a senator and world fame,” said David Metcalf, who has studied and written about the case and the lawyers. Metcalf is a lawyer himself, and was the longtime staff attorney to federal Judge Lynn Winmill. Borah, said Metcalf, “wants to make a name for himself. And this is a really high-publicity case, because this is cattle versus sheep.”
Grave marker in Oakley for the two sheepherders killed on the Idaho range in 1896.
Hawley was hired by the Sparks-Harrell cattle company to defend Diamondfield Jack. Hawley, who would soon be Boise’s mayor and then Idaho governor, was already the most prominent criminal lawyer in Idaho. By 1896, he’d defended or prosecuted more murder cases than any other lawyer in the state.
Diamondfield Jack’s trial was in Cassia County, and the dead men were from local Mormon sheep families. The jurors’ allegiances were with the sheepmen.
"One of the jurors was quoted saying it didn’t matter whether Jack Davis was guilty or innocent," said Black. "He should have been hung on general principles."
Diamondfield’s behavior and outbursts – often aimed at the judge – didn’t help his cause.
Idaho State Historical Society/1960-108-20
“In defending Diamondfield,” said Metcalf, “James Hawley felt he was up against not only the state of Idaho but also the sheep industry, the Idaho Statesman newspaper, the Mormon Church and even his own client.”
Davis was quickly convicted by the jury and sentenced by the judge to hang. And that is when the Diamondfield Jack Davis story becomes truly compelling. The tale has so many twists and turns that it could only be true.
The Cassia County Jail cell where Diamondfield Jack spent more than five years was relocated from Albion to this park in Oakley.
We recount many of those plot twists in our IDPTV documentary. We follow Black into the Idaho desert to see how he discovered new details about Diamondfield Jack's story. We explore how Hawley worked to keep Diamondfield alive. We show how it sometimes takes a dogged advocate to ensure that the facts come out and the truth prevails.
That was true in James Hawley's time, and it's true today.
Charles Fain spent 18 years on death row, convicted in the 1982 rape and killing of 9-year-old Daralyn Johnson. Fain wasn't released from prison until 2001, when he was exonerated by DNA evidence, thanks to a team led by Eastern Idaho lawyer Fred Hoopes, who died in 2016.
"Sometimes in order for justice to prevail, it just takes a single-mindedness, the zealousness when your friends and family are tired of hearing you talk about that case anymore," said Greg Silvey, a lawyer and former legal director of the Idaho Innocence Project. "Yes, Mr. Fain was particularly lucky to have that sort of attorney that could stick with it."
"The Fain case and the Diamondfield case have a lot of parallels," said Metcalf. "The public is clamoring for an arrest and the evidence was just not there. Fred Hoopes became a zealous advocate for Charles Fain. He saw the thinness of the evidence. He saw that Charles didn't do this. He was just a dog with a bone, just like Hawley was for Diamondfield."
In 2021, the Idaho Legislature created a fund to compensate people, like Fain, wrongfully imprisoned. Those payments range up to $75,000 a year for people sent to death row.
"The system let ’em down and they deserve to have compensation," said Jim Jones, a former Idaho attorney general and Supreme Court justice. "I was glad that they were able to get that done during this session of the Legislature."
As Attorney General, Jim Jones argued against Fain’s appeal in the belief that the analysis of the evidence by the FBI was trustworthy and that Fain was guilty.
"I was just absolutely flabbergasted five years ago when the story came out saying the FBI had fudged the DNA analysis, the hair comparison analysis, for years back in the '80s," said Jones. "They had essentially betrayed the state."
"Defense attorneys have always known there are wrongful convictions. The rest of the world did not know that until there were DNA exonerations,” said Silvey. “We’ve gone from people just absolutely not believing it, to, now it’s a force.”
Bill Manny is a writer and producer for Idaho Public Television.
Rancher Alex Kunkel, left, and Max Black teamed up to find the site of the 1896 shooting, east of Rogerson, Idaho. Black and Kunkel recounted their search for the site for the Idaho Experience crew in August.
Abandoned home at the Shoe Sole Ranch near Rock Creek. A cowboy gave Jack Davis the nickname "Diamondfield" while they were working at the Shoe Sole.
Abandoned building at the Middlestacks Ranch, one of the ranches that was part of the Sparks-Harrell network patrolled by Diamondfield Jack Davis in the 1890s. It was here that Davis fired .44-caliber bullets in his .45-caliber pistol -- a detail that would be crucial in his 1897 murder trial, and his later exoneration.
IDPTV editor/videographer Troy Shreve in the old Cassia County Courthouse in Albion. It's also been a hotel and grocery store. The jury box and chairs from the 1897 trial are still in the building.