Saturday, July 4, 2015



A Colossal Cousin

 Bobby Davis, it has often been said, was the biggest baby ever born in Bowie County in the great state of Texas. Weighing fourteen pounds at birth, Bobby tipped the century mark on the scales before he started school. When he became a teenager, the scales began to strain as the needle hit the two hundred pound mark. As a grown man, Bobby grew to at least three hundred pounds. What, you may ask yourself, does this large behemoth of a man have to do with the history of Laurens County? 

Well, first we will need to turn back the clock some two hundred years or so. Don't read ahead, please don't. You might spoil your surprise. Young Keen, son of John, came to Laurens County with his widowed mother when Laurens County was still in her infancy. Keen fathered sixteen children by three wives. Kindred Lawrence Keen, a son through his Young’s wife Margaret Jones, joined the Troup Volunteers, Company B of the 57th Georgia Infantry. Keen, who played the fife in the regimental band, surrendered with nearly all the Confederate forces entrenched in and around Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1863. Unlike many of his comrades, Keen escaped injury - a result which will play prominently in this story.

After the war, Keen and his wife, Mary Alice Chipley, decided to pull up their stakes and go to Texas to find a new, and hopefully better, life. Before they left, the Keens were blessed with their first daughter, Mary Alice Robena Keen. Lawrence, a mechanic by trade, landed in Navarro County and later removed himself and his family over to Erath County. Lawrence, as he was known to his family and friends, got the calling to become a Baptist minister in Palo Pinto County. He had been a deacon in Bethlehem Baptist Church in Condor in eastern Laurens County before moving to the Lone Star State.

Being a minister, Rev. Keen and his family moved around quite a bit. Keen possessed a great talent for singing and taught school kids how to sing, for a small fee of course. He died in 1906. His body lies in an old grave in the Garland Cemetery, south of Annona. Mary Keen married a Davis and they had a daughter who they lovingly named Mary Arizona Davis. Mary Davis married Ora.

I can't give you Ora's last name right now because the identity of the mysterious cousin would become instantly obvious. Mary and Ora's second child and first son was born in Bowie County, Texas fifteen days before Christmas in 1928. Bobby, always big for his age or any age for that matter, claims he got his size from his mama's side of the family. When he was six, his family moved to O'Donnell, Texas where Ora worked on farms and eventually bought and operated his own grocery store, a handy thing to own with a son like Bobby who devoured everything on his plate. By the age of thirteen, Bobby could carry a hundred pound sack of feed, fertilizer or flour under each arm to load on his daddy's customer's trucks.

When he really wanted to show off, said old friend Bob Clark, "Bobby lifted his car by its rear axles." Bobby never tried to be a Hercules. He tried his hand at boxing, but gave up after one round with a professional fighter over in Odessa. Bobby attend Texas Military Institute. In 1946, he was named the vice president of the class and lauded as the most popular and best natured member of his class, probably because he was fond of practical jokes, good natured ones, not the cruel kind.

In college, Bobby planned to major in the social sciences and physical education. In his senior year at Sul Ross, Bobby was bitten by the acting bug and graduated with a degree in drama. Shortly after graduation, Bobby was promoted to a sergeant in the 45th Oklahoma Division during the Korean War. As soon as he was discharged, and as fast he could get back home to Texas, Bobby married the love of his life, Dolphia Lee Parker, his college sweetheart. Inside his humongous human physique was the astute mind of a scholar. With a framed master's degree hanging on his wall, Bobby Davis taught grade school in Senora, Texas and in Carlsbad before he and his family moved to Glendale, California, where he planned to work on his Ph.D. degree at the University of California at Los Angeles.

While studying at UCLA, Bobby was a substitute teacher to help pay the bills. He always wanted a career in education, but he loved to act too. One day in 1956, Bobby was invited to appear on Gunsmoke, the granddaddy of all western television shows. And as they say, the rest was history.

 In 1959, the producers of a new show tabbed Bobby to play the role of "Eric" in a new western. Don't get ahead of me yet. Eric was one of a group of half brothers who lived with their father on a Nevada ranch. If you ever watched a western on television, I think you know who I am talking about. But if you never heard of Eric, you missed the one show in which his real name was revealed. Named for his maternal Swedish grandfather, Eric was known by one of the most enduring terms of endearment ever penned on any television character.

 You see, this mountain of man, who always wanted to be a school teacher and grew tired of acting, was fondly known on the show and to the hundreds of millions of viewers as "Hoss" Cartwright. Bobby's given name was Bobby Dan Davis Blocker, who played the affable character for thirteen seasons on NBC.

Though his career as "Hoss Cartwright" was nearly over in the early 1970s, Blocker had become an astute businessman as the owner of Bonanza steakhouses across the country. Because of his superior people skills and intellect, which he displayed weekly on television, and his passion for politics,

Dan was often asked to run for governor, senator or congress. In one of the most tragic cases of celebrities who died all too young, Dan Blocker died after a clot formed in his body following gall bladder surgery on May 13, 1972. 

He was only forty-three years old. Which brings up two philosophical questions. What would have happened if Dan Blocker's great grandfather had been killed or wounded at the Battle of Baker's Creek along with dozens of his fellow Laurens Countains? What would have happened if his grandmother never moved to Texas with her family?

The answer is quite simple. We would have never loved and admired this man whose ancestral roots run deep into Laurens County and who as "Hoss," carried the heart of a lamb and the brilliant mind of professor inside the frame of grizzly bear.

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