Margaret Riley Davis and Bow Park Farm: a monstrous theft

Margaret Riley Davis and Bow Park Farm: a monstrous theft

NEWS BRANTFORD – Rumours have haunted Oxbow Road for decades

By Heather Ibbotson, Brantford Expositor Tuesday, August 7, 2007 12:00:00 EDT AM

‘Tales of murder, mayhem and the macabre have haunted Oxbow Road for at least 30 years. Variations on a horror-movie theme have evolved and mutated of their own accord into ever more gruesome tales of triple homicide, dead babies, blood-splattered walls and headless ghosts. Unfortunately for Hollywood, the whole thing is hogwash. There is no evidence of a murder, heinous or otherwise, ever occurring on Oxbow Road, and the closest things to ghosts were likely a wonky night light in the bedroom of a teenage girl or a frustrated farmer.

“There is no truth to it. There have been no sightings,” said Elke Hilgendag, 37, who lives on Oxbow Road. (news story con’d at end of post)


Nothing-to-see-here story. “No record of any malicious bloodshed on the Oxbow has been unearthed.”


Unearthed by Stephen Heeney, one account, if not bloody, is certainly malicious. The story concerns the mother of Squire Davis, Margaret Riley Davis. The story also concerns Squire, and his five siblings, John, Charles, Darius, Chrissiny, and Richard. After Peter Davis and Peter the Runner die from cholera (1832), John Smoke Johnson assaults the widow and scoops her cleared land on the Oxbow, now called Bow Park Farm.

Following is the Affidavit of Margaret Riley/O’Reily/O’Reilly Davis, 27 October (1845), to David Thorburn Esq, Special Commissioner,* regarding Davis’s Oxbow Farm on the Grand River at Cayuga Heights (now Cainsville). Signed and sworn in the presence of Magistrate Nathan Gage, Brantford.

Margaret Riley Davis:

“My brother and myself had been in about two hours when John [Smoke] Johnson and from about eight to ten other Indians armed with knives and a pistol drove us out and the said John S. Johnson said he had broken the lock and opened the door and given Mrs. Dana possession of the furniture.”

“The undersigned was married about twenty years ago to Peter Davis, an Indian, and son of Peter Davis, known by the name of Peter the Runner. The elder Peter took up the land long previously and when in a perfectly wild state. At our marriage we went to live on the place with my husband’s father and resided with him occasionally to take care of him until the year 1832 when both my husband and his father died of cholera and when at the direction of the physician Doctor Gilpin I left the house and about thirty acres of improved and well cultivated land and my furniture locked up in the house. The same fall I returned to occupy the house and found one Anna Dana living in it. She appeared willing to leave it to me. My brother and myself had been in about two hours when John [Smoke] Johnson and from about eight to ten other Indians armed with knives and a pistol drove us out and the said John S. Johnson said he had broken the lock and opened the door and given Mrs. Dana possession of the furniture. I had left a quantity of potatoes and corn which my brother had secured in the house after I left plus a small sack of oats and all had been destroyed or consumed. My father-in-law nor husband ever disposed of their right to occupy the premises to any person. At the decease of my husband I was left to support five children and in consequence of being driven off in the manner as stated from my home have suffered great privation. I understand that the present occupant claims possession under Johnson. I hope that with the facts before you will not offer anyone to purchase these premises until satisfaction is made to me and my children for our rights for improvements.”

Nathan Gage  

Margaret X Davis


“Patrick O’Reilly maketh Oath and Saith that he is brother to Margaret Davis, that he knew the an Indian known as Peter the Runner, that his sister was married to his son Peter, that the elder Peter resided on a place at the OxBow on the Grand River about thirty years ago in a small log house and then had about twenty acres improved and in fences – that the statement made in the foregoing communication in relation to the deposition and his sister Margaret being driven off the premises therein mentioned by Indians is true.”

Subscribed and sworn before in Brantford this 27th day of October 1845

Nathan Gage

Patrick X O’Reilly

One doesn’t believe in curses, of course not – but, if ever a property were cursed . . .


Ibbotson con’d

. . . “I’ve lived here for 30 years and there has never been anything out of the ordinary. It’s a historic farm and nothing else,” Hilgendag said.

Bow Park Farm was once the home of George Brown [and Margaret Riley and Peter Davis and his father Peter the Runner in 1832, until, the same year, John Smoke Johnson and cohorts ran off the widow Davis at gun and knifepoint]. [Brown is] remembered as both a Father of Confederation and the founder of the Toronto Globe newspaper. He established the farm in 1866. The farm later was owned by a joint stock company which ran a mixed operation, raising horses, cattle, sheep and pigs.

By the mid-1880s, the farm was devoted primarily to the breeding and raising of short- horn cattle. At one time, it was home to some 300 of the prized and pricey purebred beasts, believed at the time to be the largest herd of short-horns in the world.

During much of the 20th century, the farm was owned by Canadian Canners Ltd. and produced a dazzling array of fruits and vegetables.

Today, Bow Park Farm produces pedigreed wheat and soybean varieties.

When the Hilgendags arrived in 1978, there were a few, but not many, other houses or homesteads on Oxbow Road. These buildings were rented out by the Hilgendags to farm workers and other tenants. Soon after moving in, the Hilgendags began to hear the stories. A man who started working at the farm in the 1950s and who had stayed with the farm for about 25 years, knew of the tales, Hilgendag said.

No one knows when the rumours started, or why.

No record of any malicious bloodshed on the site has been unearthed.”

Of course nothing malicious has been unearthed. Neither Six Nations (protecting Smoke Johnson) nor Brantford/Cainsville (protecting colonial privilege) cares to dig up facts when they can dig up onions. 


Featured image.  Stephen Heeney’s tintype photo depicts a Haudenosaunee granddaughter of Margaret Riley Davis and Peter Davis. This is Maggie Davis (daughter of Squire and Jennet Davis), and Maggie’s husband, John A Butler.

*David Thorburn, Special Commissioner to the Six Nations, shows up in Squire Davis’s life more than once. 

Pictures: Mohawk village, John Smoke Johnson, Bow Park, digging up onions

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