Grave of former Negro League player Saul Davis gets new marker in Minot’s Rosehill Cemetery
New marker at Rosehill Cemetery
A man who said he was once a doorman for Chicago gangster Al Capone, wore a grass skirt on the baseball diamond as a player-manager for a traveling team and was a personal friend of diamond legend Willie Mays, has a new grave marker.
Saul Davis, who made his mark as a shortstop in the Negro League from 1921-1931 and with other teams thereafter, was laid to rest in Minot’s Rosehill Cemetery in 1994. His grave was marked with a simple nameplate and date, going virtually unnoticed for many years.
When Terry Bohn of Mandan, who has long been involved in baseball research, learned that Davis’ final resting place was all but forgotten, he determined that some recognition was in order.
“He called asking me if Saul Davis had a headstone,” said Eileen Bean, Rosehill Cemetery. “He said he’d have funds to put in a nicer stone.”
“I learned there was some unmarked graves of Negro Leagues players in Chicago that received some markers from the Negro League Baseball Grave Marker Project,” said Bohn. “I wanted to do that for Saul’s grave at Rosehill and put the word out for donations.”
People responded. Money raised by Bohn received a match from the Grave Marker Project through the Society for American Baseball Research and an impressive marker was cut and installed at Rosehill.
“Once I put the word out I found everybody had a memory of Saul,” said Bohn. “He was such a neat guy.”
Davis was a long-time resident of Minot. How he arrived here is quite a story, even by Davis’ own story-telling standards. He was the player-manager of the Zulu Cannibal Giants, a traveling baseball team in the 1930’s. When the team appeared for some exhibition play in Minot Davis was left behind. It seems he went on a drinking binge after the game. When he was a no-show the following morning the team left without him.
In his later years Davis would say that being stranded in Minot was the best thing that ever happened to him. He eventually operated three restaurants in the city, including “Saul’s Barbeque” from 1943-62.
Davis established himself as one of the leading “characters” in the city. According to Bohn, Davis said he was “not really” arrested 42 times, including a 1954 conviction in federal court in Minneapolis when found guilty of transporting women from that city to Minot for purposes of prostitution.
Despite it all, in 1974 Davis received the “Outstanding Citizen” award by City Hall for his distinguished service to the community, an award that must have been, at least in part, a reflection on Davis’ likeable personality.
As a ballplayer Davis was best known for his slick fielding. At 5’11” and 185 pounds he was a singles hitter who seldom struck out. His best season may have been for the Birminghan Black Barons in 1925 when he reportedly hit .325.
It was said that Davis was responsible for the discovery of renowned pitcher Satchel Paige, having told his team owner to “check out” the hurler from Mobile, Ala. On the diamond Davis played with or against some of the greatest names of the time – Cool Papa Bell, slugger Josh Gibson and Paige among them.
One of his best known friends was Willie Mays. The two kept in touch for many years. Mays thought so much of Davis that he purchased a plane ticket so that Davis could appear at a roast held in San Francisco in Mays’ honor.
Bohn said he tried to find descendants of Davis to inform them of his intentions to have a new headstone made but had “couldn’t find anybody.” The new marker was placed on Davis’ grave this past November. He is interred in Section 16, Block 7, Lot 16 which is located in the southeast section of Rosehill Cemetery.