ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST
For nearly three decades, Joe Davison was the mountain man behind
Scores of friends and families living in the East Fork campground
above Azusa say the person they called "Papa Joe' and "Gold
Miner' has given each of them a piece of heaven and endless grace.
But on Thursday, Davison died. He was 66.
The cop-turned Rolls Royce dealer-turned campground owner was found
dead in his double-wide mobile home, which is surrounded by rose bushes,
fruit trees and a vineyard. Breathing problems associated with several
chronic medical conditions may be the cause, residents said.
On Friday, country music played softly in the background of the
camp's rustic restaurant, known as The Fort. Many of Davison's closest
friends sat at the bar and reminisced about the man most say saved their
As they spoke, many glanced at the empty seat at the right end of the
bar. The back of the seat had Davison's CB moniker, Gold Miner, on the
back. A vase of flowers and a get-well note from a 6-year-old girl had
been placed on the counter, while everyone echoed that they will always
save his seat.
"His legacy, his desire for this place, is all about the people
here,' said Davison's daughter, Terri Eagon.
And seemingly all the people at Follows Camp have a great story about
how they came to meet Davison and how he's changed their lives. There's
the 27-year-old woman with the long red hair who had been living in her
car for nine months with her dog. She stopped at the camp one night and
asked if she could park her car along the river to sleep, but that
wasn't good enough for this man.
"He said, 'Honey, I've got a little cabin for you. No way you're
going to sleep in that car of yours. Just come in and we'll work
something out,' ' Kari Nicassio said.
There's the wealthy real estate developer and artist who said Joe
changed his life and showed him that "chasing money' wasn't the
happiest way to live. Many others have jobs in maintenance or at the
camp's restaurant and live in trailers or mobile homes, all thanks to
"He, unlike anyone else I know, always looks for and finds the
good in people,' said Edy Cornell, who has lived at Follows Camp for six
years and says she will never leave.
Davison once patrolled the streets of Beverly Hills as a cop and
later sold Rolls Royces in Newport Beach. In the 1970s, he visited
Follows Camp to pan for gold. He bought a cabin, then started buying up
parcels, including property owned by two others.
He didn't think running the place with three owners would work.
"The old definition of a camel is a horse built by a committee,'
the Pennsylvania native once said.
Davison improved the place, adding telephones, cable television and a
bridge for residents to access their homes when the river rises in the
Some still find gold in the mountains, but Davison would warn that
it's no easy road to riches.
"There's an old saying that a gold mine is a hole in the ground
owned by a liar,' Davison had said.
Besides his love of the people and places, Davison was an avid
Studebaker nut and owned several of the cars, including one he drove to
a Studebaker show just last weekend, said friend Steve "Salmon'
Davison was also known for his other love a green, 1946 jeep. It was
in that jeep that he flipped two years ago, sending him in and out of
the hospital for nearly a year. His arm was nearly severed, and he
endured six surgeries and other medical problems. Friends and family
donated more than 76 pints of blood that helped him return back to the
mountain a year later.
"He will always be the god in the green jeep,' said Kimberly
Shortly after he died on Thursday, nearly all of the camp's 200
residents climbed on top of wooden picnic tables and saluted Davison as
the coroner drove away with his body.
Many fired several rounds of shots into the air, while one person
rang a large bell and others cried, screamed and yelled, Cornell said.
Funeral services are pending.
A special meeting for camp residents is scheduled for Sunday
afternoon to discuss the mountain community's future, although family
members and friends say they're sure the place will stay open.
Staff Writer Ruby Gonzales contributed to this story. Michelle
Rester can be reached at (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2127, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org