Davis was born on April 18, 1864. He made his reputation as a newspaper reporter in May to June 1889, by reporting on the devastation of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, following the infamous flood. He added to his reputation by reporting on other events, like the first electrocution of a criminal. Davis became a managing editor of Harper's Weekly, and was one of the world's leading war correspondents at the time of the Second Boer War in South Africa. As an American, he had the unique opportunity to see the war first-hand from both the British and Boer perspectives.