Commemorating the First World War Centennial in Kansas

Home Front: The Return of Private Davis from the Argonne

The Kansas artist John Steuart Curry captured a post-war moment in his native Winchester when the body of his high school friend, William Lewis Davis, was returned for burial.  Steven Trout captures this in an article published in Autumn 2008 issue of Kansas History. 


Read the article online

Multiple influences and sources of inspiration helped shape John Steuart Curry’s The Return of Private Davis from the Argonne (1928–1940), the depiction of a Kansas soldier’s stateside reburial following World War I. First, there is the sad and ironic story of William L. Davis, Curry’s Winchester, Kansas, high-school friend, who was wounded on his very first night of frontline duty, the victim of hand-to-hand combat in an otherwise quiet sector of the Western Front. In addition, a tragedy in Curry’s family (the sudden death of his younger brother Paul), the artist’s exposure to World War I literature and public commemoration, and his support for isolationism all played a role in the painting’s evolution over a twelve-year period. Ultimately, explains Professor Steven Trout, department of English, Fort Hays State University, The Return of Private Davis from the Argonne reflects the sense of ambiguity that permeated American memory of World War I during the 1920s and 1930s. In addition, the painting warns against American involvement in a new European war waiting on the horizon.

Here is description of the article from : Steven Trout, “The Western Front Comes to Kansas: John Steuart Curry’s The Return of Private Davis from the Argonne.”

Blair Tarr is the Museum Curator of the Kansas State Historical Society. He oversees the three-dimensional collections of the Society, but has special interests in the Civil War, Wichita-made Valentine diners, and Leavenworth's Abernathy Furniture. In the last few years he has also done a lot of cramming on The Great War. He is a past president of the Kansas Museums Association and the Civil War Round Tables of both Kansas City and Eastern Kansas. He is currently a board member of the Heritage League of Greater Kansas City.


  1. Jerry Jackson

    This is very interesting to me as Private Davis was my Great Uncle. My Wife and I were able to see the original painting in New York in June.

    • Blair Tarr

      Glad you found the article interesting. Thanks for posting!

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