IDAHO HISTORY: Some once-common occupations are little-known today

SPECIAL TO THE STATESMANMarch 2, 2014 

In a world dependent on the muscle power of horses and mules for farm work and transportation, their proper care was essential. Boise City in 1889 had four livery stables where horses and carriages could be rented, and where animals could be left to be fed and watered while their owners conducted their business in town. A horse-drawn vehicle, unlike an automobile, could not be parked by the side of the street when it was 100 degrees in the shade, or when it was storming or snowing.

Boise, on the eve of statehood, had three harness makers, a saddle maker, a carriage and wagon maker, and two blacksmiths. Across Idaho, however, blacksmiths outnumbered all other trades by far. The 1889-90 Idaho Gazetteer and Business Directory lists 84 towns that had at least one blacksmith. In Boise, John Atkinson and Fred Iseli had shops where iron horseshoes were heated, shaped, and fitted to horses' hooves. Wagons and their wheels were repaired, and any other kind of iron work that was needed could be handled.

In Caldwell, the local blacksmiths were Jacob Hamm, Peter Wixcel, and William Brown. Nampa, with only about 200 people at the time, had a shop run by C.H. Blazer. Ed Blanchard was Emmett's blacksmith, and George W. Edwards took care of the business in Payette. Many of the blacksmiths in the rest of Idaho worked in places so small that you probably never heard of them and that no longer exist, like Bonanza City, Bridge, Crichton, and Post.

Another necessary craftsman in small town Idaho in 1889 was the shoemaker. He could repair shoes, but his real skill was the ability to make and fit a pair of shoes to an individual customer, starting with just the leather and his tools. Thirty-one Idaho towns had a shoemaker, at a time when nearly none of them had a store where factory-made boots and shoes could be bought.

In earlier times, Idaho dentists were nomads, traveling from town to town, without enough business to support a permanent dental parlor in any of them. By 1889, however, the Territory's population had grown enough that each of these places had a resident dentist: Bellevue, Boise, Burke, Genesee, Hailey, Lewiston, Moscow, and Pocatello. If you didn't live in one of these cities you might suffer a great deal of pain before you got relief - usually achieved by pulling the aching tooth.

Medical doctors were much more plentiful than dentists. Although most of them were as competent as those found elsewhere in the country, some had never been to college and had learned what skills they had by apprenticing to a practicing doctor and reading the books in his office. As late as July 2, 1892, the Idaho Statesman decried the fact that no examination was required to practice medicine in Idaho, saying that the lack of a board of medical examiners created "a field for quacks." History was made on September 12, 1893, when doctors from all over the state met in Boise's new castle-like City Hall and formed the Idaho State Medical Association.

In 1889, men listed as "physician" were practicing medicine in 40 of Idaho's larger towns. Boise, the largest city in Idaho, had five doctors: George Collister, who would be influential in community affairs as well as in medicine, and James E. Dubois, George P. Haley, L.F. Jones, and C.J. Williams.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@mindspring.com.

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