Idaho History

Hitting camps and mines, dentists in early Idaho were constantly on the go

Dr. J.C. Leonard’s ad pictured an engraving of his traveling dental office. He was based in San Francisco.
Dr. J.C. Leonard’s ad pictured an engraving of his traveling dental office. He was based in San Francisco. Provided by Arthur Hart

Dentists in early Idaho had to keep moving from town to town to make a living. Dr. F.C. Clark, who advertised in the Idaho Tri-weekly Statesman in January 1865, had recently moved to Boise from Placerville and set up an office on Main Street. That he hoped to settle in Boise was noted in the ad with “where he intends to make his home for coming years.”

Clark replaced Dr. J.B. Isbail, who moved from Boise to Idaho City. Isbail’s ad stated, “I shall visit Boise City and the surrounding camps at stated periods, of which I shall give notice.” His use of the term “camps” instead of “towns” reminds us that the places he visited were indeed raw mining camps, products of the gold rush to Boise Basin that had started only a few years earlier.

In October 1865, Dr. D. Arnold arrived in Boise. His ad in the Statesman read: “All persons wishing to consult him in regard to any disease of the teeth, mouth or gums can have an opportunity to do so by calling at his office next door to Boise Drug Store, Main Street. All the most difficult, as well as minor operations performed on the teeth. Please call and examine specimens. All cases that have been abandoned or unsuccessful in the hands of others are respectfully solicited.”

Arnold settled in Boise and in July 1871 received this mention in the Statesman: “Our esteemed fellow-townsman Dr. Arnold is making a tour of Boise County on professional business. We can recommend the Dr. to all the Basinites in need of dental reconstruction, as a skillful and accomplished dentist.” The paper would continue to mention Dr. Arnold’s regular trips to the Basin for several years.

When Dr. Arnold lost his wife, Susan, in May 1872, the Statesman recalled that the Arnolds, with a son, daughter and the wife’s father, had come to Idaho from Monroe, Wisconsin, in 1864.

Each of the ads quoted above was illustrated with a rather crude engraving of the upper plate of a set of false teeth.

In January 1867, a Dr. C. Billings bought Dr. Clark’s business in Boise and promptly sold it to a Dr. Hamilton, terms not disclosed. On Jan. 9, 1868, the Statesman noted that Dr. H.D. Keeler, “formerly of San Francisco and late of Helena, Montana Territory,” had opened an office on Main Street “opposite Wells Fargo & Co.” We have surely cited enough examples by now to confirm that dentistry on the Idaho frontier was a profession that rarely allowed its practitioners to settle in one place for very long.

In late October 1882, the Statesman reported the arrival of a dentist unlike any other in our history. “Dr. J.C. Leonard, a San Francisco dentist who has been on a tour through Oregon and Washington Territory, has taken rooms and will temporarily engage in the practice of his profession at the Overland Hotel.”

On July 7, 1883, the largest ad ever placed in the Statesman by a dentist appeared: “DR. J.C. LEONARD, DENTIST, Broadbent’s Building, Main Street, Boise City. Having formed a favorable opinion of Idaho, and having received a liberal professional support, I have decided to locate permanently in Boise City. Those who feel disposed to favor me with their patronage can rely on first-class work at reasonable rates. I can be found in my office the week of the Fourth, then absent a short time. Due notice will be given.”

On July 31, the paper noted that “Dr. Leonard, dentist, is making a tour of the Territory. He will return in a very few weeks and locate permanently in Boise City, the notice of which will be given in this paper.” We also learn that Leonard had acquired land near Bellevue in his travels: “Dr. Leonard has begun suit against some drovers who drove 300 head of beef onto his hay land after being forbidden to do so.”

More of the adventures of the remarkable Dr. Leonard next week.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email