Don’t let the truth get in the way

I recollect my Granddad, Papa Hop, telling us a tale about a “sore toothed bear” along with the trials and tribulations that went along with it. 

Papa Hop was renowned as a storyteller and as a young sprout of a boy, I soaked each tale in. You see, Papa Hop never let the truth get in the way of a good story and he would keep you spellbound as he brought to life his recollections of those carefree bygone days. 

We would sit there on the porch of a summer day, or near the fireplace of a wintery afternoon while he opened vast frontiers that we soon became engulfed in as our world expanded and caressed our fertile mind. 

One such tale revealed a mind-boggling episode of a sore toothed circus bear and the village blacksmith that was pressed into service to pull that tooth. Ahhh it was a grand tale and quickly branched into other tales of western lore concerning old cowboys or mountain men with an array of dental problems and how each one found methods to cope with it. You see, the old west wasn’t like the big cities back east where there was beginning to be fellers that had proper schooling in the art of dentistry. In fact, only three dental schools existed in the United States at the end of the Civil War and very few dentists ventured toward the western frontier. Probably the most famous of those that did was Doc Holiday. 

Yes, he was properly trained in dentistry, but out west he tended more to the professional gambler and gun fighter lifestyles. But out in the western frontier, when a toothache became mean as a rattlesnake, and left you in full blown agony, feeling like someone had heated their knife tip to glowing red and jobbed it into your mouth, what could a feller do, who could he turn to for help? 

I recently encountered that experience and I’m telling you that I was grateful that I could call a trained dentist with all modern equipment and methods to determine the exact offending tooth and administer me with the magic of numbing that makes tooth extraction bearable. 

But the western frontier cowboy did not have that option. They had to rely on folk remedies such as holding liquor in the mouth for several minutes-then swallow, chew ragweed leaves, put cinnamon oil on the tooth, put clove oil on the tooth, or wear nutmeg around your neck. 

However, these remedies eventually led you to seek the help of a designated person in the village that felt led to help folks. Usually, the best you could do was find someone handy with a pair of pliers, and  the ones tabbed to do this were the barber, gun smith/saloon keeper, or more than likely the blacksmith. It wasn’t until the 1870s that dentists began to move west, in fact the average inhabitant in this western frontier was completely toothless before they reached the ripe old age of 50. 

Those that chose to seek help sometimes found that they were not that much better off than if they had just done the job themselves. There are many tales of tooth ache consequences and one that stands out is about John Wesley Hardin. Hardin was known to have a mean streak and after he enlisted the local barber to pull a bad tooth resulting in the wrong tooth being extracted, he became enraged. He pushed the barber into his own chair and promptly pulled one of his teeth in retaliation for the mistake. Yes, early dentistry could be perilous. Oh, and about that sore toothed circus bear, that is a story in its ownself!


What Ya Think… Doc?

Wal Doc…. my ol’ jaw tooth shore is apainin’

I been fightin’ it the whole dang week.

An’ I know you ain’t open on weekends,

but it’s  yore opinion that I seek.

‘Cuz I been acomin to you fer a spell,

after all, yore not too pushy about yore pay.

The missus an’ the kids appreciate that,

an’ I’ll shore ‘nuff get caught up some day.


You remember five or six year ago,

that tooth you said might cause some trouble,

but you thought it might last fer a spell?

Wal Doc, I shore hates to bust yore bubble,

but I think you sorta misjudged its status

‘spect maybe you was sorta in shock!

But pokin’ an’ scratchin’ around on that tooth

shore mighta ruint it…What ya think…Doc?


I shore ain’t done nothin’ to  hurt it!

So, I’ve give it some serious thought

an’ it all boils back to that last visit.

Wal Doc , shore looks like you’ve been caught.

Now I reckon this ol’ call is kinder late,

I shore didn’t want to act squirrely.

But I figgered I shouldn’t call you at church,

shorely, you don’t bed down this early.


I figgered you’d have a favorite remedy

that you could see yore way to spare.

An’ since that ol’ mercantile is closed,

you’d have a sack full of samples to share.

The missus could come, but she just got off work,

An’ I shore hate to send her back out there,

‘cuz our ol’ road is muddy an’ rutted out.

An’ she’s gotta fix my supper, I swear!


This weather has took a turn fer the worse.

That ‘ol  cold an’ damp aggravates the pain.

I’m purty shore you took that hipocrits oath,

Still, I hates to get you out in the rain.

But I shore feel poorly…What ya think Doc!!!                                                                                                                            © Ol’ Jim Cathey 

Bring Glory to God by attending a church of your choice                                                       Maybe join us at First Baptist Church in Marlin, Texas. 

God Bless each of you and God Bless America!


The Marlin Democrat

251 Live Oak St
Marlin, TX 76661
Phone: (254) 883-2554
Fax:(254) 883-6553