Forgotten Voices:

The Adirondack Tooth Carpenter

Forest and Steam Magazine, 1875, author signed as “H. E. C.”

Speaking about Long Lake calls to mind a funny episode, one of the many which befell “us boys” during the peregrinations in the Adirondacks, of the defunct but ever to be remembered “Black Fly Club.”

While at Long Lake our “special artist” (C. R. F.) became suddenly afflicted with a jumping toothache while “bolting” his evening meal, (he always did “bolt” everything but the cabin door), and frantically demanded a “tooth carpenter.”  The dental craft being poorly represented in this section, he was advised to search his “dark box” for alcohol, to allay the distressing torment, but alas! None could be found.  The ardent had run out when we were over on the big Carry.

At this juncture one of the guides raised on his elbow and remarked that he “knowed a man they called Smith acrost the lake yonder that yanked ‘em for the neighbors(?) of an on, an praps we ken find him to hum’ an if he is, Mr. picter man, (with a sly wink) “he’ll jerk yer ball-headed, or my name is’nt Steve Turner.

No sooner said than done.  Steve and I were quickly at the oars, pulling with a will for the other side of the lake.  In the stern of the boat sat the unfortunate sufferer, howling with pain and tearing his hair in desperation.  In half an hour we ran alongside a rude landing, and looking toward the clearing espied a habitation and several signs of life, in the way of gaunt hounds and a thinly stocked farm yard.  “Hello, there! Hello!” bawled our guide, and immediately there hove in sight the stalwart form of Smith.

“Here is a customer I’ve brought ye.  Are you doin, any pullin’ now days?”  “Wall” said this god-send, “I haint looked down in a mouth to any alarmin’ extent lately, but if you’ll assist the gentleman into the house, praps I can relieve him; ‘tall events I ken try, ye know-I allus bring suthin’, that’s one satisfaction I enjoy over them air city chaps-I’m powerful you see, and when I fix on a mouth, as I said afore, suthin’er other’s bound to come,” and he laughed a fiendish laugh which would have crushed a less determined man than our afflicted friend.

“I don’t like your style of “bringing suthin’,” said he.  “It’s all fun for you, but death to me.”  Got anything to take, Smith? I want a “stiffner,” I don’t care what it is, camphor, kerosene, anything to give me great hopes, for my teeth come hard-most infernal hard.”

Being accommodated with a “smile” from a flask which our professional friend carried, his courage came back, and prospects brightened.  As we neared the house I espied, nearly buried in the sand, the remains of a huge horse jaw.  “Ah! Thought I,” here’s a chance for a practical joke at our worthy artist’s expense.  I loosened the large of the two remaining teeth, and placing the relic quietly in my pocket unseen, followed the trio into the “sittin’ room.”  Once inside the Smith mansion, it was the work of a moment for the operator to find his “kit.”  The victim “occupied the chair” by being placed flat upon his back on the sanded floor.  The strong arms of the guide held him firmly.  Smith produced his “kit.”  Great heavens!  A pair of bullet moulds as I live! (sixteen balls to the pound).  “This is what I do it with,” said the Dentist, “in argavated cases,” as he tried to force the huge instrument into the artist’s capacious orifice.  His attempts to grapple with the raging fang were abortive.

“I’ll hev to trm down the goom I reckon;” so he cut around the tooth, and was preparing for another lunge with the tool, and when his wife came to the rescue with an ancient instrument like a jack-screw-one long since discarded in the science of dentistry, but a thing of terrible power.  Smith succeeded in fastening on with the concern and began to twist.  He sweated, he wrenched, he swore. The patient struggled, howled, kicked, and kept up a series of half strangled yells which were distinctly heard at the camp.  I stood trembling with fear, with clasped hands, wondered and prayed.  All was to no avail, the tooth would not succumb.

The artist respited from what to him was worse than the tortures of the Inquisition, rolled in helpless agony upon the floor, upsetting sundry buckets, and causing consternation amongst the younger members of the Smith family.  A mysterious jug was here produced, from which “Old Forceps” revived himself, and a nip was worried into the distracted victim.  Again the “chair” was taken, strong arms once more bound him fast, the murderous instrument was attached, and the torture began anew.  Smith’s blood was up, his reputation was at stake.  He was bound to win, and he did.  This time victory perched on the dental banner.  There was a crack, a crunch, an infernal howl, and then, the tooth was out.

If the artist was half crazed before the pulling, he certainly seemed quite beside himself now with joy at the denouement.  The blood streamed from his lips, and with disheveled hair, he appeared more like a maniac than the “Special Artist of the Black Fly Club.”  He embraced all in the room.  He sang and shouted, “the tooth’s out! Hurrah!  The tooth’s out!  Bully for Smith!  Smith let’s have something!  Where’s the tooth?”  Now, I had “fixed” the tooth which I had chosen to exhibit, and presented it to him, remarked, that “as a toothiest I thought he was a success.”

The expression which burst over the features of the poor fellow I shall never forget-never.  He spoke not a word.  He was too full for utterance.  Nonplussed for once-he strode from the house in the direction of the landing, Steve and myself following, convulsed with laughter.  Once again in the boat, we soon drew up at our camp, where the party was awaiting the results of our visit to  Smith’s.  The “Picter man” suddenly revived his wonted fervor on the subject of dentistry, and leaped waist deep in the lake, shouting like a dervish as he scrambled up the bank, “the tooth’s out boys!  The tooth’s out!  Three cheers for Smith, Hip! Hip!   A demand was made for the molar, not actual proof, however, that such had been extracted, for there was every evidence that something had been done. The curiosity to see an artist’s tooth drawn by Smith prevailed upon the possessor of the relic to pass it round, when it at once became the topic of much conjecture, as a matter of course.



We're pleased to bring you writings from an Adirondack Blogger, Dave Waite ([email protected]) Dave is an amateur nature and fine arts photographer who was trained in black & white photography in the early 1970's, worked professionally a bit and then set aside all artistic pursuits until about 2003.  Ne now enjoys creative aspects of photograph and writing to share with others.  Please visit Dave at:


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