In the upstairs of the Calaveras County Museum, tucked away between antique bedpans, medical journals and surgical implements, sits a contraption that looks something like a cross between an early electric chair and a barbershop stool.
This metal chair features a slightly padded headrest with a reclining seat and metal armrests, which apparently hold the willing and the unwilling patient alike in the chair while the dentist performs his work.
According to Danielle Ballard, administrative assistant and exhibit specialist at the Calaveras County Museum, the dental chair was found in the museum’s storage room and is listed in the archives as having been the first dental chair in Calaveras County.
The dental chair resembles other dental chairs used in the early 1900s.
A record of an early dentist in Calaveras County is mentioned in “A History of Mountain Ranch” by Phil D. Alberts, 1967. The book claims that, in 1881, Charles Lincoln Butterfield, a dental apprentice from Watsonville, traveled by stagecoach to Sheep Ranch where he set up his first office in the hotel. Soon thereafter, he moved to San Andreas, where he opened a new office and patiently waited the prerequisite one year of engagement to wed his bride-to-be; they were married in 1882. He continued to practice until 1886, when he moved his family and his practice back to Watsonville.
Dentistry in the mines was not as pleasant as in a dental office. Lacking the correct dental implements, comfortable chair and pain medications, mine dentistry often involved copious amounts of whiskey and some rather crude extraction tools.
Visiting the dentist was also not something old timers were too anxious to do through the early 1900s.
Longtime Purdyville resident Sam Marshall remembers a story of a man who had a toothache but didn’t want to go to the dentist. “He walked into Jack’s (which is now Gold Digger’s Saloon in downtown Angels Camp) and asked anyone if they had pliers. The bartender poured a little whiskey on the pliers and gave him a shot and the tooth was pulled. He shot 100 proof to dull the pain and to wash his mouth out. Jack’s was closed down a bit after that as there were too many fights.”
The Calaveras County Museum, 30 Main St., San Andreas, is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.