Dr. Harry Sylvester Bettis
Photo 049, Moore-Cunningham-Bettis Collection
Dr. Bettis was the first dentist to practice in Boise City, at the turn of the century. His family had gone to California during the gold rush of 1849, and at Gemtown in the Mother Lode in California, Harry Sylvester Bettis was born on February 11, 1864. (The tombstone at Morris Hill Cemetery which says 1863 is incorrect). He graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. Dr. Bettis was not well-to-do when he moved to Boise by the 1890s, but he was affable and honest. In Boise he attended to many people’s dental needs for decades, and he engaged in other business ventures. His dental office was on Main Street just past 8th Street on the second floor next to Doctor Piggin’s office, and next door to Carlson’s Hardware store. His son Laurence remembers watching the night parade for the troops going to the Spanish American War from his father’s upstairs window on Main Street.
Dr. Bettis invested in several business ventures. He was partner in a sheep company with Domingo Odiaga, a Basque, from about 1912 through 1916. He put a great deal of his own money into stock in the Merchants Security Company of San Francisco, California, which became worthless during the Depression. He also invested in an oil station. Some of the financial backing for his business ventures apparently came from his sister, Mary Louise Bettis.
“Doc” Bettis married Alice Mae Moore on August 30, 1894, at Boise, probably in the Moore home on Warm Springs Avenue. They had one child, Laurence Moore Bettis, born on his grandmother Moore’s birthday, July 9, 1895.
Roxy Johnson relates how her father, Tom McMillan, became friends with “Doc” Bettis through McMillan’s need for a dentist. She described early dental methods, saying, “Doc Bettis was a great dentist. If he put in a gold filling, it was there for life. HURT! He hammered in the leaves of gold. You would sit there two or three hours while he hammered. Mary Stewart had a mouth full of these gold fillings. Doc Bettis took her to Portland to show his marvelous work at a dental convention.”
Then Roxy explained how Doc Bettis extracted a tooth without pain killer from her mouth at about age 18 with forceps. The top was rotten and came off. Her jawbone broke, but she always adored Doc Bettis. “Doc” hunted sagehen on her father’s ranch at Mayfield. Dr. Bettis took Roxy to lunch at Berkeley while she was in college about 1924.
Alice Moore Bettis died on February 15, 1919, and Doctor Bettis moved back to California in 1920. He married again in California. That marriage ended in divorce. Doc Bettis and his son took a trip around the world in 1928. He returned to Idaho, where he stayed with the Cunninghams and engaged in the Weiser Sheep Company the last four years of his life. He also owned land near Cambridge. Dr. Bettis died near Council, Idaho, on October 9, 1934, less than two weeks before the birth of his only grandchild, named Harry Sylvester Bettis (later changed to Harry Little Bettis).
--Carol L. MacGregor (1990)
Bettis, Mary Louise. Letter to Laurence Moore Bettis, 22 Oct 1934 (Box 8, Folder 21).
Bettis, Laurence Moore. Tape-recorded interview with the author, April 1975.
First Talk, Magazine of the Idaho First National Bank. Vol. VI, No.2 (February 1976) (Copy in the collection, Box 10, Folder 1).
Johnson, Roxy. Tape-recorded interview with the author, August 1976.
Moore family Bible in possession of the family.
The papers of Dr. Harry S. Bettis relate chiefly to his sheep business with Domingo Odiaga, a Basque, 1915-1916. They include articles of copartnership, which named Odiaga as business manager and described the capital (initially more than 30,000 sheep), together with grazing permits, business receipts, accounts of sheep sales, ledgers, and tax records, as well as some unrelated business and personal papers of both Bettis and Odiaga. Some specific items of Odiaga’s include receipts for education of Paula and Marie Odiaga at St. Teresa’s Academy, Boise, and supply lists written in Spanish (Box 8, Folder 4). Together the records provide a detailed glimpse at a sheep business over a two-year period. Odiaga’s home ranch was in Owyhee County, Idaho, but permits indicate that the partnership also grazed in the Sawtooth National Forest (Idaho) and Humboldt National Forest (Nevada). A letter from Domingo Odiaga to Laurence Moore Bettis expressing sympathy at the death of Harry S. Bettis (in the Laurence Moore Bettis papers, Box 10 Folder 6) indicates that Odiaga eventually returned to the Basque country in Spain.
Series I: Biographical Material
Box 8: Biographical Material
Folder 1 Biographical Material
Series II: Bettis-Odiaga Sheep Ranching
Box 8: Bettis-Odiaga Sheep Ranching
Folder 2 Partnership Agreement: 1915
3 Land Records and Grazing Permits: 1915-1917
4 Domingo Odiaga Business Papers: 1914-1916
5 Domingo Odiaga Stock Certificates: 1926-1927
6 Valentin Barinaga Business Papers: 1915
7 Ray Corbus Business Papers: 1916
8 Accounts of sheep sales, William R. Smith and Son: 1915-1916
9 Business Receipts, A-L: 1915-1916
10 Business Receipts, M-Z: 1915-1916
11 Business Receipts, Morris Roberts Company: 1915-1916
12 Tax Papers: 1915-1916
13 Banking Papers: 1914-1916
14 Loose Items From Ledgers
Series III: Miscellaneous
Box 8: Miscellaneous
Folder 15 Weiser Sheep Company checks: 1931-1932
16 Merchants Security Company (San Francisco) papers: 1927-1932
17 Estate Papers: 1935-1936
Series IV: Ledgers, Bettis-Odiaga: 1914-1916
Box 9: Ledgers
Ledger A, Ledger B, Ledger C, Ledger D