Wyoming has always had its fair share of characters. One of the favorite characters out of Sheridan, Wyoming wasn’t a gunslinger, a cowboy, or a Wild West Show performer. He was…a dentist. Yep, you read that right, Dr. William Frackelton, D.D.S. left his mark on Wyoming and the West.
William Frackelton was born June 24, 1870, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Graduating from Northwestern University , Chicago, Frackelton practiced in his home town before turning his sights to the Wild West in 1893.
His first stop was in Casper, Wyoming, where he set out his shingle that read: “Dr. Frackelton. Graduate of the American College of Dental Surgery, Chicago post-graduate school, licentiate of the states of Illinois and Wisconsin, formerly house dentist to the Wisconsin state industrial school and the House of Good Shepherd of Milwaukee. Now here, Casper. Prepared to do all dental work by the latest and most approved scientific methods. Crown and bridge work my specialty. For three years a specialist in this particular branch in Chicago. The latest methods. Ten years’ experience. I have in my possession numerous testimonials from people in all walks of life recommending my work. Consultation and examination free.”
Soon after moving to Casper, Dr. Frackelton and an associate hired a hall and put on a dance inviting all Casperites to whoop it up. One of the party-goers was Poker Nell. Nell was known as a handsome woman whose profession was poker and the lady only played for high stakes. The day after the party, Poker Nell came to Dr. Frackelton’s office. She fished two large diamonds from her purse, and commanded, “Put these in my front teeth.” Frackelton did the job, but always described the encounter as the “oddest he had ever done.”
Doc Frackelton moved on to Sundance, Wyoming where he was handed the greatest insult given in the West. He was called a dude. He arrived in Sundance, in what he hoped would be perceived as professional garb, to an empty town. The local banker, a renowned pugilist was polishing off a few of the boys in the fire hall. The local bartender, Charlie Sackett, informed Frackelton of the townsfolk’s’ whereabouts, but warned the doctor that the banker didn’t care for dudes and the sheriff didn’t like dentists.
Frackelton made his way to the fire hall and the banker, who had just knocked out a local cowboy, spotted the dude and challenged him to a fight. The dentist demurely declined, but when challenged again smiled and said he would be glad to meet the banker the next morning for a bout. He failed to mention that he had fought in Chicago under the name of Willie Riley to earn his dental school tuition.
The banker spread the word that he intended to knock the tar out of the dude. He collected bets and by the time of the bout, the whole town attended to see their local hero knock out the new tooth carpenter. Irritated at the jeers of the crowds, Frackelton gave Sackett his last $100 and bet he’d knockout the banker.
For two rounds, Frackelton played with his opponent. In the third round, the doctor asked, “Excuse me, Mister, your shoe is untied. "It was an old trick, but he fell for it and looked down--a fatal mistake. I stepped in with a right to the solar plexus, a blow new at the time, and a left to the button. Then I uppercut with a right. Down and out he went.
The crowd had never seen anything like it before. The yelling ended quickly in a long silence. The referee began to count."
Dr. Frackelton collected his bets and cleared out quickly expecting trouble. The sheriff visited later that night and invited Frackelton to the saloon for drinks with the boys. He was hailed a hero and asked to set up practice. He did for a time, but there wasn’t enough dental work in Sundance and Frackelton moved to his new home at the foot of the Bighorns, Sheridan.
In Sheridan, he would treat another famed woman of the West, Calamity Jane. The Army scout and habitué of saloons and gambling joints brought her cavities to the new dentist. Her red hair was streaked with gray, but there was still fire in her belly. While he was filling her cavities Jane, as was her habit, “swore magnificently.” Dr. Frackelton didn’t mind though and said, “her profanity was so natural…slipping out the way other words might.”
Frackelton prospered in Sheridan in his practice and in love. He met Bess during his second winter in Sheridan. She was a tall hard riding, straight shooting Western girl. They had a short courtship and remained happily married until Bess passed away in 1941.
Always looking for adventure, Dr. Frackelton travelled to the gold fields of Alaska in 1897. He returned to Sheridan a year later and resumed his practice remaining in Sheridan the rest of his life.
Dr. Frackelton was respected and loved throughout Sheridan, the surrounding area and beyond. He was adopted by the Crow as a tribal member. He often did dental work for members of the surrounding tribes.
He is also responsible for saving Fort MacKenzie. Congress was discussing the possibility of closing the fort. It happened that President Taft was visiting Sheridan. Dr. Frackelton served as chairman of the reception committee. He and his fellow townspeople treated the president so well, Taft promised upon leaving anything that Doc Frackelton wanted would be his.
Frackelton had been waiting for just such an opening and pleaded with Taft to keep Fort MacKenzie alive. The President assured his host it would be done. At the end of WWI, when Taft was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, For MacKenzie became a soldiers’ hospital. Taft even sent Frackelton a note reminding him that he was keeping his word.
Frackelton was president of the Wyoming Mutual Investment Co. in 1913-1914, and he was also the first president of the Wyoming State Board of Dental Examiners from 1905-1913. The “Sagebrush Dentist” passed away while visiting family in Wisconsin. His remains were returned to Sheridan, where he was buried next to Bess.
The doctor is still much loved and talked about in Sheridan and his legacy lives on as not only a fine dentist, but a man of the West…no longer a dude.
Frackelton, William. Sagebrush Dentist. 1941.
If you’d like to read about some characters in Sheridan, Wyoming based on characters in my own life who lived here, check out RIDIN’ FOR A FALL! You'll fall for Kyle, Lena and the rest of the gang!
He’s the All American Cowboy…
Kyle Allaway is riding tall as one-half of the greatest act in Frank Perry’s Wild West Show. He’s his own man far from Big Horn, Wyoming and the family who betrayed him driving him from his fondest dream…well at least one of his dreams…
She’s the Sweetheart of the West…
Lena Gowan is barely holding onto the reins. Tired of constant travel, the applause of the crowd means nothing to her. She longs to return to the ranch co-owned by the Gowan and Allaway families. To leave Kyle would mean walking away from her dearest friend and heart’s desire.
Together they’ve been a team since childhood…
When a surprise lands in Kyle’s arms, he’s forced to become two things he swore he’d never be… a father to a child born outside of marriage and Lena’s husband. His world continues to tumble when he takes his new family to the one place he both loves and hates … the A&G Ranch. As the world erupts in the Great War, the Allaways and Gowans face a battle years in the making. Kyle and Lena must hold tight to each other and fight internal questions and doubts and external forces seeking their destruction, or risk a fall that will knock them out of the saddle for good.
Sometimes the safest place to fall…is in love…
Kirsten Lynn is a Western and Military Historian. She worked six years with a Navy non-profit and continues to contract with the Marine Corps History Division for certain projects. Making her home where her roots were sewn in Wyoming, Kirsten also works as a local historian. She loves to use the history she has learned and add it to a great love story. She writes stories about men of uncommon valor...women with undaunted courage...love of unwavering devotion ...and romance with unending sizzle. When she's not writing, she finds inspiration in day trips through the Bighorn Mountains, binge reading and watching sappy old movies, or sappy new movies. Housework can always wait.