It’s a close call as to whether Dr. O.H. Simpson was more noted for his dentistry or his artistry.
Whichever the case the two are closely linked.
During his dental practice he made dental molds to get a perfect fit for dentures and dental inlays. He carried those molding skills into retirement casting many life-sized statues – some which still grace Dodge City.
Oscar H. Simpson was born in Indiana on April 24, 1861. He grew up in Lebanon, Indiana, and Warrensberg, Missouri.
He arrived in Dodge City in March of 1885 about a year after graduating from the Ohio School of Dentistry in Cincinnati.
Dr. Simpson’s first 24 hours in Dodge were rocky. He stepped off the train wearing his silk top hat and fancy eastern clothes.
Between the train depot and the Great Western Hotel he was taunted by loafers along the boardwalk. After an uneventful night at the Great Western, he was warned not to wear the top hat, but he retorted, "I am an American, and I can wear any kind of hat I like anywhere."
He went from the hotel straight to the Long Branch Saloon – which must have been interesting since he was an ardent prohibitionist.
Accounts differ as to what happened next, but after exiting the Long Branch he went immediately to Wright’s Dry Goods and came out wearing boots and a big white cowboy hat. Folks saw that as a sign of good will and Simpson’s life improved considerably.
Though Dr. Simpson had only planned to visit Dodge City, he apparently took to the waning wild-west culture the town had to offer and stayed here as a dentist. By 1892 he had clearly put down roots in Dodge City when he married Salina native, Katheryn Elizabeth Mohler.
At first he did business out of a small room on a side street, and on the road as a "circuit dentist." Later he worked in one of the most modern, well-equipped dental offices in the world. Though much of his equipment was homemade, it was innovative and sophisticated.
He fashioned gold dentures and, in 1898, became one of the originators of the dental inlay. To obtain gold for his dentistry he placed gold coins on the railroad tracks for passing trains to flatten them into thin sheets. In 1903 he gave a presentation about his inlay methods to the National Dental Association in Wheeling, West Virginia.
By the time he retired in 1923 he had achieved the office of president of the Kansas Board of Dental Examiners.
After retiring, Dr. Simpson embarked on a hobby which made him equally, if not more, famous in Dodge City.
Using the skills he had learned in making dental molds he begun casting small statues such as frogs and scaled-down elephants. His first large statue was an elk head which hung over the Elk’s hall in Dodge City.
In 1927 he began work on the Cowboy Statue which stands next to the old City Hall Building on Boot Hill. Creating this piece entailed immersing a live model in plaster. The model (or victim) had to breathe through a straw during the casting part of the process. Somehow he convinced policeman Joe Sughrue to be his model.
The statue was unveiled in 1929 as part of the dedication of the City Hall. In 1932 it was joined by a pair of yoked steers crafted by Dr. Simpson. They are still located next to the Cowboy today.
Dr. Simpson was largely responsible for planting the seeds of what would one day become Boot Hill Museum. In 1932, the Rotary Club had a national convention in Dodge City and Simpson, to liven things up, made and placed grave markers, cowboy boots and other trimmings on the site of Boot Hill Cemetery.
These were such a hit; they remained permanently and became a tourist attraction and the precursor to Boot Hill Museum built by the Dodge City Jaycees in 1947. Boot Hill Museum will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2007.
Dr. O.H. Simpson died in April 1935 at the age of 74. His wife Katheryn passed away on Oct. 10, 1950. His legacy lives on in his contributions to the field of dentistry and in his art.