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About Henry Hyrum Henderson
Amputee did not shy away from his chores
By Michael H. O'Donnell
SWAN LAKE — No one personified the toughness of early Idaho pioneers more than Henry Hyrum Henderson. Though he lost both his feet and sections of two legs to frostbite in the winter of 1900, he still continued to do farm chores.
After Henry married Olive Ann Lake on Sept. 14, 1879, in Clifton, the Hendersons lived in Clifton, where they raised seven girls. The family then moved to a ranch three miles northwest of Swan Lake about one mile south of the old red rock.
The family added eight more children to the fold and lived in a house with three rooms that had no conveniences at all. Coal oil lamps, wood and coal stoves provided light and heat. The water came from a big spring out 200 yards or more from the house down a big hill and all the bathing was done in a big tin tub, according to recollections of the Henderson family provided in the “Swan Lake History Book.”
Though many of the Henderson girls obtained work away from the ranch, the boys worked with their dad to keep the operation going. Then came the cold winter of 1900 and deep snow.
“Father used to go to the canyons every winter to get our winter wood,” a family member wrote in the history book. “I think I heard him say he was 41 years old when he went to the canyon one winter with a Mr. Howell. It was awful cold and there was so much snow they had to break trail for their horses. They got really wet and when they started home they walked as much as they could but their feet got too cold and their boots froze on their feet.”
What followed was a medical nightmare.
“When he got home they had to cut his boots off and his feet were frozen awful bad. They put them in a tub of cold water for hours but it didn't help and they started to shrivel up and gangrene set in.”
The family managed to get the senior Henderson to a doctor in Preston. Amputation was the only solution.
“They took one off and then waited a while on the other, but it got worse so he had to go in and have it taken off,” the family account reads. “They took them off just below the knee. The one was between the knee and the ankle, and it was longer than the other one. The last one they did, Father said the doctor was drunk, they sawed it part off and then broke it the rest of the way. It splintered the bone and his leg always had a sore on it. We had to put dressings on it every day and lot of little bones worked out of his leg.”
Despite the grueling medical complications, Henderson survived the ordeal. And despite the obvious handicap, he decided to do something to make himself more useful around the ranch — he made himself some crude prosthetics.
“He got some leather strips and soaked them so he could bind it and he bent it and put rivets through to hold it and made himself some boots,” the family history shared. “He lined them with sheep skin and cotton padding and riveted the straps on the sides of his boots and put a buckle on one side and strapped them to his knees. He had a bad time learning to walk on his knees. He had to brace his body so he wouldn't fall on his face, but sometimes he did anyway.”
The next winter proved difficult for a man who walked on his knees.
“His boots would get snow in them and get awful wet, so he took some pieces of logs and carved them all out and made them longer than his leather boots and they were fine for the winter,” the history reads.
And Henderson continued to make himself useful on the ranch by putting harnesses on the horses and hitching them to wagons “as easy and faster than we could.” Henderson also planted a big garden each spring and worked it by hand. He taught one daughter how to cook and helped out in the kitchen or kept the fires going.
“He milked cows fed pigs, and chopped wood,” the family history continues. “He did a lot more but mainly this will be enough. Maybe this will help you to know a very wonderful man.”
Henry Hyrum Henderson died at the home of his daughter, Elsie Henderson, in Woodland (Downey) on May 24, 1924 at the age of 65.
Source: "Idaho State Journal"