From the very beginning of Idaho, the place was settled mostly by white pioneers. Even today finding a story about a Black Idahoan is a little unexpected. Because of Dorthy Johnson’s unexpected story and its nudge to get me writing, I’m always pleased to share another history vignette about an African-American Idahoan. I’ve written about Aurelius Buckner, Gobo Fango, Tracy Thompson, Elvina Morton, George Washington Blackman, York, and others.
Today, I add another African American to the list of Idahoans I’ve written about. His history wasn’t especially quirky, but it is a little unexcepted, simply because most of those who did what he did were of another race.
“Doc” Hisom (or Hison, or Hyson, as some references have it), was born in about 1858 a free man in Illinois. In his later years he seemed to delight in telling people he was a little older than he really was, so his birth year is uncertain. His marker in the Kohlerlawn Cemetery in Nampa, lists his birth date as October 6, 1850.
William C. Hisom came by his nickname legitimately. He had trained as a veterinarian and worked as one for some years before coming to Idaho to seek his fortune as a miner in the late 1800s. He, a Black man, partnered up with a white man named White. They claimed a 20-acre parcel along the Snake River near Melba in 1906 or 1907. They worked their claim for a few years before White drifted away. Doc Hisom lived there for the rest of his life.
Hisom was well known in the area as a storyteller and for his proficiency in practicing Native American and pioneer skills, such as flint knapping and working leather. One reference mentioned that he had at least some Indian blood.
A man of any color living miles from anywhere by his own hand doesn’t make the newspaper very often. I found just one story about him in the Idaho Statesman. It reported a big event in his life. In October of 1921, Doc Hisom made his way into Boise for the second time in 36 years. He marveled at the electric lights and the rapid transit of the city. The miner took his first ride on a streetcar and in an automobile during that trip.
The paper reported that the recluse was a friend of “Two-Gun Bob” Limbert, the man who almost single-handedly got Craters of the Moon named a national monument. Limbert often stayed at Hisom’s cabin. They probably discussed photography, among other things, since both were accomplished photographers. Taxidermy was a skill they also shared. Hisom may have entertained “Two-Gun Bob” by playing music for him. He could play seven instruments.
We don’t know for certain when Doc Hisom was born, but we do know when he died. That was December 26, 1944.