Remote as the state was, Wright returned to his roots in Hailey, Idaho, after graduating from American Medical College in 1906. Friends, neighbors and patients included American Indians, Basque sheepherders, Chinese immigrants and red-light district workers. “Rugged Mercy: A Country Doctor in Idaho’s Sun Valley,” charts his life’s course and that of early Sun Valley. It was written by the doctor’s grandson and namesake, Robert Wright, who grew up at his grandfather’s side and began recording his stories as a teenager.
Dr. Bob Wright faced the Rocky Mountain spotted fever epidemic spread by ticks during the hot, wet spring of 1914. Basque sheepherders and their families felt the brunt of the epidemic — convulsions, diarrhea, raging fevers and open bleeding lesions often ending in death.
He also faced Idaho’s biggest weather disaster. In 1917 three separate snow slides merged into one massive avalanche that swept Hailey’s North Star mine, killing 15 miners and injuring 17.
Wright led the rescue effort where men probed the snow with galvanized sections of threaded pipe searching for bodies buried up to 40 feet below in cocoons of ice.
While the book is heavily based on oral history the author spent nearly 20 years researching details in libraries and newspaper articles. He consulted local historians, reporters and Dr. James Whorton of the University of Washington School of Medicine for advice on the era’s medical technologies. Author Robert Wright resides in Everett, Wash., where he is the senior vice president at a Seattle real estate investment firm. The book can be ordered from WSU Press by calling (800) 354-7360 or online at wsupress.wsu.edu.
“The automobile had its front end wrapped around a four-foot-high tree stump. A hole the size of a small pumpkin had been punched in the passenger’s side of the windshield. It seemed far too small for a person to fit through, even a child. There were blood scrapes across the Packard’s bubble nose hood.
“Now let me look in your eyes. Good. Oh sweetie, you’re gonna be fine. Just fine.”
Bob could hear the girl’s mother sobbing behind him, so for her benefit he repeated louder, “Just fine.”
He reached in his inside pocket. “Here — cigar for you.” He slipped it into the girl’s hand, and when she giggled and gripped it he knew her nervous system was undamaged.
“What? You don’t smoke?”
She giggled again, a tiny sound, as if she were fearful of too much laughter, and moved her head no, small, quick movements.
— A scene from 1936 from the book “Rugged Mercy”