Horse & Buggy Doctors of Territorial Days
On a chilly autumn evening in Tombstone, a dark, shadowy figure
crept up the stairs behind the Crystal Palace Saloon. Inside, the
raucous sounds of laughter mixed with the whirl of roulette wheels
and rinky-tink piano music. The man reached the top of the stairs
and looked around. Deciding his approach had gone unnoticed, he
struck a match and held the flickering light up to the sign over the
door. In a low whisper he sounded out the words, 'George Goodfellow,
MD." He opened the door quietly and slipped inside. The sound of
snoring drew him to the far comer of the room. He approached the
sleeping figure cautiously. It would not do to rouse the sleeping
doctor without using caution. Doc Goodfellow was no ordinary doctor.
A well-known pugilist, Doc was more than a match for any rough-hewn
cowboy or miner.
The intruder reached out and gently tugged at the sleeping man’s
foot. “Wake up Doc,” He said, Curly Joe needs ya.”
Doc Goodfellow was awake in an instant. He knew this was no routine
house call. Curley Bill Brocius never sent one of his men all the
way to Tombstone unless the matter was grave.
Curley Bill was the leader of one of the most notorious bands of
rustlers the West has ever known. Occasionally, one of his charges
would wind up on the muzzle end of a -45 slug and the outlaw leader
would put out the call for Doc Goodfellow, Tombstone's famous
For the next several hours, Doc Goodfellow and the outlaw messenger
would twist and wind on horseback through narrow canyons of Cochise
County until they reached the outlaw chieftain's hideout. There Doc
would perform field surgery under primitive conditions that would
astound his Eastern counterparts. In many cases, the victim was too
far gone to save, but this never kept the surgeon from operating.
Win, lose or draw, Doc Goodfellow would always give his patients
every opportunity to pull through. This was a period in medical
history of great scientific breakthrough; however, most surgeons in
Eastern medical citadels preferred to be conservative in their
treatment. Doc Goodfellow epitomized many frontier surgeons. Limited
in their facilities, they had no choice but to experiment if their
patients were to have any chance at all.
The fearless physician, on more than one occasion, entered
dangerous, smoke filled shafts to rescue miners trapped and injured
in a mining accident
He once performed plastic surgery on the face of a victim of an
accident, then refused pay because the man had been injured while
trying to help other victims. When the great earthquake struck
Bavaispe, Sonora, in 1887, Doc loaded up his wagon with medical
supplies and rushed to aid the survivors. To the people of Bavaispe
he became El Doctor Santo, (the "sainted" doctor) and was given a
special medal by Mexican President Porfirio Diaz for his efforts.
When his good friend and colleague, Dr. John Handy, was shot down on
the streets of Tucson, Doc Goodfellow boarded a train at Benson,
took over the locomotive from the engineer and drove the trail at
breakneck speed to Tucson in a vain effort to save Handy.
Doc Goodfellow had a proclivity for being on the scene when history
was being made. He rode with the army on one of the last great
Apache campaigns against Geronimo. During the war with Spain,
General William Shafter used him as an envoy. Goodfellow's fluency
in the Spanish language made him invaluable in negotiating the final
surrender following the battle of San Juan Hill. Doc attributed part
of that success to a bottle of "ol' barleycorn” in his medical kit
which he properly prescribed to himself and Spanish General Jose
Toral during the peace talks, lending a more convivial atmosphere to
Doc Goodfellow was a participant in one of Arizona's most legendary
feuds. Following the shootout near the OK Corral in Oct., 188 1, he
tended wounded members of both factions. Before 19-year old Billy
Clanton died with six bullets in him, Doc removed his boots. The
young cowboy had promised his mother to *die with his boots off." A
few weeks later, the physician was called out to save the mutilated
arm of Virgil Earp. Some four inches of shattered bone was removed
from the lawman who had been ambushed by a shotgun wielding member
of the opposing faction.
The next victim of the fighting was Morgan Earp. Morg was gunned
down, again by ambush while watching a billiard game in Hatch's
saloon. One of the bullets passed through Earp and penetrated the
leg of an innocent bystander named George Berry. Berry fell
unconscious and expired soon after of shock, or as County Coroner
Dr. Goodfellow "formally" stated in his report. Berry was literally,
'scared to death."
Doc Goodfellow is best known for his famous coroner report following
the lynching of John Heath in the aftermath of the Bisbee Massacre
in 1883 when five men held up the Goldwater-Casteneda store.
As the bandits left the store and stepped out into the street, they
shot and killed several citizens. The five were later captured and
sentenced to hang legally. A sixth man, John Hath, helped plan the
robbery, but did not participate in the killings. He demanded and
got a separate trial, receiving a prison sentence at the territorial
prison at Yuma. Most folks around Tombstone and Bisbee felt that
Heath deserved the same punishment as his cronies. A vigilante group
formed and, on Washington’s Birthday, 1884, removed Heath from the
County jail and strung him up on the crossarm of a telegraph pole.
This was the only lynching in Tombstone's history.
Now lynching is illegal, even when the victim deserved it; however,
it was up to the County Coroner to determine exact cause of death
and whether or not charges would be pressed. Doc Goodfellow, County
Coroner, had been present during the administering of John Heath's
"suspended sentence," as had many of Tombstone's usually law-abiding
citizens. Some had even played an active part in the Lynching.
The matter was resolved when the coroner's report was issued. Doc
Goodfellow, with his usual élan, ruled that John Heath died from ".
. . emphysema of the lungs which might have been, and probably was,
caused by strangulation, self-inflicted or otherwise, as in
accordance with the medical evidence."
George E. Goodfellow began his medical career as a contract surgeon
with the army at Fort Whipple. From there he moved to Ft. Lowell,
near Tucson, for a brief stint. Finding army life dull, he set out
for the boisterous new silver boomtown of Tombstone. He arrived in
1880 and for the next seven years called the city on Goose Flat Mesa
home. Doc Goodfellow set up his offices on the second floor of the
Crystal Palace Saloon. Old timers said he actively maintained two
offices, one upstairs and the other one on the ground floor. He
socialized with Tombstone's upper crust society but frequently
escorted some of Allen Street's more comely courtesans. He
languished many an hour promoting horse races, wrestling and boxing
matches. A former champion boxer, he had been expelled from
Annapolis during his undergraduate days for extra-curricular
George Goodfellow's sense of humor, sporting character and frequent
imbibing in no way detracts from his research and practice as a
Goodfellow published 13 articles based upon his practice in southern
Arizona. He was best known for his thesis on the treatment of
gunshot wounds to the abdominal region. His work was spiced with
colorful commentary. Concerning the weapons that were responsible
for much of his practice, he wrote: The .44 and .45 calibre Colt
revolver, .45-60 and .44-40 Winchester rifles and carbines were the
toys with which our festive or obstreperous citizens delight
themselves." While putting his gunshot treatment theories to
practice, the doctor made a remarkable discovery - bullets do not
penetrate silk. This might explain why gamblers and gunfighters of
the day preferred the garment. He
pioneered the "outdoor care" in Arizona's dry climate for victims of
tuberculosis. He performed the first appendectomy in the Territory,
and performed the first perineal prostatectomy in medical history.
The innovative physician epitomized frontier doctors who dared to
experiment while their colleagues in eastern medical facilities
Few doctors who entered Arizona during territorial days received as
much recognition as Doc Goodfellow. Fewer still displayed his flair
Among those who found fame, or at least a degree of recognition, on
the Arizona frontier was Walter Reed, who began his study of malaria
and yellow fever while stationed in Arizona with the army. Since
many posts were located along rivers, these ailments were a constant
menace to the health of the troops. Some posts had to be relocated
to more healthful climes. Assistant Surgeon B. J.D. Irwin was
awarded the first Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism during
the siege of U.S. troops by Colchis’s
Apache’s at Apache Pass in 1861. Assistant Surgeon Leonard Wood led
troops in the field during the final days of the Geronimo campaign.
He, too, was awarded the Medal of Honor. One of his contributions
had to do with adapting the clothing of his charges to the hot, dry
Southwest environs. Wood had his troopers strip down to their
long-handled underwear while pursuing the elusive Geronimo.
Many doctors who “Wested" to Arizona during the territorial days
lived out their lives in settlements and cities, treating every
imaginable ailment from rabies, snakebite, scorpion sting, and
gunshot wounds, self-inflicted and otherwise. Accidents involving
explosives, wagons and spirited horses were quite common. Much of
the surgery was performed at the scene of the accident with only the
most primitive facilities. Doctors amputated legs and arms, probed
for and patched up arrow wounds, not to mention victims of various
One such operation was conducted by a surgeon sitting on a tree
stump with his patient lying over a whiskey barrel. He reported the
heat, dust and flies intolerable.
The most spectacular-appearing and greatest killers were cholera and
yellow fever. Malaria and related fevers were the most prevalent and
had the greatest impact. Deaths resulting from these diseases were
far greater than the casualties produced by Indians in the
Post-Civil War period. During the years 1866-1895, 1,993 soldiers
were killed. In 1866 more than 1,200 soldiers died of cholera alone.
Cholera and fevers could totally inactivate entire posts, attacking
50 to 90 percent of the personnel. Of those stricken, almost half
were usually fatal.
Military doctors and contract surgeons had to display a great deal
of creative ingenuity in order to keep the soldiers on the remote
frontier healthy. One post doctor at R. McDowell gathered watercress
along the Verde River to supplement the diet of the soldiers, as
there were no other vegetables available. When supplies were six
weeks late arriving at Ft. Mohave, soldiers were limited to a diet
of nothing but beans and coffee.
Many of the treatments were more harmful than the actual diseases
throughout most of the 19th century. Folk remedy treatments that
were common subscribed to the old adage, "a fierce disease called
for an even fiercer treatment." Communicable diseases were thwarted
by pungent chest rubs and asafetida bags. The theory seemed to be
that the victim smelled so bad that nobody cared to come near enough
to catch anything. Whiskey and opium concoctions were as common as
aspirin. Addiction to drugs and alcohol were common. It was not
until the turn of the 20th century that a prescription was needed to
purchase drugs of any kind.
The period was a time of transition from ancient, superstitious
practices to scientifically-proven methods of treatment. It was not
until the late 1860s that doctors accepted that cholera was
transmitted from place to place.
Newspapers helped educate the populace on subjects relating to
cleanliness, sanitation, purification of water and disinfection of
fecal wastes. One Phoenix newspaper criticized local saloons for
soaking their spittoons in the town's irrigation ditches when others
downstream were using the same water for drinking. In the late
1860s, Gila and Graham counties had a running feud lasting for more
than two years. Each blamed the other for an outbreak of diphtheria.
A newspaper in Globe suggested that a deep canyon or high wall be
constructed to separate the rivals and halt the spread of germs. In
1888, some 40 children succumbed to the dreaded disease in the tiny
community of St. Johns. These figures are particularly astounding,
and tragic when considering the ratio of deaths to the number of
total children in a town the size of St. Johns.
From the hodge-podge of medicinal practices in Arizona that ranged
from a strange admixture of "granny medicine," voodooism,"
shamanism, legitimate pharmacology, garrulous quack and trained
surgeon evolved a rich medical heritage. These horse-and-buggy
doctors built hospitals, delivered babies, battled epidemics and
fought hard to overcome the superstitious mores of their generally
The saddlebag practitioners on the Arizona frontier also overcame
all kinds of natural obstacles to administer aid and comfort to
their patients. Dr. Benjamin B. Moeur, later a governor of the
state, once rode across Salt River Canyon in a cement bucket
connected to a cable in order to reach a patient on the north side
of Roosevelt Dam. Dr. John Lacy rode the rails on his tiny
velocipede between the mining communities of Clifton and Morenci.
One day while he was on his run, he encountered a train. The
unfortunate meeting occurred on a trestle. Dr. Lacy quickly climbed
off his vehicle and suspended himself beneath the ties until the
train passed. The velocipede was unceremoniously bumped off the
tracks and landed in the San Francisco River below. Unshaken by this
ordeal, Dr. Lacy continued to use the railroad tracks to transport
himself and his new velocipede because, even with its obvious
hazards, it was still the most efficient way to reach his patients.