The Horse & Buggy Doctors of Territorial Days

By Marshall Trimble

             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 "gunshot surgeon."

            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 the conference.

            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 pugilism.         

Dr. George Goodfellow's sense of humor, sporting character and frequent imbibing in no way detracts from his research and practice as a medical physician.           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 remained conservative.

            Few doctors who entered Arizona during territorial days received as much recognition as Doc Goodfellow. Fewer still displayed his flair for excitement.

            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

Chiricahua 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 epidemics.

            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 uneducated clientele.         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.


Excerpts from Marshall Trimble's books "In Old Arizona" and "Arizona Trivia" reprinted by permission of Golden West Publishers, Phoenix, Arizona.