Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

1800s doc helped get the lead out

• The Arizona Historical Society takes a look at frontier medics.

PAUL L. ALLEN Citizen Staff Writer

There was a time little more than a century ago when being gut-shot meant you were going to die – period.

Thanks to pioneering surgical techniques developed by a former Tucson doctor, who honed his skills in the deadly silver boom days of 1880s Tombstone, that death sentence was commuted for many a gunshot victim.

Dr. George Emery Goodfellow was a remarkable man who accompanied Army troops during the Apache campaigns – and learned to speak some Apache.

He also devised new techniques for prostate surgery as well as wound repair – and enjoyed a bit of drinking, gambling and a wry sense of humor along the way.

Goodfellow and other frontier physicians, dentists and medical practitioners – licensed and otherwise – are the subject of ”Life on the Edge,” an exhibit at the Arizona Historical Society, 949 E. Second St.

Their equipment, their elixirs and even some of their furniture are part of the exhibit.

Goodfellow was born Dec. 23, 1855, at Downieville, Calif. His father, Milton J. Goodfellow, was a mining engineer who studied both dentistry and medicine, and his maternal grandfather was a doctor, so the young George came by his medical leanings naturally.

The family moved to Austin, Nev., when the boy was 10, and young George was sent to Meadville, Pa., from 1868 to 1870 to live with an aunt while going to school there.

The following year, he was enrolled in the California Military Academy at Oakland, Calif., and in 1872, he began a year’s study in civil engineering at the University of California.

Goodfellow declined an appointment to West Point but accepted an appointment to the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md.

His short-lived military career came to an abrupt halt when he was expelled after a fight with a black cadet, the first appointed to the academy. The black cadet was expelled a few months later.

Goodfellow enrolled in the medical department at University of Wooster in Cleveland, graduating with a medical degree Feb. 23, 1876. He married Katherine Colt of Meadville the following November, and the couple moved to Oakland.

They remained in Oakland only a short time until Goodfellow was called to join his father as the doctor for a mine that the elder Goodfellow was managing in Prescott.

The couple remained in Prescott for two years. The doctor served for a short time as acting assistant military surgeon for Whipple Barracks before becoming a contract surgeon at Fort Lowell near Tucson in 1879.

On Sept. 15, 1880, he resigned to move to Tombstone – then the largest silver camp in the world with a population exceeding 10,000 – to open a private practice.

Goodfellow set up an office on the second floor of the Palace Saloon, and found that the rowdy collection of humanity attracted by the silver boom provided him not only with sources of personal diversion, but a steady stream of patients, many with gunshot wounds – thanks in part to 110 saloons.

He had the respect, even, of cattle rustlers – and sometimes was called out in the middle of the night, according to Tombstone’s official historian, Ben T. Traywick.

”Goodfellow never asked questions, not even the name of his patient,” Traywick said. ”His interest was solely in saving lives. He was well paid by the outlaws, however.”

In an Oct. 9, 1932, retrospective article in the Arizona Daily Star, W.W. Whitmore wrote of Goodfellow: ”He has presumably had a greater practice in gunshot wounds of the abdomen than any other man in civil life in the country.”

Whitmore went on to describe the young doctor as the outstanding surgeon in Arizona Territory of that era.

A talented physician, eager to expand the horizons of medicine, Goodfellow reportedly performed the territory’s first appendectomy, and even worked in plastic surgery, after a June 1881 fire in Tombstone.

George W. Parsons, who left extensive diaries of his years in Arizona, was injured by a falling beam in the fire, and his nose was severely flattened and deformed.

Goodfellow made a plaster cast of the deformed nose, reshaped the cavity to resemble Parson’s pre-mishap nose, cut the nose flesh from the bone, and inserted a wire framework to hold the flesh in place to conform to the shape of the plaster casting.

Parsons wrote that the wound healed, and he was spared the disfigurement that certainly would have occurred without Goodfellow’s expertise.

During a decade in Tombstone, the doctor also served as coroner. At least two of his coroner’s reports reflect his rich sense of humor.

In one, Goodfellow noted that the deceased was ”rich in lead, but too perforated to hold whiskey.”

The other followed the Feb. 22, 1884, lynching of Tombstone bartender John Heath, the accused mastermind of a failed mine payroll robbery – ”The Bisbee Massacre” – that left several bystanders killed or wounded.

Five individuals who attempted the robbery were sentenced to hang. Heath, who was not an active participant, was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison at Yuma Territorial Prison.

Townspeople, apparently displeased with the sentence, took matters into their own hands and hanged the bartender from a telegraph pole.

Goodfellow’s coroner’s report noted he died of emphysema, ”which might have been, and probably was, caused by strangulation, self-inflicted or otherwise.”

Active in community affairs, the doctor helped arrange for a pipeline to bring water from the Huachuca Mountains to Tombstone – a line that still exists, and was still in use until very recently.

He was largely responsible for establishing a swimming pool in the mining town, as well.

He was founder of the Tombstone Club and Tombstone Scientific Society, and was a member of Tombstone Stock Growers Association.

While riding alone in Apache country, the doctor carried a .45-caliber Colt and a rifle. He sometimes went on patrols with Army units involved in the Apache campaigns of the 1880s, and was on hand when Geronimo made his final surrender in 1886.

Though generally good-natured, Goodfellow possessed a fiery temper and could be contentious on occasion. He was known to engage in lawsuits over civil matters. Court records indicate he was arrested on one occasion for engaging in a duel and seriously slashing his opponent.

While in Tombstone, Goodfellow treated two of the Earp brothers – on Virgil Earp’s elbow in 1881 when he was injured in the arm by shotgun from ambush, and on Morgan Earp when he was mortally wounded in March of 1882 – also from ambush, while playing pool at Campbell and Hatch’s Billiard Parlor on Allen Street.

Goodfellow left Tombstone in 1891 to establish a private practice in Tucson. While here, he purchased the old Orndorff Hotel, located about where City Hall is today, and used it as a hospital.

From 1893 to 1896, he was Territorial Health Officer, appointed by Gov. L.C. Hughes.

With the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Goodfellow, fluent in Spanish, answered a call from Gen. William Shafter to take part. During the latter part of the war, he served as a go-between for American leaders and Spanish Gen. Juan Toral.

In 1900, he moved to San Francisco, where he practiced surgery and began an association with a land-investment group. Though not directly involved himself, Goodfellow found his reputation somewhat sullied by questionable practices of some of the land investors.

By 1907, he was named chief surgeon of the Southern Pacific of Mexico, working out of Guaymas, and visiting Tucson periodically, where a branch office of the railroad was maintained.

During his career, he made frequent visits back east to stay abreast of advances in medical knowledge. Between 1879 and 1907, according to Traywick, Goodfellow published 13 scientific and medical papers dealing with such diverse subjects as gunshot wounds and Gila monsters.

In March 1910, the doctor was diagnosed with multiple neuritis, caused by an illness he had suffered during the Spanish-American War.

Months later, realizing he no longer could perform surgery, the doctor declared he no longer wished to live. He died Dec. 7, 1910, in Los Angeles.

Paul L. Allen’s e-mail:



WHAT: ”Life on the Edge,” an exhibit on frontier medicine at the Arizona Historical Society

WHERE: The society’s museum, 949 E. Second St.

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.

END: Runs through September 2001


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