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Wooster Magazine
Winter 2005

The Gunfighter’s Surgeon

How an 1877 Wooster Medical Graduate Made a Name for Himself in the Wild, Wild West

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Dr. Goodfellow
George E. Goodfellow (Class of 1877, University of Wooster medical school) tended wounded gunfighters on the mean streets of Tombstone, Arizona, and pioneered the removal of enlarged prostates. Here he rides El Rosillo, presented to him by Mexican President Diaz in 1888 for his services to wounded victims of the 1887 earthquake in Sonora, Mexico. Photo courtesy Arizona Historical Society.

Serving as coroner at various times in Tombstone, his verdicts were the stuff of Wild West legend. In an autopsy report on a gambler named McIntire, shot in an argument over a card game, Goodfellow stated that he had done "the necessary assessment work and found the body full of lead, but not too badly punctured to hold whiskey."

Restless and seeking adventure, Goodfellow left Tombstone in 1886 and joined the manhunt for Apache chieftain Geronimo, who had escaped from the San Carlos Reservation in central Arizona. After Geronimo and his followers surrendered, Goodfellow befriended the great warrior.

Always intrigued by how an Apache within ten feet of a sentry could shoot an arrow without a twang of the bowstring being heard, he bet Geronimo that the warrior couldn’t do it. A tree was selected as a target and Goodfellow shut his eyes. He didn’t hear a thing. When he opened them, there were three arrows in the tree, and Geronimo went off to prison $20 richer.

In 1891, at St. Mary’s Hospital in Tucson, Goodfellow performed what many consider the first perineal prostatectomy, an operation he designed to treat bladder problems cause by an enlarged prostate. Over the next decade, he crisscrossed the U.S. demonstrating his operation and attracting patients from all parts of the country. Dr. Hugh H. Young, a urology professor at Johns Hopkins, learned the technique from Goodfellow.

After performing 78 such operations in almost ten years, he documented two deaths. Survivors didn’t suffer incontinence or need a catheter after surgery.

Goodfellow joined his good friend, Gen. William R. Shafter ,as a volunteer in the Cuban campaign of the Spanish-American War in 1898. Fluent in Spanish and armed with a medicine bag of booze, Goodfellow persuaded an inept Cuban general to surrender at Santiago de Cuba.

For his trouble, Goodfellow received a rare commendation for "especially meritorious services, professional and military." He later remarked that never had alcohol been used for a better or more therapeutic purpose.

Goodfellow died in Los Angeles in 1910 at age fifty-four. Alcoholism was the suspected cause of death.

Excerpted with permission from The Los Angeles Times.

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