Society of the Old West

From early westward expansion through the early 20th Century.

   Physician, Surgeon, Geologist and Naturalist

Reflecting a scientific spirit that was rare among doctors in the Old West Dr Goodfellow was well respected and his skills as a physician, surgeon and coroner were in high demand in Southern Arizona during the 1880s and 1890s.

George Goodfellow was born in Downieville, a town in Californias Mother Lode Gold Rush region in 1855. At the age of 12 his parents sent him to private schools in Pennsylvania for his education and eventualy he gained admission to the U.S. Naval academy. At 18 he was expelled for fighting with another midshipman.

His Naval career cut short George moved to his uncles home in Cleveland Ohio where he enrolled in the Wooster University School of Medicine. He graduated with honors in 1876. He practiced medicine for a short time in Oakland California then took a doctors position for a Mine company in Prescott Arizona where his father was a Mining Engineer. It was here that Goodfellow became a contract surgeon for the U.S. Army and was sent to Fort Lowell in Tucson.

In the spring of 1880 Dr. Goodfellow was transferred to field duty at Fort Bowie. It is doubtful that he was ever on expeditions with the troops while they chased Apaches led by Victorio. The first week of September he cancelled his contract with the Army and set up practice in Tombstone.

The Doctor did more in the Town too Tough to Die then just perform autopsies, set the broken bones of Miners, deliver babies and treat bullet wounds. It was here that he developed new methods of operating on the Prostate gland and performed the first successful Prostatetomy in history and pioneered procedures for plastic surgery.

Goodfellow also spent time researching cures for Tuberculosis and other epidemics plus published several opinions on Rattlesnake and Gila Monster bites in Scientific American and the Southern California Practitioner.

While in Tombstone he became America's leading authority on gunshot wounds and authored an Academic paper on the "Impenetrability of Silk to Bullets" based on his observations that silk hankerchiefs worn by gamblers and such had actually stopped bullets. He once displayed his sense of humor in describing the condition of a murder victim in an offical coroners report by stating that "the corpse was rich in lead but too badly punctured to hold whiskey".

On May 3rd 1887 an 7.5 earthquake centered in Sonora Mexico struck the region. It was felt as far south as Mexico City and as far north as Santa Fe New Mexico. Dr Goodfellow made the trip to Bavispe Mexico, the city hardest hit, to aid the victims. Along with him was photographer C.S. Fly. After treating the injured Goodfellow and Fly searched for evidence of the earthquake. George published his findings in the journal Science vol. XI in 1888. In it was his surface rupture map, the first earthquake map published in North Ameica along with Fys photos which are the earliest known pictures of an earthquake rupture scarp. 

Dr. Goodfellow moved to Tucson in 1891 where he served as head surgeon for the Southern Pacific Railroad and became the Arizona Territory Health Officer. In 1898 he joined the U.S. Army as General William Shafers personal physician. They went on to fight in the Spanish American War. Goodfellow acted as an interpreter and negotiator during the Spanish surrender.

Once again leaving the Army George established a successful practice in San Francisco. In 1910 he died at age 54. He was one of the most scientifically advanced Doctors in the Old West.

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This is one more of those who really built the country.
You know, I'm just fascinated with the little known people of history. Thank you so much for reminding us of the Dr. Goodfellows of the world.
One of the people in my old Tombstone Reenacting Group used to portray Dr. Goodfellow, and sometimes we'd talk about how Tombstone was the perfect laboratory, if you will, for studying gunshot injuries.

I hadn't thought about Dr. Goodfellow in a while. One of my favorite stories about him took place in September 1891.


The players in this story were Dr. J. C. Handy, a prominent doctor in Tucson, and Francis J. Heney, a prominent lawyer.


J. C. Handy

Handy had served as president of the local national bank in the mid 1880s, was named as one of the first regents for the University of Arizona, and served as the chief surgeon for Southern Pacific Railroad. He was loved by his patients, especially the poor ones as he went out of way to help them. But he had a dark side with a hair-trigger temper, which he took out on his wife, Mary Ann Page Handy. In 1888 she filed for divorce after suffering years of abuse, but intimidated by the good doctor's threats she dropped the suit. Then in 1890 Dr. Handy filed for divorce, but threatened to kill any lawyer who took up his wife's case.


Francis J. Heney


Enter Francis J. Heney, who had set up practice in Tucson that year. He was not intimidated by Handy and successful represented Mrs. Handy in the divorce proceedings. Handy, however, swore revenge. Supposedly, Handy one time tried to run the lawyer down with his team and buggy. Then on September 24, 1891, Handy confonted Heney near the courthouse at Pennington and Church streets. Handy attacked Heney, who reached for his pistol which he had started carrying because of Handy's threats.


As the men grappled for the gun, it went off and hit Handy in the abdomen. As Handy was being attended to he knew his only chance to survive was for Dr. Goodfellow to come and help him. A telegram was immediately sent to Tombstone, and Goodfellow immediately made his way to Benson where an engine and caboose waited for him. The story goes that Goodfellow himself took the throttle of the engine to make it to Tucson as fast as possible. However, it was a futile wild ride as Handy inevitably died of his wounds. It was soon after this that Goodfellow moved  to Tucson. According to C. L. Sonnichsen in Tucson (1982) Goodfellow bought the Orndorff Hotel and converted it into a hospital.


I can just picture Dr. Goodfellow having the train at full throttle as he tried to make it in time to save his friends' life. This story and image has stuck with me since I first heard it when I was a student at the U of A  told during the History of Arizona class.

Thanks for the additional info on Dr. Goodfellow and another chapter in his life Aurora. Wonder if the demise of Dr. Handy opened up the surgeon postion for the SPRR that Dr. Goodfellow took up when he moved to Tucson?

Interesting that Goodfellow bought the Orndorff Hotel and converted it into a hospital. In George Parsons journal "A Tenderfoot in Tombstone" Lynn Bailey has a footnote that talks briefly about Goodfellow advocating for a hospital in Tombstone. It was opened in mid November 1880 in nearby New Boston. I don't know where New Boston is located in geographical relation to Tombstone but apparently it was close by- perhaps in Fairbank or Contention. I'm just guessing where it was.

  'George Goodfellow, MD." was the sign on the door.  Oopening the door quietly, the feller snuck to the foot of the bed and tugged at the foot of the doctor.  A man with a boxing reputation, one needed to be careful awakening him. Doc was more than a match for any  cowboy or miner.  The Feller called out to the doctor,  "Curly Joe needs you.”  Doc Goodfellow was awake in an instant, knowing that 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.  The leader of one of the most notorious bands of rustlers the West has ever knownwould occasionally need  Doc Goodfellow, Tombstone's famous "gunshot surgeon."  For 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.   


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.


Following the shootout near the OK Corral, 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,  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."


From a strange admixture of "granny medicine, 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 superstitions of the generally uneducated.  The saddlebag doctors of 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.

I'd like to add a couple interesting notes here; Dr. Goodfellow had his office on the 2nd floor of the Golden Eagle Brewery on the corner of 5th and Allen. Ajacent offices were those of Deputy Marshal Virgil Earp, Cochise County Coroner Dr H.M. Matthews and Attorney George W. Berry. Don't know if this is the same George Berry that was an innocent bystander when Morgan Earp was gunned down as Milt mentions above. The Crystal Palace Saloon stands on that corner today. On February 15th 1900 former Texas Ranger and south western lawman Jeff Milton was shot by members of the Burt Alvord gang near Fairbank, Arizona while he was guarding a train. Doctors in Tombstone wanted to amputate Miltons severly shattered left arm (kind of like Virgil Earps wound). Instead Jeff Milton boarded a train and traveled to San Francisco where Dr. Goodfellow performed the surgery. He was able to save the arm however not the use of it.Dr Goodfellow was known to show his friends and acquaintances the .45 caliber bullet that he retrived from the body of Charley Stroms after he was fatally shot by Like Short on February 25, 1881 outside the Oriental Saloon, on 5th and Allen across the street from his office above the Golden Eagle. This was the same corner where the attempted assasination of Virgil Earp took place. George Parsons described the bullet as "45 calibre and slightly flattend".

And thanks Milt for the addendum. That added some flavor to this discussion- thats what their all about.

I found more tidbits on Dr. Goodfellow in Medicine in Territorial Arizona by Francis Quebbeman (Arizona Historical Foundation, 1966), of which most are detailed (i.e. medical jargon-filled) anecdotes about Goodfellow's medical treatments for a variety of things, such as bullet wounds in the abdomen and cancer. However, one detail was non-medical and fits with the story I mentioned above about Dr. Goodfellow taking the helm of the train engine to rush to his friend. He did succeed Dr. Handy as the Southern Pacific surgeon and in 1893 he was named the Territorial Quarantine Officer for the territory. He like to travel around the territory on the train whenever he wanted. In 1894 the Arizona Star reported that he had arrived in Yuma in the cab of the engine, and reportedly the train had made up 2 hours and 13 minutes between Tucson and Yuma, "hitting only the high places." This was a man who lived for speed!
Thanks for posting more info about the fine Doctor Aurora. Looks like he wanted to be in the "lead and at the wheel" wherever he was. Right out front all the way. That begs the question, as he was employed by the Southern Pacific Railroad wasn't one of their slogans "Santa Fe all the way"?



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