Friday, May 11, 2018

George E. Goodfellow -- Frontier Doctor & Much More

In an article about the death of Johnny Ringo, I talked about some of the advances in forensic science that was taking place in the 19th century, specifically by the 1880s. I mentioned how forensic science may have taken part in determining whether or not Johnny Ringo's gunshot wound to the head was self-inflicted or not.

Dr. George E. Goodfellow was the county coroner at the time. And frankly, looking into his life has revealed interesting connections to a number of people and events of the Old West.

For example, Dr. George E. Goodfellow started out in Downieville, California, where he was born on December 23rd, 1855. Yes, the same Downieville where the first women ever to be hanged in California took place in 1851. Another connection to famous people of the West is that Dr. Goodfellow's first wife Katherine Colt was Samuel Colt's cousin. And interestingly, Goodfellow himself was supposed to be with George Custer at the Little Big Horn.

During his time in Arizona, he examined Charlie Storms after Luke Short stopped him in his tracks by putting a bullet in him. That's a shooting that we'll come back to in a bit.

Dr. Goodfellow examined Billy Clanton, Frank and Tom McLaury after they were killed during the now famous shootout at the lot near the OK Corral. He also treated both Virgil and Morgan Earp when they were wounded at that same gunfight. In fact, his testimony is said to have actually helped absolve the Earps and Holliday of murder charges that was a result of the shootout near the OK Corral. It was his assertion that the Earps and Holliday acted completely within the law. His testimony is what some say tipped the scales in favor of the Earps and Holliday since his credibility carried a great deal of weight.

He later attended to Virgil when he was ambushed, and then again to Morgan as he was dying. And as stated in my article on Johnny Ringo, Dr. Goodfellow was the doctor who examined Johnny Ringo to determine his cause of death.

There's a lot more about him, but before going on it should be noted that he was county coroner who ruled that John Heath died of "strangulation, self-inflicted or otherwise" after Heath was lynched by an angry mob.

As I stated previously, George E. Goodfellow grew up during the California Gold Rush in mining camps. His father, Milton J. Goodfellow, arrived in California in 1853 seeking gold like thousands of other. His mother is said to have joined him two years. Besides George, they had two daughters. His father soon became a mining engineer, but he also had an interest in medicine. Geoerge is said to have followed in his father's footsteps when it came to an interest in both mining and medicine. 

At age 12, his parents saw that he was an exceptionally bright child so they sent him across country to attend a private school in Pennsylvania. On his return two years later, he attended the California Military Academy in Oakland, California.

After that, he was accepted to the University of California at Berkeley where he studied Civil Engineering. After only a year at U.C. Berkeley, he applied for admission to the U.S. Naval Academy. He was accepted to the to Naval Academy in June of 1872. While there, he actually became the school's boxing champion for a little while before getting into deep trouble over hazing a fellow classmate. That classmate was the Academy's first black cadet in the history of the Academy. By December of 1872,  he and two others involved in the hazing incident was shown the door and told to leave.

While in the East at that time, he looked up his cousin, Dr. T. H. Lashells of Pennsylvania. He still had an interest in medicine, and he found out that he had an aptitude for the medical field. So he moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where an uncle lived, and attended Wooster University Medical School. He graduated with honors in early 1876. He left Ohio and returned to Oakland, California.

In Oakland, Dr. Goodfellow opened a medical practice. But he was soon asked by his father to join him in Yavapai County in the Arizona Territory. His father was a mining executive for a pretty big mining outfit at the time. Since they were looking for a company doctor, George and his wife relocated to Prescott where he was a company physician for the next two years.

During that time, he received permission to serve with George Armstrong Custer's 7th Cavalry. But, as it turned out, his orders to join the unit were delayed and he missed the Battle of the Little Bighorn on June 25th, 1876. Instead, Dr. Goodfellow was assigned as assistant surgeon at Fort Whipple in Prescott. 

By November of that same year, he married Katherine Colt. As stated earlier, she was a cousin to Samuel Colt who was the inventor of the Colt revolver. Then in 1879, he became a contract surgeon at Fort Lowell near Tucson. 

During this time, the Goodfellows had a daughter, Edith born in 1879 in Oakland, and later a son, George Milton born in 1882 in Tombstone. His son died less than two months later from bleeding complications.

After his Army contract ended, he and his wife relocated to Tombstone in Cochise County, Arizona Territory. By 1880, Dr. Goodfellow opened his own practice there. It's said that Tombstone was less than a year old yet its population exploded from about 100 residents in March of 1879 to more than a thousand by the fall of that year. When the Goodfellows arrived in September of 1880, the town's population had doubled.

So now, in an article on how life was in Tombstone, I talk about how there were a lot of luxuries there because it was in fact a boomtown loaded with money. Well, it should be noted that when Dr, Goodfellow arrived there, there were already 12 doctors practicing medicine in Tombstone. Of course, as was the case in the Old West, only Goodfellow and three of those 12 actually had graduated from a medical school. 

Dr. Goodfellow opened an office on the second floor of the Crystal Palace Saloon which was said to "one of the most luxurious saloons in the West" at the time. One source said that the building where the Crystal Palace was located also was the location of the city and country offices such as County Coroner, Cochise County Sheriff, and the offices of Justice of the Peace Wells Spicer and Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp. 

Because of competition, it's said that his practice was slow and he spent more time downstairs in the saloon drinking and gambling. Of course that all came to a halt when the building was destroyed when most of downtown Tombstone burned to the ground during it's first large fire on May 26th, 1882. 

Tombstone was a frontier town and it produced a number of patients for the local doctors, Dr. Goodfellow included. Goodfellow famously described Tombstone as the "condensation of wickedness."

On May 26th, 1881, the Arizona Daily Star reported that Curly Bill Brocius was drunk when he got into an argument with Jim Wallace. Wallace is said to have insulted Tombstone Deputy Marshal Billy Breakenridge who was said to have been Curly Bill's friend. According to witnesses, Brocius became angry even after Wallace apologized to him. Soon a drunk Brocius was threatening to kill him for what he said. 

Witnesses said that Jim Wallace had enough and got up and left. Curly Bill made the mistake of following him. At one point Wallace turned around and shot Curly Bill in the face. The round actually went though the cheek and neck. Dr. Goodfellow treated Brocius's wounds. And though Brocius recovered after several weeks care, Breakenridge arrested Wallace for attempted murder. The court didn't see it that way and ruled that Wallace acted in self-defense.

In the aftermath of the shootout at the O.K. Corral on October 26th, 1881, Virgil Earp was shot through the calf and Morgan Earp was shot across both shoulder blades. Doc Holliday was also grazed by a bullet. Dr. Goodfellow treated the Earps' wounds, but also treated Billy Clanton who was dying as a result of the shootout. There is a story of how Billy Clanton asked someone to remove his boots before he died, so that he wouldn't die with his boot on. It was Goodfellow is said to have obliged the young Clanton.

Because Ike Clanton filed murder charges against the Earps and Holliday, Dr. Goodfellow was asked by County Coroner Dr. H.M. Mathew to review the autopsy reports on the three dead outlaws. It was Goodfellow's testimony about the nature of Billy Clanton's wounds during the hearing that actually supported Virgil Earp's version of what transpired in those few seconds. 

Goodfellow asserted that Billy Clanton's arm could not have been positioned holding his coats open by the lapels or raised in the air. It was Goodfellow’s testimony that in essence exonerated the Earps and Holliday as acting in self-defense.

Two months after the OK Corral, Goodfellow treated Virgil Earp again after he was ambushed. That took place at about 11:30 pm on December 28, 1881, when three gunmen hid in the dark of an unfinished building across Allen Street from the Cosmopolitan Hotel. They ambushed Virgil Earp as he walked from the Oriental Saloon to his room. They hit him in the back and left arm with three loads of double-barreled buckshot from 50 to 60 feet away.

Goodfellow wanted to amputate Virgil's arm, but Virgil refused to let that happen. Goodfellow instead operated on Virgil right there in the Cosmopolitan Hotel using only the few medical tools that he had in his bag. As he operated, he asked people there to retrieve supplies from his office. Virgil had a fracture of the humerus and elbow that could not be repaired. Goodfellow had to remove more than 3 inches of shattered humerus bone from Virgil's left arm in an attempt to allow him to keep his arm. Of course, Virgil would never ever have the use of that arm again and it was permanently crippled.

Dr. Goodfellow treated Morgan Earp trying to safe him after he was ambushed about two and a half months after Virgil was shot. On March 18th, 1882, at about 10:50 pm, Morgan was shot while playing a round of billiards at the Campbell & Hatch Billiard Parlor with owner Bob Hatch. 

No one really knows who really ambushed Morgan through a glass-window of a  locked door that led out into a dark alley between Allen and Fremont Streets. Morgan was struck in the back on the left of his spine. The bullet actually exited the front of Morgan's body and struck the thigh of mining foreman George A.B. Berry.  

Morgan could not stand. Even with assistance, he could not stand on his own. So he was laid out a nearby sofa chair in a lounge. That's where he died even though Dr. Goodfellow and two other doctors worked to try to safe his life. As for George Berry, the bullet was removed and he recovered. Morgan died within an hour of being shot.

On the morning of December 8th, 1883, a group of five outlaws robbed the Goldwater & Castaneda Mercantile in Bisbee. Most sources say didn't get very much. But the robbery soon became known as the Bisbee Massacre because the robbers killed four people including a pregnant woman and her unborn child. When the outlaws were caught, they said that saloon owner John Heath planned the robbery. 

Since John Heath had arrived in Arizona, he had been an upstanding citizen. One source says that he worked as a Cochise County deputy for a while. His main source of income was as a saloon keeper. There's information that he was supposedly a known cattle rustler in Texas, but I haven't been able to find out how anyone knows that for sure. 

Heath was arrested and tried separately from the others. They were all convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to hang, but not Heath. He was convicted of second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit robbery. He got a life sentence at the Yuma Territorial Prison. 

Topmbstone's citizens were outraged at the verdict and broke into the jail. They removed Heath and lynched him up from a telegraph pole. Dr. Goodfellow was there when Heath was hanged. 

At that time, he was County Coroner. His ruling on how John Heath died is famous in Old West lore, as he ruled that "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."

While Dr. George E. Goodfellow is remembered for his practical use of sterile techniques in treating gunshot wounds by washing the patient's wound and his hands with lye soap or whisky. He was America's leading authority on gunshot wounds, and was specifically recognized in the United States as the nation's leading expert at treating abdominal gunshot wounds. 

On July 4th, 1881, a miner living outside of Tombstone was shot. He was hit in the abdomen with a .32-caliber round. Goodfellow was able to treat the man nine days later, on July 13, 1881, when he performed the first "laparotomy" to treat a bullet wound. He successfully repaired the miner's wounds and the miner survived. Dr. Goodfellow's "laparotomy" technique is still the standard procedure for treating abdominal gunshot wounds today. Imagine that.

Dr. Goodfellow was the first physician known to operate successfully on abdominal gunshot wounds. He challenged the standard belief at the time that considered such a wound an immediate death sentence. During his career, he published 13 articles about abdominal bullet wounds. All were based on treatments and techniques which he developed while practicing in Tombstone.

While his articles are informative, he writes as if he were a frustrated Dime Novelist using all sorts color commentary to describe his medical practice in Tombstone. For example: He wrote, "In the spring of 1881 I was a few feet distant from a couple of individuals [Luke Short and Charlie Storms] who were quarreling. They began shooting. The first shot took effect, as was afterward ascertained, in the left breast of one of them, who, after being shot, and while staggering back some 12 feet, cocked and fired his pistol twice, his second shot going into the air, for by that time he was on his back."

In an article he titled "Cases of Gunshot Wound of the Abdomen Treated by Operation," published in the Southern California Practitioner of 1889, he wrote, "the maxim is, shoot for the guts; knowing death is certain, yet sufficiently lingering and agonizing to afford a plenary sense of gratification to the victor in the contest."

That article described five patients with penetrating abdominal wounds, four of whom survived, and the laparotomies which he completed on all of them. He wrote, "it is inexcusable and criminal to neglect to operate upon a case of gunshot wound in the abdominal cavity."

Goodfellow saw the effect of these large-caliber weapons up close and was very familiar with their powerful impact. He also learned that the caliber of the bullet determined whether a medical procedure was needed. He reasoned if the bullet was .32-caliber or larger, it "inflicted enough damage to necessitate immediate operation." 

Also noting, "Given a gunshot wound of the abdominal cavity with one of the above caliber balls [.44 and .45], if the cavity be not opened within an hour, the patient by reason of hemorrhage is beyond any chance of recovery.”

His description of the bullet wounds he most often treated reads as such, "The .44 and .45 caliber Colt revolver, .45-60 and .44-40 Winchester rifles and carbines were the toys with which our festive or obstreperous citizens delight themselves." 

"The .45-caliber Colt Peacemaker round contained 40 grains of black powder that shot a thumb-sized 250-grain slug at the relatively slow velocity of 910 feet per second. But the large bullet could smash through a 3.75-inch-thick pine board at 50 yards." 

So now, let's talk about how Luke Short shot Charlie Storms in the heart. And let's talk about how Storms did not bleed. 

On February 25th, 1881, gambler Luke Short and gunfighter Charlie Storms got into an argument in Tombstone. Storms was a fool who saw Short as a small prey easily intimidated. He was mistaken. 

When Charlie Storms pulled Luke Short off the sidewalk, he immediately pulled his cut-off Colt .45 pistol. Luke Short was not an easy mark and quickly pulled his own pistol, shooting Charlie Storms twice. It's said Short's first shot into Storm was at such close range that the black-powder set fire to Storms' shirt. 

While Luke Short's actions were ruled self-defense as it should have, Dr. Goodfellow found that a silk handkerchief had stopped the bullet. Imagine that.

During Storm's autopsy, Goodfellow found that he had been shot in the heart but was surprised to see "not a drop of blood" exiting the wound. He noted that the bullet that struck Storms should have passed through his body. Instead, he found that the bullet had ripped through Storm's clothing and actually into a folded silk handkerchief in his breast pocket. 

Believe it or not, Dr. Goodfellow extracted the intact bullet from the wound and found two thicknesses of silk wrapped around it and two tears where it had struck the vertebral column. He took his findings and showed the slightly flattened .45-caliber bullet and bloody handkerchief to George Parsons.

Dr. Goodfellow was also interested in a shooting where Assistant City Marshal Billy Breakenridge shot suspect Billy Grounds from 30 feet with a shotgun. Yes, killing him instantly. When Goodfellow examined Grounds, he found that two of the buckshot had penetrated Grounds' thick Mexican felt hat band which was embroidered with silver wire. The two buckshot and two others penetrated his head and flattened against the posterior wall of the skull. The other buckshot penetrated his face and chest. 

Goodfellow noted that one of the grains had passed through two heavy wool shirts and a blanket-lined canvas coat and vest before ending up deep in Grounds' chest. But what fascinated Goodfellow was that in the folds of a Chinese silk handkerchief around Grounds' neck, he found two shotgun pellets yet no holes.

In a third shooting, Dr. Goodfellow found a man who had been shot through the right side of the neck, narrowly missing his carotid artery. A portion of the man's silk neckerchief had been carried into the wound by the bullet, preventing a more serious injury, but the scarf was undamaged.

To Dr. Goodfellow, there was no mistaking the protection offered by silk. It was plainly evident from these examples. In 1887, Goodfellow documented these cases in an article titled "Notes on the Impenetrability of Silk to Bullets" for the Southern California Practitioner

So here you go, Dr. Goodfellow experimented with designs for bullet-resistant clothing made of multiple layers of silk. In fact, his research was accepted in segments that he himself never realized since it's said that the late 1890s outlaws were wearing expensive silk vests to protect themselves. Imagine that. 

As for his other innovations in the world of medicine, he is said to have pioneered treating tuberculosis patients by exposing them to Arizona's dry climate. And along with his performing the first laparotomy, Goodfellow recorded performing the first appendectomy in the Arizona Territory, and he performed what many consider to be the first perineal prostatectomy, an operation he developed to treat bladder problems by removing the enlarged prostate. Goodfellow completed 78 operations and only two patients died. That's an incredible success rate for that time period.

His wife Kate Goodfellow died on August 16, 1891, at his mother's home in Oakland. After he tended to his wife's needs, he returned to Arizona. There he was appointed by Governor Louis C. Hughes as the Arizona Territorial Health Officer until 1896. He was living in Los Angeles in 1896 and was listed in the 1897 Los Angeles City Directory. 

Goodfellow returned to Tucson in 1898. But later that year with the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, he became the personal physician to his friend General William Shafter. To fill that position, he was given the rank of Major and put in charge of the field hospital. 

In late 1899, Goodfellow moved to San Francisco and set up practice there. On January 19th, 1900, he was appointed as the surgeon for the Sante Fe Railroad headquartered in San Francisco.  

In April 1906, at the time of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Goodfellow had remarried and was living at the St. Francis Hotel. He lost all of his records and personal manuscripts in fire that engulfed the city as a result of the earthquake. It's said with the quake, his finances were ruined. 

Goodfellow returned to the Southern Pacific Railroad where he was employed as a surgeon from 1907 to 1910. It was the summer of 1910 that Goodfellow fell ill.

Over a six month period his health declined. At one point, he decided that he did not want to live any longer. He died on December 7, 1910. I was surprised to read that his obituary attributed his death to a nervous breakdown. I was also surprised to read that there were those who said alcoholism may have played a role in his death. 

While I can't possibly pack all of his accomplishments and deeds into this article, let's just realize that Dr. Goodfellow is credited as being America's first civilian trauma surgeon. Yes, in the Old West.

In his lifetime, Dr. George E. Goodfellow did more than most. Among the things he did was spend 11 years practicing medicine in Tombstone where he treated gunshot wounds, but also delivered babies, set broken bones, and provided medical care to anyone in need. Dr. Goodfellow is buried in Los Angeles.

Tom Correa


  1. Wonderful. The more you know about your heroes, the more human they become, is supposed to diminish the legends about them. I find that articles like yours make them even larger than larger than life, if that's even possible. When I went to visit Tombstone, years ago, I was amazed at how small the Town was. It impressed me that the citizenry would be seeing Wyatt and his brothers and the Clanton's and Doc Holliday coming and going every day. Love good stories, and good on you for doing this wonderful research.

  2. Great story, can imagine what damage a .45 slug would do to internal organs. Very interesting how the silk neckerchief could absorb the impact of the bullet. My wife and I spent two New Years Eve's in Tombstone, the first in the Larian and the second with Jeff "The Colonel" Badger at his home, Rose Cottage, next to the old Courthouse. If you should know this fine gentleman, please give him our best regards, Pat & Martina Breen, Ireland. Look forward to more of your excellent tales of that famous town...


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