The Amazing Gunshot Physician

By Marshall Trimble

Dr. George Goodfellow of Tombstone is best remembered as the “Gunshot Physician.” He patched up outlaws like Curly Bill Brocius and doctored the wounded Virgil and Morgan Earp after the Gunfight at O.K. Corral.

When the mortally wounded Billy Clanton asked to have his boots removed so he could “die with his boots off,” Doc Goodfellow obliged.

Afterward, Ike Clanton, whose big mouth started the fracas and ran away when the shooting began, leaving his brother Billy to die, filed murder charges against the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday.

Several cowboys testified the McLaury brothers and Billy had their arms raised when they were shot. Goodfellow reviewed Dr. H.M. Matthews’ autopsy report and testified Billy could not have had his arms raised when he was shot. The testimony helped prove the Earps and Holliday acted in self-defense.

Two months later, on December 28, 1881, when the town marshal, Virgil, was ambushed by several avenging cowboys, Goodfellow was called to treat him, and, on March 18, 1882, when Morgan was assassinated while playing pool in Hatch’s Saloon, Goodfellow treated him. However, with lack of experience treating abdominal wounds, he knew Morgan wouldn’t survive.

Dr. Goodfellow was a physician well ahead of his time. He pioneered work in the treatment of abdominal wounds, specifically those caused by gunshots. He recognized the significance of sterile techniques at a time when much of the medical establishment had not yet accepted it as a surgical necessity. His mandatory laparotomy became and remains the standard of care for managing patients with penetrating abdominal trauma.

Goodfellow is fondly remembered in Sonora, Mexico, as “El Doctor Santo,”  the Sainted One. On the afternoon of May 3, 1887, a devastating earthquake with an estimated magnitude of 7.6 hit in northwestern Mexico, near the little town of Bavispe, destroying most of the houses and killing 42 of the town’s 700 residents. It is the only earthquake to cause considerable damage in southeast Arizona. It also caused moderate-to-severe damage in southwestern New Mexico, northeastern Sonora, northwestern Chihuahua and western Texas.

Goodfellow loaded his buggy with medical supplies and traveled to Bavispe to care for the injured.

Doc Goodfellow returned to Bavispe twice to do a scientific study on the quake. Later, the U.S. Geological Service praised his “remarkable and creditable” report, describing it as “systematic, conscientious and thorough.”  The earthquake was, at the time, the “longest recorded normal-fault surface rupture in historic time.” His report was later described as an “outstanding study” and a “pioneering achievement.”

This is but one of the great accomplishments by the amazing physician. He performed the nation’s first perineal proctectomy to remove an enlarged prostate and Arizona’s second appendectomy. He wrote articles on the treatment of gunshot wounds that were published nationally.

Outside the field of medicine, in an emergency he could drive a steam locomotive or crawl down a smoke-filled shaft to rescue trapped miners.

During the Spanish-American War in 1898, Goodfellow, who was fluent in Spanish, negotiated the surrender of Spanish forces at Santiago, Cuba.

Spanish Gen. Jose Toral credited the doctor for talking him into surrendering. Goodfellow, in turn, attributed it to a bottle of Ol’ John Barleycorn that he kept in his medical kit. He prescribed it to himself and the general, “lending to a more convivial atmosphere to the conference.”   

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