Experiments in bullet-proofing
By Keith Souter aka Clay More
In the Doctor's Bag this month I want to draw your attention to a little of the work of Dr George Emory Goodfellow, famously known as the surgeon to the gunfighters. He was without doubt one of the most remarkable characters ever to practice medicine and surgery. He was a polymath, a man who would have made an impact anywhere, any time. He just happened to be practising as a doctor in Tombstone, Arizona during one of its most violent epochs.
Dr George Emory Goodfellow (1855-1910)
Among his many achievements, he was the first doctor to perform a laparotomy (the operation to open the abdomen) to treat abdominal gunshot wounds. He was the first surgeon to perform a perineal prostatectomy and he was an early advocate of aseptic surgery and of spinal anaesthesia. He was a geologist (his father was a mining engineer), an expert on Gila Monsters, a boxing champion in his youth and a man that you didn't cross (he carried and was prepared to use a concealed Italian poniard dagger).
He operated on Virgil Earp after an assassination attempt on him in the aftermath to the Gunfight at the OK Corral, he performed sterling innovative reconstructive surgery on the nose of his friendGeorge Whitwell Parsons and he led an emergency relief operation to treat the injured after the devastating Sonora earthquake of 1887.
For this he was called El Santo Doctor, the sainted doctor, by the people of Bavispe and he was given a horse, El Rosillo, by President Diaz.
Eureka - The Impenetrability of Silk
An interesting area of research that Dr Goodfellow undertook was into the possibility of making bulletproof vests. Indeed, his research was of fundamental importance in this.
Many of the greatest discoveries in medicine and science come about because someone sees something that others may also have seen, yet only that person understands its significance. They are the Eureka moments of science. George Goodfellow had his when he was digging out bullets!
In 1887 he wrote a paper in the Southern California Practitioner, entitled Notes on the Impenetrability of Silk to Bullets. In it he outlined three instances of gunshot wounds wherein bullets either did not go where they should have, or what should have been a fatality was not. It was the fact that the victims all had silk in one form or another, through which the bullets could not penetrate.
The paper is fascinating, but it is written in the dispassionate clinical manner of all scientific and medical papers. The tales behind them are fascinating and indeed apocryphal anecdotes of Tombstone during those violent days of the Wild West.
He begins the paper thus:
‘A somewhat extensive experience in the gunshot wounds of civil life, during the past few years, has brought to my attention the following instances illustrative of the remarkable tenacity of silk fibre and its resistance power of a bullet:’
I propose to describe these tales in more detail in another work, so for now it is enough to mention that in one case a fatal chest wound showed no blood loss, which was remarkable. The reason was that the bullet had hit a silk handkerchief and driven it into the chest cavity, but it had failed to penetrate the silk. In his post mortem examination he pulled the silk out and the bullet came out all wrapped up.
In another, that was not fatal, a man was shot in the neck. He was wearing a silk neckerchief, which once again did not allow the bullet to pass through it, the result being that he did not sustain injury to the great blood vessels in his neck.
‘He subsequently told me, for I never saw him to speak to but twice, that all the liquids he took passed out of the wound of entrance for some weeks. He is now, I presume, pursuing his trade (cattle-stealing) on the border – if not in peace, at least in prosperity.'
Doctor Goodfellow went on to experiment with this, using layers of silk, rather like the medieval protective, quilted gambesons that had been used to protect against arrows. Others followed him and by the century's end bulletproof vests made from silk were being produced. They were extremely expensive, of course, yet offered some protection against bullets of low power.
Indeed, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was wearing one on the 28th June, 1914 when he was assassinated. His assassin shot him through his unprotected neck. And of course, it his assassination - the shot heard round the world - that is considered to be one of the triggers for the outbreak of World War I. *
[This famous phrase is also used in reference, of course, to the first shot fired in the American Revolutionary War.]
Redemption Trail published by Western Trail Blazer
- a novelette- novella
Sam Gibson used to be a lawman, until the day he made a terrible mistake that could never be taken back. Since then, he has alternated between wishing there were a way he could redeem himself and believing he deserved punishment.
He’s about to get both…
Adventures from the Casebook of Dr Marcus Quigley published by High Noon Press
- seven interconnected short stories.
Doctor Marcus Quigley, qualified dental surgeon, gambler and sometime bounty hunter has gradually been working his way west. His reasons for choosing such a lifestyle are personal and pressing, as well as expedient, for there is someone he means to track down and hold to account for a murder committed some years previously.