Today’s Wyo Whiskers feature was a frontier Army surgeon and medical pioneer.
Dr. Thomas Maghee was born in 1842 in Evansville, Indiana. During the Civil War, he fought with the 24th Indiana Volunteers but was discharged two and a half years later for wounds he sustained. He began studying medicine at the local college. Following graduation in 1868, he began practicing in his home town.
In April 1873, Dr. Maghee was given an appointment as Army Surgeon. This position moved him steadily west to Omaha Barracks, North Platte, Fort McPherson and finally Fort Brown (later called Fort Washakie) and Camp Stambaugh, keeping him in the thick of the military action against the Native American tribes. After resigning in 1878, Dr. Maghee entered private practice in Green River and was soon Sweetwater County’s representative to the Territorial Legislature.
In 1880, Dr. Maghee moved his practice to Rawlins, where he served as surgeon for the Union Pacific Railroad. The practice grew, as did Dr. Maghee’s fame and influence.
The incident Dr. Maghee is possibly best known for is his involvement with the outlaw “Big Nose” George Parrott. Following Parrott’s lynching of in 1881, Dr. Maghee and Dr. John Osborne (who later became governor of Wyoming) claimed his body in the name of science. The doctors proceeded to examine the body for evidence of malformation, especially in the brain, that may have led to Parrott’s crimes and shortcomings. They buried his remains in a barrel behind their practice, except for the top of his skull, which their assisting nurse, Lillian Heath, kept as a memento, and a portion of his skin which Dr. Osborne had tanned and made into shoes in Denver. On November 26, 1984, Parrott’s skull, death mask and Dr. Osborne’s shoes were given to the Carbon County Museum. A replica of his skull, as well as the shoes and death mask are on display there today.
A few years later, Dr. Maghee made medical history for completing one of the first successful plastic surgery and facial reconstructions in Wyoming’s history. On November 2, 1886, herder George Webb, age 53, attempted to take his life with a shotgun in a sheep wagon south of Rawlins. Webb succeeded only in loosing a large portion of his nose, upper and lower jaw. Over the course of 39 surgeries “under profound chloroform” between November 12, 1886 and April 27, 1887, Dr. Maghee was able to reconstruct Webb’s face, including his nose and lips, using muslin, silk thread and skin and tissue grafts from other portions of his body. Dr. Maghee wrote a detailed account of his experience in a national medical journal, which made Webb something of a celebrity for a time. Dr. Maghee reported that Webb was seen in 1905 in Los Angeles, California and that his “scars have about disappeared, the nose is natural in shape, size and color.”
Dr. Maghee moved his practice to Lander in 1905, where he passed away in 1927 at the age of 85. He claimed “no less than 17 minor injuries” during his career and was proud of the fact that he “never failed to respond to a call, regardless of how great the hardship of reaching the domicile or a patient might be or of the inability of a patient to pay for service” during his nearly 50 years of practice.