#Lookback: Dr. Thomas Maghee

A County 10 series in partnership with the Fremont County Museum System
where we take a #Lookback at the stories and history of our community and
presented by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.

Thomas Maghee was an early physician in the Wind River Country passing through what would one day become Lander on September 10, 1873, just a few weeks after Mrs. Richards and Mrs. Hall were killed in a raid by Sioux Indians. He visited their cabin and recovered a bloody knife used in the attack. Before coming to Wyoming, Maghee was wounded serving in the Union army and then returned to Indiana to start medical school. After finishing medical school, Maghee accepted a position as a contract physician with the army and was soon posted to Camp Brown on the Wind River Reservation. He came to Green River by rail and then to camp Brown by wagon. He kept a diary of his first year as a doctor, a very valuable historical resource. His wife, Ellen and two children joined him the next summer. 

Just a few days after his wife’s arrival, he was called to duty in a battle with Sioux and Arapaho known as Bate’s Battle in the Bighorn mountains. He was slightly wounded in the battle and received recognition for his bravery from the Secretary of War. He resigned his position as a contract physician with the army in 1878 and moved to Green River where he was elected to the legislature. 

In 1880, he moved his practice to Rawlins. His first wife passed away in 1884 and he remarried Evelyn Baldwin the daughter of Noyse and Josephine Baldwin, very early settlers in Lander Valley.

In 1881 a notorious outlaw, Big Nose George Parrott, was lynched after trying to escape from jail 10 days before his scheduled execution. Doctors Tom Osborne and Thomas Maghee claimed his body for scientific research. At the time, it was believed the brain of a criminal looked somehow different from the brain of a law-abiding citizen. Maghee claimed Parrot’s brain to investigate this theory. After removing the brain from the skull he gave the skullcap to his assistant, sixteen-year-old, Lillian Heath, who would later become the first female doctor in Wyoming. She used the skull cap as an ashtray and a doorstop. Tom Osborne skinned Big Nose’s body and made a pair of shoes and a medical bag out of his hide. When Osborne was elected the first Democratic governor of Wyoming, he wore the shoes to his inaugural ball.

In 1886, George Webb, a despondent sheepherder tried to kill himself by putting a gun under his chin and pulling the trigger. He survived the attempt but was left disfigured. In a series of operations, Maghee reconstructed his lips, chin, lower jaw, nose, and forehead. This was some of the first successful plastic surgery ever attempted. 

Dr. Maghee returned to Lander in 1905. He was asked to organize the State Training School and was appointed the first superintendent. He did research on the treatment of epilepsy while he served the school. One of the cottages at the State School is named after him. 

During the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918, there was a shortage of physicians in Wyoming, many of Wyoming’s doctors were serving in the military during World War I, so Lander’s town council appointed Maghee to the position of Health Officer to help stop the spread of the flu. Maghee immediately closed down businesses, schools, and churches and enacted a mask mandate.

For over 50 years, Dr. Maghee participated in and served as a witness to Wyoming’s history saving lives and advancing the science of medicine. Leaving us with a record of some of Wyoming’s colorful history.

Next up for the Fremont County Museum

December 3, 9-5 pm at the Dubois Museum, Pioneer Museum in Lander & the Riverton Museum

“First Fridays” Lander State Farm – Riverton State Farm

December 4, 11-4 pm at the Dubois Museum, “Christmas Open House”

December 11, 1-4 pm at the Riverton Museum, “Christmas Open House”

December 11, 1-4 pm at the Riverton Museum, “Toy Building”

Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

December 17, 6:30 pm at the Dubois Museum, “Christmas Caroling at the Museum”

Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

December 18, 5-7 pm at the Pioneer Museum, “Old Fashioned Christmas Open House”

Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

Thru December 30, 9-5 pm at the Pioneer Museum, “The Arapaho Way” By Sara Wiles

Photography on exhibit in the Western Gallery through December

Thru October 2022, 9-5 pm Monday-Saturday, at the Pioneer Museum, “Hurrah for The Cowboy: Men of the Open Range” Art Exhibition

The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander, and the Riverton Museum need your financial support. In the current economic environment, the museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide the quality programs, collections management, exhibits, and services that have become their hallmark over the last four years. Please make your tax-deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.