| Physicians of Interest
history of Arizona's physicians is rich in mystery,
controversy, innovation and pride. Since the
settlers first inhabited the territory, physicians
have been a part of Arizona's legacy. They helped
shape the culture of this Great State and set
the standard for the quality of care delivered
to its citizens. The Physicians of Interest
page on this website highlights the historical
work of Arizona's physicians and the roles they
played while shaping the State's future. The
biography of a new physician will be added each
month and in time, the page will represent a
patchwork of the names and faces that brought
medicine in Arizona to life.
Dr. Bernard J. D. Irwin
Arizona’s early years are woven with tales of Apaches and forts, missions and battles – and it is in this setting that the first surgery was performed in the state of Arizona. The surgery was performed by Dr. Bernard J. D. Irwin in Southern Arizona in an area now know as Sonoita, almost 150 years ago. Dr. Irwin arrived at Fort Buchanan in 1857 and, when not leading his command, had come to be known as an excellent physician and surgeon.
Dr. Irwin found his place in military history when he voluntarily took command of 14 men and began a 100-mile journey by mule to rescue 2nd Lieutenant George Bascom and 60 of his men who were trapped by the Chiricahua Apaches under Cochise. The siege began when the Apache Indians raided the ranch of John Ward on Sonoita Creek, plundering his house and releasing his livestock and horses. Dr. Irwin and his small band of men defeated the Apaches, recovering the livestock and horses belonging to John Ward. For this heroic feat, Dr. Irwin was awarded the first U. S. Medal of Honor for distinguished service.
He continued his military career through New Mexico, Kansas, West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee and states in the north, before inventing the first tent hospital at Shiloh during the Civil War. He returned to Arizona where he served as the Medical Director at Fort Whipple in Prescott until he was relieved of duty in 1885. Though a brave and decorated warrior, he found delight in the more sedate art of bird collecting and his bird collection is still held at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. Dr. Irwin was a physician and surgeon who soared far beyond his time.