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By Anthony Cooley Special to the White Mountain Independent

John C. Handy was born in Newark, New Jersey, on Oct. 30, 1844, and moved with his family to California in 1853. He graduated from Cooper College in San Francisco when he was 19 years old and received his medical degree from Toland Medical School in 1865. Dr. Handy became a contract surgeon for the military in Arizona. Colonel John Green specifically requested Dr. Handy for his second expedition into the White Mountains in Nov. 1869, because of his knowledge of the Apache people and ability to speak their language. Dr. Handy’s first wife was an Apache woman but no record can be found of her name or any other information about her. He stayed with Colonel Green’s command and was the first post surgeon of the newly created Camp ORD.

Unfortunately, Dr. Handy was also possessed of a fiery, violent temper which he seems to have seldom, if ever, directed at non-Anglos. On Oct. 28, 1870,he shot the Post Trader A aron Huey over an insult. On Nov. 28, 1870, a Tucson newspaper, the Weekly Arizonan, wrote a description of the confrontation between the two men. According to the story, Dr. Handy was having a conversation with Captain John Barry when Mr. Huey rode up and without provocation insulted the doctor with a term “for the use of which many a man on the frontier has been launched into eternity.” No mention is made of what the term actually was but it likely referred to Dr. Handy having an Apache wife. Dr. Handy immediately drew his pistol and fired at Mr. Huey breaking the trigger on the gun he had in his hand. Captain Barry immediately pulled the pistol from the doctor’s hand and then disarmed the post trader. Mr. Huey, who was still mounted on his horse, then became even more abusive and several times again used the same insulting term as before. Unwilling to take any more insults, the doctor rushed to his tent, got another gun and returning, ordered Mr. Huey to leave from the area of his quarters. Mr. Huey, while again applying the abusive phrase, declared that he would not leave and the doctor could not force him to do so. Dr. Handy shot him in the chest. Mr. Huey lingered on for a couple of weeks before he died. Considering that he lived quite a while under the sole care of the man who shot him, it seems Dr. Handy must have made a true effort to save Huey’s life if he could.

On Dec. 3, 1870, the same Tucson paper had a follow-up story stating that Dr. Handy had come to Tucson the previous Sunday to surrender himself to authorities. It also stated that Dr. Handy had an enviable reputation among the Apaches and had license to travel anywhere in their country due to his success in treating their diseases. He had come directly through the mountains from Camp Thomas to Tucson accompanied by two “wild Apaches” as guides. Dr. Handy brought with him two affidavits made by parties at Camp Thomas to the effect that Mr. Huey had expressed a determination to kill the doctor and another, signed by Mr. Huey before he died, exonerating Dr. Handy and asking that no action be taken against him. After examining the documents the judge simply stated that the affair had taken place in Yavapai County and the doctor should go to that county seat in Prescott, not Tucson, which is in Pima County. Nothing more was ever done about the matter.

In March of 1871, Dr. Handy was replaced as post surgeon at the newly renamed Camp Apache by Dr. Milan Soule´ who had previously been stationed at Camp Verde. Dr. Handy ended his contract with the Army and in August 1871 opened a practice in Tucson. In 1879 he founded the Pima County Medical Society and worked to set high standards for medical care. By 1880, he had come to be known as the leading surgeon in Tucson, and the whole territory, for that matter. In 1886, the University of Arizona appointed him its First Chancellor.

In July 1878, Dr. Handy married for the second time. He was 34 years old. His wife, Mary Page Scott, was 16. They would have five children together. The youngest was born in 1888. The marriage was not a happy one, with accusations of abuse and mistreatment. In Dec. 1888, Mary filed for divorce. Rumors circulated that the doctor threatened to kill the judge and her lawyers. She withdrew the suit the following month.

The following year, Dr. Handy filed for divorce himself and let it be known that any lawyer who took her case would regret it. Due to her husband’s constant threats, Mary had trouble finding an attorney to represent her. Eventually Frank Heney agreed to take her case. Even after the divorce was granted the case went on, with the doctor contesting the custody of the children and a house that was awarded to Mary in the divorce. Dr. Handy’s volatile temper continued to dictate his behavior, with him constantly threatening to kill her attorney if he didn’t stop helping his ex-wife. Mr. Heney began carrying a pistol and going everywhere with his brother, who was also armed. On two occasions there were confrontations between the men with guns drawn but no one fired their weapon.

Finally on Sept. 24, 1891, Dr. Handy met Mr. Heney on the street when he was alone and approached him from behind, grabbed him by the throat, pushing him against a wall. Mr. Heney pulled his pistol from his pocket and as the two men fought for control of the gun, the doctor was shot in the abdomen. Dr. Handy still managed to lift the smaller man clear off his feet and they fell into the street fighting for control of the pistol. Eventually a deputy sheriff arrived and with the help of bystanders, pried the two men’s hands off of the gun without any more shots being fired. The doctor was able to get to his feet and with assistance walked to his office. Two local doctors were able to remove the bullet which was lodged near his spine and another doctor known for his success treating gunshot wounds came all the way from Tombstone, arriving that night. The surgery began at 10 p.m., but Dr. Handy’s intestines had been perforated 18 times by the bullet and he died before the surgery could be completed.

Incidentally, the story that was printed in the newspaper, the Weekly Arizonan, about Dr. Handy shooting Aaron Huey at Camp Thomas in 1870 was printed on the same Washington hand press that printed the first newspaper in Arizona in Tubac in 1859.

Although the Weekly Arizonan stopped publishing in 1871, the old Washington hand press lived on. It was used by John P. Clum to print the first issues of his paper, the Tombstone Epitaph, in 1880. In 1933, it was donated by the Epitaph to the Arizona Historical Society and later put on display at the Tubac Presidio State Park. In 2012, the National Society of Professional Journalists declared the Washington hand press and the surrounding Tubac Presidio State Park as a Historic site for journalism.

Anthony Cooley is a local historian and retired employee of the White Mountain Independent. He is a descendent of Show Low’s founder Corydon Cooley.

Anthony Cooley is a local historian and retire employee of the White Mountain Independent. He is a descendent of Show Low’s founder Corydon Cooley.

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