DR. BACON SAUNDERS
(Extension of remarks made at the unveiling of an historical
marker at the Flatiron Building on February 13, 1971, by Bennett
When Fort Worthians of 1906 heard, read, and talked about the
exciting news that Dr. Bacon Saunders would erect at Ninth and
Houston Streets the tallest building in the Southwest, they had yet
another reason to be proud of their distinguished surgeon and civic
leader. When local citizens in 1907 admired the new triangular
Flatiron Building, they knew again that Dr. Bacon Saunders was a man
Dr. Bacon Saunders was well known to Fort Worthians in 1906 and
1907, although he had lived in the city a scant thirteen years. Our
new generation who never knew Dr. Saunders will ask: "Who was Dr.
Bacon Saunders and from whence did he come?" We learn that he came
from good Kentucky stock. His father was Dr. John Smith Saunders, a
native of Barren County, Kentucky. His mother was Sarah Jane
Claypool, a native of Warren County, Kentucky. Both parents came
from the Pennyrile area of west-central Kentucky.
Bacon Saunders was born at Bowling Green, Warren County, Kentucky,
on January 5, 1855.
Dr. John Smith Saunders moved his family to Dallas in 1857. He was a
frontier doctor at Dallas until the outbreak of the Was Between the
States. His professional trips by horseback and buggy took him as
far away as Tarrant County and Fort Worth.
Although opposed in principle to secession, he served as a brigade
surgeon in the Confederate Army from 1862 to the end of the war.
Dr. John Smith Saunders had little formal schooling, but he was
learned in classical literature. He committed much of Shakespeare's
plays to memory, and regaled his fellow Confederate officers with
readings and quotations from the Bard of Avon.
Dr. John Smith Saunders returned to Dallas after the War Between the
States. He decided to forsake the hard life of a pioneer physician
for a business career. During that era, he built the first steam
mill in North Texas. He thus showed an aptitude for commercial and
industrial affairs, an aptitude that was to be repeated in his son
In order to secure better educational opportunities for his
children, the elder Saunders moved to Bonham, Fannin County, in
1869. It may seem strange to us in 1971 that Bonham Schools ever
surpassed those of Dallas, but such must have been the case a
hundred years ago.
Dr. John Smith Saunders resumed the practice of medicine when he
moved to Bonham and continued an active practice until his death in
Bacon Saunders, the son, graduated from Carlton College at Bonham
with a B.A. degree in 1873, when he was eighteen years old. He then
taught school and worked as a medical apprentice in his father's
office for a period of two or three years. He next entered the
medical department of the University of Louisville (Kentucky), from
which he graduated in March 1877 as the top man in the class of 190.
After graduation from medical school, Dr. Bacon Saunders returned to
Bonham and began the practice of medicine with his father. This
fruitful association of father and son continued without
interruption until the death of his father in 1891.
Dr. Bacon Saunders married Ida Jane Caldwell the daughter of
Reverend Tillman Caldwell of Bonham, on October 30, 1877, the year
of his graduation from medical school. Some written accounts give
October 31, 1877, as the marriage date, but his granddaughter, Mrs.
Jane Saunders. Jary states that October 30, 1877, is correct. Ida
Jane Saunders was a native of Tennessee.
Two children were born to the marriage of Bacon and Ida Jane
Caldwell Saunders: Roy Farra, later a Fort Worth Physician, and
Linda Ray, later Mrs. Charles D. Reimers.
Dr. Bacon Saunders first made medical history as a young doctor of
twenty-two years, just two years out of medical school, when he
performed the first or next to the first appendicitis operation in
the United States. This event took place in 1879.
Dr. Bacon Saunders had read in a medical journal an account of an
appendectomy in Europe, probably in Germany. The news of that
operation was fresh in his mind as Dr. Bacon Saunders visited a
Fannin County man ill with abdominal pain. Dr. Saunders returned to
Bonham, reread the account of the operation in Europe, and decided
that his patient had acute appendicitis. He went back to the patient
and proposed the operation. The ill man was in such pain that he
consented readily to the operation.
On a kitchen table in a farmhouse, with boiling water as the
disinfectant, with his father as the anesthesiologist, Dr. Bacon
Saunders performed a successful removal of an infected appendix. The
patient recovered and lived many years.
A New York surgeon, friend of Bacon Saunders, had read the same
article about the first European operation for appendicitis, and he
performed a similar operation about the same time in New York.
Because of slowness of communication in 1879, it was never
determined whether the operation in Texas was earlier or later than
the operation in New York. This account of the Fannin County
operation is supported by Mrs. Jane Saunders Jary, of Fort Worth, a
granddaughter of Dr. Bacon Saunders.
Some published-biographies of Dr. Bacon Saunders state that this
operation probably took place in 1884 or 1885; but the correct year
was 1879, when Dr. Saunders was two years out of medical school,
according to his descendants in 1971.
Dr. Bacon Saunders moved to Fort Worth in 1893. He was attracted to
Fort Worth because of its preeminence as a railroad center. His
choice was a wise one because he became the surgeon for many
railroad companies. Fort Worth was even then a dynamic, growing city
well suited to one of Dr. Saunders' talents and industry. The
population of the city spurted from about 36,000 in 1900 to about
73,000 residents in 1910. The Armour and the Swift packing plants,
which came about 1902, attracted new inhabitants.
In Fort Worth, Dr. Bacon Saunders formed a partnership with Dr. W.
A. Adams and Or. F. D. Thompson. The demand for the services of Dr.
Saunders soon caused him to limit his practice to surgery. He must
have been one of the first of his profession in the Southwest to
specialize in surgery.
Throughout his career of over thirty years in Fort Worth, Dr.
Saunders expanded the field of his professional activity by
connections with many educational and commercial institutions. He
was the founder or a co-founder of hospitals and medical and nursing
He was instrumental in carrying through arrangements for the
building of the first joint city and county hospital, later called
He was for twenty years before his death the chief of staff and
chief surgeon at St. Joseph's Hospital. In 1896 he was the prime
mover behind construction of a new St. Joseph Hospital.
Dr. Bacon Saunders and his son, Dr. Roy Farra Saunders, performed
all their operations in a six-room suite at St. Joseph's. This
well-equipped surgical space had for years a very long mirror
suspended above the operating table. Other doctors who wanted to
learn operating techniques could observe operations while they sat
in a circle of elevated chairs about the room.
Dr. Bacon Saunders was founder of the School of Nursing, probably
the first of its kind at St. Joseph's Hospital. Shortly after the
death of Dr. Roy Saunders, on March 30, 1957, the Mother Superior at
St. Joseph's stated to his daughter, Mrs. Jane Saunders Jary, that
they were still using books Dr. Bacon Saunders had written for
student nurses. So many of his concepts for the training of nurses
were that lasting.
Dr. Bacon Saunders established the Fort Worth Medical College in
1894, and served as its dean. This school was taken over by Texas
Christian University in 1911-1912. Dr. 8acon Saunders then became
professor of surgery and clinical surgery and president of the
faculty. This medical department of T.C.U. was transferred to Baylor
University in 1914, and Dr. Saunders continued there as teacher of
surgery until his death in 1925.
Dr. Bacon Saunders had professional ties to most of the companies
which operated railroads through Fort Worth. He was Chief Surgeon of
the Fort Worth and Denver for twenty-five years. He was also Chief
Surgeon for the Wichita Valley and the Trinity and Brazos Valley
railroads. He was division and local surgeon for the Texas and
Pacific, International and Great Northern, St. Louis and
Southwestern and the Santa Fe railroads. The professional position
of Dr. Bacon Saunders with so many railroads did more than anything
else to promote St. Joseph's Hospital, which became a hospital
center for railroads.
He was consulting director of the Fort Worth Life Insurance Company.
The professional activity of Dr. Saunders included memberships and
offices in many associations. He helped organize the North Texas
Medical Association and became its first president. He served as
president of .the Texas Medical Association; was vice president of
the International Surgical Association; was founder and vice
president of the Texas Surgical Association; and was a member of the
American Medical Association. He was one of the first to be made a
Fellow of the American College of Surgeons.
One of the greatest honors came when he became president of the
Southern Surgical and Gynecological Association of the United
States, an association limited to 200 leading surgeons in the United
States. His elevation to the presidency of this Association brought
so much publicity and prestige to Fort Worth that a banquet was
given in his honor. Men from all over the Southwest attended the
banquet and congratulatory telegrams came from all over the world.
The services of Dr. Bacon Saunders with many railroads and his
memberships in and official positions with numerous professional
associations necessitated frequent travel. While on trips to New
York he admired the Flatiron Building in that city. So the New York
structure became the model for the Flatiron Building, which he
constructed in 1907 on a triangular lot he had acquired adjacent to
Hyde Park. The Jennings and the Daggett surveys come together in
such a way as to cause the triangle of land.
Dr. Bacon Saunders was able to combine business activity with a busy
professional life. At one time he had an interest in a drug
business. He was a director of Farmers and Mechanics Bank,
predecessor of The Fort Worth National Bank. He built the
Exline-Reimers plant, a forerunner of Stafford-Lowdon Company. Thus
he had the business ability and experience to construct the Flatiron
Building for his office and his tenants.
Dr. Bacon Saunders was active also in the religious life of Fort
Worth. He was an elder in the First Christian Church and helped lay
the cornerstone of that Church at Sixth and Throckmorton Streets. He
served as chairman of the Board of Trustees of Brite College of the
Bible at Texas Christian University. He was a trustee of and on the
Executive Board of T. C. U.
Several honorary degrees were conferred on Dr. Bacon Saunders. He
received degrees of L.L.D. from Arkansas Industrial University and
from State Normal University in Virginia. Baylor University bestowed
an L.L.B. degree on him during its Golden Anniversary in 1919.
As physician, surgeon, educator, church layman, civic worker and
business man, Dr. Bacon Saunders achieved distinction during a
professional career of forty-eight years out of a lifetime of
seventy years. His work spanned the last quarter of the nineteenth
century and the first quarter of the twentieth century. The record
proves that he was a man of great ability, versatility and industry.
That he was a good family man is attested by his long association
with his father in medical practice and later with his son. Such a
span of three generations of physicians of the same family and in
partnership must be rare indeed. When his granddaughter Jane
Saunders Jary became six years of age, he began taking her to the
meetings of various medical associations to which he belonged. Mrs.
Jary has present memories of those trips and of the famous men she
It is an honor to represent the Tarrant County Historical Society
and to participate in the unveiling of this Texas State Historical
Marker and Medallion for the Flatiron Building as an historical
In commemorating this fine building we honor also its great builder,
Dr. Bacon Saunders.
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HISTORY AND BIOGRAPHICAL RECORD OF WEST TEXAS, edited by Capt. B. B.
Paddock, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1906.
FORT WORTH AND THE TEXAS NORTHWEST, edited by Capt. B. B. Paddock,
The Lewis Publishing Company, 1922.
MAKERS OF FORT WORTH, published by Fort Worth Newspaper Artists'
THE HANDBOOK OF TEXAS, published by the Texas State Historical
Association, The University of Texas Press, 1952.
Notes on the Flatiron Building and on Dr. Bacon Saunders by Mrs.
Jane Saunders Jary in 1971.