J.C. Worthington: Fort Whipple’s Lovelorn Doctor

By Thomas P. Collins

Arizona Territory’s Fort Whipple by 1876-77 had undergone a marvelous transformation from its humble beginnings in 1864. General George Crook, commander in residence since 1872, had torn down the old stockade and replaced it with Victorian-style buildings, including Club Rooms which served as the nucleus of Prescott’s social life, the settings for minstrel shows, hops, and plays. Civil War hero General August V. Kautz assumed command of the Arizona Military Department in November 1874 and, with his talented young wife Fannie, instituted what one of the officers’ wives, Ellen Biddle, termed “the days of the Empire.”1

As the queen bee of Whipple’s social life, Fannie created a virtual medieval court with a rigid caste system and a whirlwind of musical and theatrical events.2 Into this firmly established “court” came a young and inexperienced doctor who, for the brief period of thirteen months, suffered unrequited love, alienated fellow officers, and, through willful pride, disrupted the harmony of the Post’s life.

James Cheston Worthington was born in Maryland, January 19, 1853. He graduated third in his class from West Point in 1875 and was stationed at Fort McHenry, Maryland. From September 1876 to September 1877 he served at Fort Whipple as Assistant Post Surgeon to the Director of medicine, Dr. James C. McKee. Then, from 1878 to 1880, he served at Camp Grant, Fort Huachuca, and Fort McDowell, all in the Arizona Territory. We know a great deal about this lovelorn young doctor since his numerous letters to his friend Edward Shriver were donated to Arizona State University.3 (These letters, scrawled in apparent haste, abound in misspellings— some accidental and some intentionally witty— and, occasionally, in coined words. Quotations from the letters are reproduced in this article precisely as written by Worthington.)4

Worthington was only 24 years old when he arrived at Fort Whipple. It was a relatively peaceful time, so the young doctor found himself the physician to military families as well as the people of Prescott. He dealt primarily with pregnancies and childbirth and with scarlet fever and small pox outbreaks. A gaunt, sensitive, anguished young man, he was one of seven bachelors on the Post, where there were only three ladies of marriageable age: Julia Lion, the Paymaster’s adopted daughter; Carrie Wilkins, the daughter of Lt. Col. John D. and Caroline Wilkins; and Miss Emma Titus, a friend of the General’s wife from Ohio who had ventured out West to find a husband.5 It was the coquettish Carrie Wilkins who became the object of the doctor’s hopeless passion.

Carrie Wilkins was a year older than Worthington, and were it not for her choosiness and her ladylike, cool reserve, she might well have been married already. What made her especially desirable as a mate was not only her charm but also the fact that she was an officer’s daughter, reared in New Mexico and Arizona, so she would not be put off by the prospect of life at a Frontier army post. As for her maternal instincts, she was already playing the role of mother to her little nephew Howard and her infant niece Ella. Carrie’s sister, Mrs. Lieutenant Charles M. Baily, had died in October 1875, just four days after giving birth to her daughter.

Worthington filled some of his leisure hours by taking German lessons from Fannie Kautz, a native Austrian. He referred to her humorously as “Her Majesty.” A lively young woman with a husband old enough to be her father, Fannie engaged in a ritual of harmless flirtations with the Post’s unmarried officers. She expected a bevy of bachelors to dance attendance on her at all social functions. She also recruited many of them to act in the plays she directed (and starred in) for the new Fort Whipple Dramatic Association, which she organized in 1875 with the officers’ wives and with Colonel James Porter Martin, the talented Adjutant General. Among her “court favorites” were Lieut. Charles Anderson, Lieut. Henry P. Kingsbury, Captain Charles Porter, and the doctor himself. If these young men crossed Fannie by flirting overtly in her presence with other young ladies, they stood in danger of being transferred to another post—or so the gossip ran.6

Having been physician for the Kautz family, Worthington felt close to Fannie and sought her advice about his on-again, off-again relationship with Carrie. He was particularly anxious about his erstwhile roommate and “contemptable toady” Lieut. Kingsbury, a rakish bachelor who dubbed his new quarters “The Devil’s Roost,” apparently to signify his wildness and his way with women. Kingsbury wooed Carrie, vying with Worthington to be her partner in the almost daily games of croquet at the Fort.

As for his medical practice, Worthington had relatively few soldiers to care for at Fort Whipple, since the worst days of the Indian Wars had passed. The few clashes with insurgents produced few casualties, so Dr. Worthington found himself treating the military families for various illnesses and providing prenatal care for mothers and delivering their babies. Worthington admitted to his friend Shriver that he lacked experience. On March 5, 1877, he wrote, “I’m treating little Nettie Lynch with scarlet fever – my first case: but don’t tell her [parents?] so – and so I have put myself in quaranteen as I think it a physicians duty to do in such cases, and I have lots of time to read and reflect on my life here.”

 Indeed, the month of March saw an outbreak of both scarlet fever and small pox in Prescott. Murat and Florence Masterson of Prescott lost two of their young children, a boy and a girl, to scarlet fever. They died within a day of each other.7 So the families at Fort Whipple were terrified. On March 18 Worthington reported, “I’ve lots to do now with four cases of scarlet fever on hand and more on foot—as it were—for it certainly will spread as it has attacked the reservation on three sides.” Worthington supplemented his meager income by developing a private practice in town, catering especially to the social elite of Nob Hill, the area rising steeply from the town square East up Liberty Street.

By this time Worthington was madly in love with Carrie Wilkins. “As for Miss C.W. you know that in every system of mythology there are separate divinities for every country. Now she is the divinity of Arizona and I much worship her here” (Mar. 18, 1877). But Lt. Kingsbury was plying her hard.

An amusing confrontation occurred at a Friday night hop, when Kingsbury was in his cups. “Mrs Biddle gave a fine hop on Friday night and it was pretty lively. Some of them got it up their snoots--as it were. Kingsbury did too, and thought yesterday he had scarlet fever. While punchinspired he came up to Mr. Thomas the Q.M.’s clerk who was dancing with Miss Carrie … and said very earnestly in hearing of both of them--”Now young man, tage my advishe and jusht keep oud of thish. You’re only getting insnaired lige the resht of them!” Thomas … said he was a little puzled for a moment what to say; then he said to Miss Carrie “Have you the slightest idea what he’s talking about?” She said she had not, so every body was happy. Thomas isn’t getting insnaired any more than I am. He knows its better policy to make up to Miss Titus and so he does.” (Mar. 5, 1877)

Miss Carrie had clearly “insnaired” Lieutenant Kingsbury, although, like Worthington, he feigned indifference. The doctor reported on April 18 that Carrie went out buggy riding with Kingsbury, “which same is in itself equal to charging an Apache village.” His bronco team bolted, ran over a log, and threw both occupants out on their heads in the road. “Kingsbury didn’t knock his brains worth a cent, but poor Miss C.W. was terribly stunned and did not recover consciousness for twenty minutes.” This incident only aggravated the doctor’s love sickness, although he denied it. “Every day I thank my stars that ‘I am not as other men are’, for so many have deceived themselves by supposing they were worthy of her regard only to have their hopes dashed to the ground. She is not a flirt, but so cold and dignified that I have heard it said that she has no heart. I don’t believe that, but I do believe that she is waiting sensabily and deliberately for a ‘good match’ which has not yet appeared ... I am proud to consider her my friend, and shall never be foolish enough to presume on any nearer relationship.”

Worthington had the honor of escorting Carrie to the General Kautz Reception given by the people of Prescott. There he met Mrs. Henry B. Murray M.D. of Prescott and had a long talk with her. His condescending attitude towards a woman practicing his own profession is evident: “she can talk medicine ‘like a little man’” (May 7, 1877). Dr. Murray and her husband arrived in Prescott in early March 1877 to make the town their permanent home.

The Arizona Weekly Miner of March 16 touted her credentials but clarified that she did not intend to set up practice: “We are informed that the accomplished wife of H. B. Murray, besides being a lady of more than ordinary literary talent, is also a graduate of the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia. The lady having also attended medical lectures at some of the most learned institutions in London and Paris, we are assured that her medical education is of the very highest order. She, however, does not expect to practice here … ” Despite this announcement, Dr. Murray would eventually provide care for two officers’ wives of Fort Whipple, a move that would precipitate a professional schism culminating in Dr. Worthington’s transfer to Camp Grant.

May 1877 proved to be a difficult month for Dr. Worthington. He lost a popular fellow officer—Lieutenant Bishop Aldrich, the Post Quartermaster—to heart disease, with which, the Miner reported, he had been afflicted “for sometime past.” He was only forty-two years of age and left behind a young widow and two boys.8 Worthington took Aldrich’s death hard, according to General Kautz. “Dr. Worthington feels self reproach that he did not more fully realize Lieut Aldrichs condition.” 9

In early June one of Worthington’s worst fears was realized when he learned that Lieutenant Charles M. Baily, widower of Carrie’s sister Ella, was on his way to Fort Whipple. He wrote anxiously to Ed Shriver on June 3: “... there is a terrible widower brother-in-law expected here today and many people seem to think that its a foregone conclusion that the Arizoteopetli [Miss Carrie] who has conquested all of the “Blooded Eighth” and “Dashing Sixth” and staff Officers innumerable will be herself conquered by this new (ar)rival even may be already. And he is coming to live with me! Well, Captain Porter has said if any one else wins her he will go to his distruction. There are four-hundred blood-thirsty apaches on the war-path in Arizona. Cap. P. is going out on a scout in the latter part of the summer. I am going with him! I think if we could get off from the rest with about three soldiers instead of three hundred we might persuade the 400 cowardly Apaches to Custerfy us. So if the worse comes to the worse we have this grand hope in prospect. Isn’t it comforting?” Much to Worthington’s relief, it turned out that the rumors were false. Lieut. Baily’s regard for Carrie was brotherly, not romantic.

More urgent matters occupied Dr. Worthington in May and June. He was seeing Fannie Kautz and Mrs. Biddle through the final months of difficult pregnancies. Fannie delivered on June 17, Ellen Biddle on June 21. “Jim Biddle Jr. is flourishing--he arrived yesterday morning” (June 22, 1877). Unfortunately, Fannie delivered a stillborn baby girl. It was a sad day for everyone at the Fort. General Kautz recorded that Worthington was “very faithful in his attendance. He can assign no reason for the death of the child” (June 17, 1877). The Kautzes christened their child “Lillie” and buried her at the Whipple Cemetery. To compound this tragic loss, the Biddle baby died on July 11. That evening General Kautz wrote, “It was a feeble imperfect child and the sooner its sufferings were ended the better.”

Four other medical emergencies occurred in June. The daughter of E. J. Cook, Mayor of Prescott, became seriously ill with brain fever. Worthington joined Dr. Goodfellow of Prescott in treating her condition. Luckily, they succeeded. Worthington also treated Dr. Murray for a severe attack of jaundice. The third case concerned the infant child of Lieut. O’Connell, reported dramatically in the Miner: “We are happy to be able to state that the infant child of Lieut. O’Connell, so dangerously ill for the past three weeks, has entirely recovered. It is but just to say that [to] Dr. Worthington’s close attention added to his marked skill, together with the kind attention and Christian acts of the ladies of the Post, is due entirely the rescue of this little child from the verge of the grave.” (June 8, 1877) But the Miner had rejoiced prematurely. The infant died on July 27. Finally, Worthington assisted Dr. Warren E. Day in the removal of the lower tibia and portions of the ankle joint from P. Matteus, who had been wounded by a gunshot some months previously.

That July, things came to a crisis point with Carrie Wilkins. Worthington poured out his misery to Fannie, who listened sympathetically. He confessed that he was “a little bit in love” with Carrie himself, and that Kingsbury was too. Fannie replied, “Oh he’s too much in love with himself to love anybody else.” Worthington then remarked, “I rather think he’ll soon have some of the conceit taken out of him, for he is about enough conceited to think Miss Carrie cares for him!” Fannie was “kind enough” to tell the doctor he had no chance. He thanked her and said he had no intention of making a fool of himself. “I didn’t care enough for the young lady to do that” (July 22, 1877).

Yet by mid-August, Worthington was devoting more time to Miss Carrie and became so infatuated that he determined to propose to her. Her friendliness towards him had grown during a fatal epidemic of dysentery that raged among the young children in Prescott and at the Post. Worthington wrote on August 9: Six have died in town and two at the Post. One of the two was little Ella Baily; Miss Carrie’s niece, … . Miss Carrie has helped to take care of her ever since her birth and also of her little brother Howard, aged 3 years who is now very ill with the same terrible disease; but is now improving a little. I am in consequence of this illness constantly at Col. W.’s [Wilkins] and see a great deal of Miss C. and the more I see of her the more I admire and esteem her. But my pride is sufficiently gratified by the knowledge that I now possess her sincere and confiding friendship as proof of the gratitude she feels for my care of the children.

 In the same letter, Worthington reported his friendly conversation with Fannie Kautz, who asked him directly if he was in love with Carrie. When he answered, “A little,” she reminded him that he “had not the ghost of a chance,” that Miss Carrie was “an icicle.” But this failed to discourage him.

One day Mrs. Simpson informed him that Carrie was coming over to spend the day with her. He declared his intention of dropping in at 10:30 a.m. and did so. Carrie had not yet arrived. Mrs. Simpson asks me if I have not come because I thought Miss Carrie would be there? I do not deney it. “Dr. I want to give you some good advice – but first – are you very much interested in Miss Carrie or are you only in fun?” “I am getting more and more in earnest. It was only fun at first.” “Then Dr. I must tell you as a friend in the stricktest confidence that Miss Carrie is engaged to Captain Porter.” While Porter had spoken openly of this to Mrs. Simpson, Carrie had sworn her to secrecy. Worthington went to town to see some of his patients and brought home two bottles of champagne “for Miss Carrie being a soldiers child rather likes champagne.”

“We had this for lunch at Mrs. Simpson’s and I took sort of malicious pleasure in drinking to Miss Carrie to the toast - “Here’s to your good health and your family may they all live long, and prosper!” There was something about my look and tone that made her suspect something for she betrayed her feelings by a sudden startled cureous glance but said nothing.” Bitterly disappointed, Worthington fantasized about proposing to Carrie “just to see how flat a fellow must feel when he is put off with a blunt refusal or to see if she would torture me or try to do so – by putting me off.” (Aug. 21, 1877)

In the meantime, Worthington’s relations with Fort Whipple, Prescott, Arizona. Today the Home of a VA Hospital. 22 his Post patients soured. The wives of Colonel James Porter Martin and Lieutenant Earl Denison Thomas—Alice and Clara—who had been suffering from difficult pregnancies and miscarriages, sought care from Mrs. Murray, the physician with whom Worthington had enjoyed a polite collegiality. The ladies did so while under his care and without his knowledge: “a breach of professional etiquet that I would not stand, and I do not regret the stand I took” (Sept. 9, 1877). His “stand” was to bar their families from his office. Dr. Murray attended Clara Thomas at her sick bed alone.

General Kautz recorded that “both the Med. Director Dr. McKee & Dr. Worthington decline to be associated with her [Clara Thomas]. They are both acting very absurdly.” (July 18). Col. Martin retaliated with a warning that Worthington “should not stay here three months” and, in the doctor’s opinion, got the General and Dr. McKee to carry out his threat. Worthington grew more obstinate and, in General Kautz’ words, “stirred up quite a little a breeze in the social circle” by crossing the Thomases off the invitation list to a hop he sponsored. Kautz reluctantly decided to transfer Worthington to Camp Grant. Fannie was not there to protect him. Suffering from postpartum depression, she had inveigled her husband to allow her to travel to Ohio to visit her family. She departed from Prescott in late August and did not return until January 1878.

Stewing in paranoia, Worthington speculated that Fannie failed to intervene on his behalf because she was miffed about his passion for Carrie Wilkins and because she felt that he neglected his duties at the garrison in favor of his patients on the Hill. But Fannie was too preoccupied with the loss of her child, the play she was rehearsing, and her preparations for her journey East to worry about the doctor’s troubles, and once she had left she had no way of knowing how the hostilities had escalated at Fort Whipple.

Worthington also blamed Dr. McKee, for not defending him and made the faux pas of venting to Carrie Wilkins. On September 24 he wrote to Shriver, “She undertook yesterday to sensure me for speaking harshly of Dr. McKee for sending me away and for showing partiality in other cases. Dr. McKee is an old friend of her family and an admirer of hers. I got very angry at this and as she is as firy as yrs truly we had it hot and heavy. We have hardly spoken to each other on the two or three occasions that we have met since.” He still admired her, “but not enough to take advice and sensure from her given in the taunting unsympathizing kind of way that her cold heart naturally leads her to addopt even to her friends. If she has any friend – that is any whom she is attached to. She treats Captain Porter with greater indifference than any one else and always has.”

When Dr. Worthington left Prescott on September 29, he failed to bid farewell to Dr. McKee and the others whom he regarded as his enemies. General Kautz wrote, “I do not think he will be much missed except by a few” (Sept. 28, 1877). Worthington actually looked forward to Camp Grant. “A change of scene and of associates will make me better able to bear my exile and I shall be more of a student there and waste less time in croquet and hops than I have wasted here’’ (Sept. 24, 1877). The amiable Dr. Frederick C. Ainsworth replaced Worthington as Post Surgeon, and peace was restored to Fort Whipple.

In April 1879 Carrie Wilkins at last married Captain Charles Porter, who had wooed her patiently for seven years. Dr. Worthington presumably found happiness in his 1881 marriage to Minnie Osborne of Louisville, Kentucky. The couple had two daughters: Hallie and Mary. One cannot help but wonder if 23 when Major Worthington died of rheumatic fever (in Louisville August 1896) his mind wandered back to his tormented relationship with Carrie Wilkins and to the bitter conclusion of his disappointing year in Prescott.

James Cheston Worthington’s first-hand accounts of Fort Whipple’s social life transform dry history into a colorful drama with a cast of complex, fascinating characters. He seems to have viewed himself as the tragic hero in that drama: a lovelorn mortal rejected by a callous goddess, a talented and ethical doctor victimized by antagonistic fellow officers and – though he would have declined to admit it – his own unbending pride.

Portions of this article were adapted from the author’s book, “Stage-Struck Settlers in the Sun-Kissed Land,” Wheatmark, Tucson.

ENDNOTES

1 Ellen McGowan Biddle, Reminiscences of a Soldier’s Wife (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1907), 166-67.

 2 This social structure and behavior was typical at Frontier posts. See Oliver Knight, Life and Manners in the Frontier Army (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1978), 3-5.

3 James Cheston Worthington Collection, 1870-1877. Arizona Collection. Arizona State University Libraries Archives. Collection Number MSS-143

4 Where multiple passages from a single letter are quoted, the citation appears after the final quotation.

5 Emma Titus is not mentioned in the “Scope and Content Note” of the James Cheston Worthington Collection. She enjoyed popularity as an amateur actress with the Fort Whipple Dramatic Association.

6 For an in-depth examination of Fort Whipple’s social life during the command of General Kautz, see Andrew Wallace, “Fort Whipple in the Days of the Empire,” The Smoke Signal 26 (Fall, 1972).

7 March 19 and 20, 1877, as reported in the Arizona Weekly Miner (March 23, 1877). Masterson was a prominent lawyer and mining investor who in 1878 cofounded the Prescott Dramatic Association.

8 Arizona Weekly Miner (May 18, 1877).

9 Diary of General August V. Kautz (May 16, 1877), The August Valentine Kautz papers, U.S. Army Military History Institute, accessed through the Sharlot Hall Museum Archives, Prescott, Arizona. Quotations from the diary hereafter are cited within the