Bacon Saunders, pioneer Texas surgeon and teacher, the son of John Smith and Sarah Jane (Claypool) Saunders, was born in Bowling Green, Kentucky, on January 5, 1855. His interest in medicine came from his father, a physician who first practiced medicine in Kentucky before moving to Dallas, Texas, in 1857 and to Bonham in 1869. Saunders attended Carlton College in Bonham and graduated in 1873. For the next two years he taught school in Bonham and studied medicine with his father. In 1875 he returned to his native state and enrolled in the University of Louisville medical school; he graduated in 1877 at the top of a class of 190. After graduation he returned to Bonham and for the next sixteen years practiced medicine with his father. He specialized in surgery and in 1879 performed what many consider the first recorded operation for acute appendicitis in Texas and, perhaps, the South. In 1877 Saunders married Ida Caldwell; they had a daughter and a son. In 1893, after his father died, Saunders moved his practice to Fort Worth and formed a partnership with Dr. William A. Adams and, later, with Dr. Frank D. Thompson. In 1906 Saunders's son joined him as a partner. In Fort Worth Saunders concentrated his efforts on improving surgical techniques and sharing his skill and experience with colleagues and students. In 1894 he became one of the founders of the medical school of Fort Worth University (now Texas Christian University); he served as dean from 1908 to 1918. In 1918 the medical school was absorbed by the Baylor University College of Medicine. Saunders was awarded an honorary LL.D. by Baylor University in 1920. He served the university as professor of surgery, theory and practice of surgery, and clinical surgery. His private practice in Fort Worth included serving as surgeon in charge of St. Joseph's Infirmary (now St. Joseph Hospital) and as chief surgeon of the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway (for twenty-five years) and the Wichita Valley Railroad; he was also division surgeon of five other railroads-the Texas and Pacific, the International-Great Northern, the St. Louis Southwestern, the Trinity and Brazos Valley, and the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe.
Saunders's skill as a surgeon and his contribution to the development of modern surgery resulted in his election as a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, president of the Texas Surgical Society, president of the Southern Surgical and Gynecological Society, president of the Texas State Medical Association (later the Texas Medical Association), president of the North Texas Medical Association (which he helped to found), and vice president of the International Surgeons' Association. Saunders also established a reputation as a businessman. He was president of the Commonwealth Bonding and Casualty Insurance Company of Fort Worth and director of the American National Bank of Fort Worth, the Farmers' and Mechanics' National Bank of Fort Worth, and the International Fire Insurance Company of Fort Worth. He built the Flatiron Building in Fort Worth in 1907, at the time the tallest building in North Texas. He also was an elder of the First Christian Church of Fort Worth, chairman of the board of trustees of Brite College of the Bible, and a trustee and member of the executive board of Texas Christian University. He continued to practice medicine and teach until his seventieth year. In 1925, after a ten-month illness, he traveled to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to recuperate but died there on July 15. He was buried in Fort Worth.
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Frank W. Johnson, A History of Texas and Texans (5 vols., ed. E. C. Barker and E. W. Winkler [Chicago and New York: American Historical Society, 1914; rpt. 1916]). Pat Ireland Nixon, A History of the Texas Medical Association, 1853–1953 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1953).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 19, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
February 19, 2019
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