May 28, 2020 · In the canon of the Wild West, you can't separate Wyatt Earp from "Doc" Holliday. They go together like guns and holsters. Whiskey and shot glasses. Cowboys and horses. "Wyatt Earp is the hero, the stalwart lawman, the primary figure," says Gary Roberts, the author of "Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend," a 1997 biography of the real-life John Henry Holliday.
- Early life
As many of our readers know, Doc Holliday was a professional gambler who worked the saloon and gambling halls of the cattle and mining towns of the Western Frontier between 1873 and 1887.1 What readers might not know was that Holliday also suffered from debilitating pain caused by chronic tuberculosis (TB) infection.1-8 Doc Holliday arguably was the most intriguing and colorful characters of the Wild West era, and a review of his life, health, and pain problems provides a unique educational opportunity. It might surprise you, but this icon teaches us a great deal about pain. He could be the poster child of the prototype patient who has a chronic disease, eventually develops intractable pain, and knows he has a short time to live. Its rare that we have the opportunity to dissect and study the history of a pain patient from birth to deathDoc Holliday left us this gift.
Just Who Was Doc Holliday? John Henry Holliday was born August 14, 1851 into an aristocratic southern family in the tiny town of Griffin, Georgia.2 Holliday had a classical upbringing and was educated at the Valdosta Institute, a school for sons of southern gentlemen, in Valdosta, Georgia.2 Besides math and science, he was taught Greek, Latin, and French. When Holliday was a boy, his uncle John Stiles Holliday, MD, who was a physician, gave him an 1851 Colt revolver, which he learned to use expertly. When he was a teenager, Holliday moved into his uncles house, where a young Mulatto servant named Sophie Walton taught him and his brother how to play cards. She taught them games called Up and Down the River and Put and Take, which were similar to the card game Faro. She taught them how to count the cards in the deadwood (discard) pile and to remember which cards were yet unplayed. Holliday had an intensive competitive spirit, as well as a remarkable memory and mathematical ability. Holliday attended the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery in his late teens, earning his degree on March 1, 1872.2 He practiced dentistry in Georgia before moving, in 1873, to Dallas, where he became a dental partner with Dr. John A. Seegar. Within his first year of dental practice, Holliday started frequenting gambling establishments and found that gambling was more profitable and exciting than dentistry. Holliday got the nickname Doc from his friends and acquaintances in the gambling saloons, who preferred to call him Doc rather than Dr. John Holliday.
Because so much has been written about Doc Holliday, much of it conflicting, it often is difficult to get a clear picture of his personal appearance, demeanor, and behavior.1-8 In his memoirs, Wyatt Earp described Holliday this way: He was a dentist whom necessity had made a gambler, a gentleman whom disease had made a frontier vagabond, a philosopher whom life had made a caustic wit, a long, lean, ash-blond fellow nearly dead with consumption and at the same time the most skillful gambler and the nerviest, speediest, deadliest man with a six-gun I ever knew.7
There is disagreement over which photos of Doc are legitimate.7 His true image has been dramatically altered in the many movies about him, so I have included a number of quotes by various persons in an attempt to capture the truth. Perhaps the best quote to separate fact from fiction is one by W.B. (Bat) Masterson, sheriff of Dodge City and Pueblo, Colorado, who personally knew Holliday. Considering Docs TB, Masterson described him as a physical weakling who could not have whipped a healthy 15-year-old boy in a go-as-you-please fist fight. Contrast this with the number of robust actors Hollywood chose to play Doc including Kirk Douglas, Jason Robards, Victor Mature, Caesar Romero, and Stacy Keach.
Just how much his pain and health problems influenced his temperament and behavior will always be a matter of debate, but it appeared to this author to be paramount in shaping his short life. There is remarkable consistency among Docs serious biographies regarding his health problems, which have allowed this author to medically analyze and report his case from a pain practice perspective.1-8 Docs Health and Pain History Hollidays health problems began at birthhe was born with a cleft lip and possibly a cleft palate.2 His lip was surgically repaired and the Holliday family took the time and effort to teach him to speak properly. Whether there was a genetic aspect to his birth defect will never be known, but it is commonly believed that genes and the environment play a role in the development of these orofascial clefts. The second major, but critical, event in Hollidays life was the death of his mother Alice from TB in 1866 when he was 15.2 He had been very close to his mother, because during many of his formative years his father was away fighting for the South in the Civil War. At the age of 21, while practicing dentistry in Georgia, Holliday started to lose weight. He initially attributed this to his active schedule. About 6 months later in the summer of 1873, he developed a nagging cough that forced him to take some time off from his dental practice. When the cough did not subside, he sought out his uncle, Dr. John Stiles Holliday. Using a stethoscope and a bronchoscope he diagnosed Holliday with pulmonary TB,2 which at the time was commonly called consumption or phthisis pulmonales.13,14
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Nov 11, 2020 · The movie “Tombstone” came out in 1993, but even all these years later, one line from the film stands out. The phrase “I’m your huckleberry,” spoken by Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday in the film, can be seen on t-shirts and in memes everywhere.
John Henry "Doc" Holliday (born August 14, 1851) is the former best friend of the late Wyatt Earp, and a former member of the government agency Black Badge Division. Doc is the son of the late Alice Holliday and the late Henry Holliday, the father of Alice Michelle, and the current boyfriend of Wynonna Earp. Doc Holliday is an infamous gunslinger and former dentist from the old West, having ...
- Early Life and Education
- Begins Dental Practice
- Befriends Wyatt Earp
- Other Known Confrontations
- Move to New Mexico
- Move to Arizona Territory
- Arrives in Colorado
- Leadville Shooting; Death and Burial
- Public Reputation
- Photos of Holliday
Holliday was born in Griffin, Georgia, to Henry Burroughs Holliday and Alice Jane (McKey) Holliday. He was of English and Scottish ancestry.:236 His father served in the Mexican–American War and the American Civil War (as a Confederate). When the Mexican–American War ended, Henry brought home an adopted son named Francisco. Holliday was baptized at the First Presbyterian Church of Griffin in 1852. In 1864, his family moved to Valdosta, Georgia, where his mother died of tuberculosis on September 16, 1866.The same disease killed his adopted brother. Three months after his wife's death, his father married Rachel Martin. Holliday attended the Valdosta Institute, where he received a classical education in rhetoric, grammar, mathematics, history, and languages — principally Latin, but some French and Ancient Greek. In 1870, 19-year-old Holliday left home for Philadelphia. On March 1, 1872, at age 20, he received his Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from the Pennsylvania College of Dental S...
Holliday moved to St. Louis, Missouri, so he could work as an assistant for his classmate, A. Jameson Fuches, Jr.:51 Less than four months later, at the end of July, he relocated to Atlanta, where he joined a dental practice. He lived with his uncle and his family so he could begin to build up his dental practice.A few weeks before Holliday's birthday, dentist Arthur C. Ford advertised in the Atlanta papers that Holliday would substitute for him while Ford was attending dental meetings.
In October 1877, outlaws led by "Dirty" Dave Rudabaugh robbed a Sante Fe Railroad construction camp in Kansas. Rudabaugh fled south into Texas. Wyatt Earp was given a temporary commission as deputy U.S. marshal, and he left Dodge City following Rudabaugh over 400 mi (640 km) to Fort Griffin, a frontier town on the Clear Fork of the Brazos River. Earp went to the Bee Hive Saloon, the largest in town and owned by John Shanssey, whom Earp had met in Wyoming when he was 21.:113 Shanssey told Earp that Rudabaugh had passed through town earlier in the week, but he did not know where he was headed. Shanssey suggested Earp ask gambler Doc Holliday, who had played cards with Rudabaugh.Holliday told Earp that he thought Rudabaugh was headed back to Kansas. Earp sent a telegram to Ford County Sheriff Bat Masterson that Rudabaugh might be headed back in his direction. After about a month in Fort Griffin, Earp returned to Fort Clark and in early 1878, he went to Dodge City, where he became the a...
Holliday was still practicing dentistry from his room in Fort Griffin, Texas, and in Dodge City, Kansas. In an 1878 Dodge newspaper advertisement, he promised money back for less than complete customer satisfaction. However, this was the last known time that he worked as a dentist.:113 He gained the nickname "Doc" during this period.:74 Holliday reportedly engaged in a gunfight with a bartender named Charles White. Miguel Otero, who would later become governor of New Mexico Territory, said he was present when Holliday walked into the saloon with a cocked revolver in his hand and challenged White to settle an outstanding argument. White was serving customers at the time and took cover behind a bar, then started shooting at Holliday with his revolver. During the fight, Holliday shot White in the scalp. But there are no contemporaneous newspaper reports of the incident.:120 Bat Masterson reportedly said that Holliday was in Jacksboro, Texas, and got into a gunfight with an unnamed sold...
Holliday developed a reputation for his skill with a gun, as well as with the cards.:186 A few days before Christmas in 1878, Holliday and Horony arrived in Las Vegas, New Mexico.:18:30–31The 22 hot springs near the town were favored by individuals with tuberculosis for their alleged healing properties. Doc opened a dental practice and continued gambling as well, but the winter was unseasonably cold and business was slow. The New Mexico Territorial Legislature passed a bill banning gambling within the territory with surprising ease. On March 8, 1879, Holliday was indicted for "keeping [a] gaming table" and was fined $25. The ban on gambling combined with extreme low temperatures persuaded him to return to Dodge City for a few months. In September 1879, Wyatt Earp resigned as assistant marshal in Dodge City. Accompanied by his common-law wife Mattie Blaylock, his brother Jim, and Jim's wife Bessie, they left for Arizona Territory.:18:30–31 Holliday and Horony returned to Las Vegas wh...
It appeared Holliday and Horony were settling into life in Las Vegas when Wyatt Earp arrived on October 18, 1879. He told Holliday he was headed for the silver boom going on in Tombstone, Arizona Territory. Holliday and Horony joined Wyatt and his wife Mattie, as well as Jim Earp and his wife and stepdaughter, and they left the next day for Prescott, Arizona Territory. They arrived within a few weeks and went straight to the home of Constable Virgil Earp and his wife Allie. Holliday and Horony checked into a hotel and when Wyatt, Virgil, and James Earp with their wives left for Tombstone, Holliday remained in Prescott, where he thought the gambling opportunities were better.:134Holliday finally joined the Earps in Tombstone in September 1880. Some accounts report that the Earps sent for Holliday for assistance with dealing with the outlaw Cowboys. Holliday quickly became embroiled in the local politics and violence that led up to the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in October 1881.
On May 15, 1882, Holliday was arrested in Denver on the Tucson warrant for murdering Frank Stilwell. When Wyatt Earp learned of the charges, he feared his friend Holliday would not receive a fair trial in Arizona. Earp asked his friend Bat Masterson, then chief of police of Trinidad, Colorado, to help get Holliday released. Masterson drew up buncocharges against Holliday. Holliday's extradition hearing was set for May 30. Late in the evening of May 29, Masterson sought help getting an appointment with Colorado Governor Frederick Walker Pitkin. He contacted E.D. Cowen, capital reporter for the Denver Tribune, who held political sway in town. Cowen later wrote, "He submitted proof of the criminal design upon Holliday's life. Late as the hour was, I called on Pitkin." His legal reasoning was that the extradition papers for Holliday contained faulty legal language, and that there was already a Colorado warrant out for Holliday — including the bunco charge that Masterson had fabricated....
Leadville Shooting of William J. "Billy" Allen
Holliday's last known confrontation took place in Hyman's saloon in Leadville, Colorado in 1884. Down to his last dollar, he had pawned his jewelry, and then borrowed $5 (equivalent to $140 in 2020) from William J. "Billy" Allen. Allen was a bartender and special officer at the Monarch Saloon (and a former policeman), which enabled Allen to carry a gun and make arrests within the Monarch saloon. When Allen repeatedly demanded he be re-paid by August 19 "or else", Holliday could not comply and...
In 1887, prematurely gray and badly ailing, Holliday made his way to the Hotel Glenwood, near the hot springs of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. He hoped to take advantage of the reputed curative power of the waters, but the sulfurous fumes from the spring might have done his lungs more harm than good.:217 As he lay dying, Holliday is reported to have asked the nurse attending him for a shot of whiskey. When she told him no, he looked at his bootless feet, amused. The nurses said that his last wo...
The Glenwood Springs Ute Chief of November 12, 1887, wrote in its obituary that Holliday had been baptized in the Catholic Church. This was based on correspondence written between Holliday and his cousin, Sister Mary Melanie, a Catholic nun. No baptismal record has been found in either St. Stephen's Catholic Church in Glenwood Springs or at the Annunciation Catholic Church in nearby Leadville.:300 Holliday's mother had been raised a Methodist and later joined a Presbyterian church (her husban...
Holliday maintained a fierce persona as was sometimes needed for a gambler to earn respect. He had a contemporary reputation as a skilled gunfighter which modern historians generally regard as accurate.:410 Tombstone resident George W. Parsons wrote that Holliday confronted Johnny Ringo in January 1882, telling him, "All I want of you is ten paces out in the street." Ringo and he were prevented from a gunfight by the Tombstone police, who arrested both. During the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Holliday initially carried a shotgun and shot at and may have killed Tom McLaury. Holliday was grazed by a bullet fired by Frank McLaury, and shot back. After Virgil was maimed in a January ambush, Holliday was part of a federal posse led by Deputy U.S. Marshal Earp who guarded him on his way to the railroad in Tucson. There they found Frank Stilwell apparently waiting for the Earps in the rail yard. A warrant for Holliday's arrest was issued after Stilwell was found dead with multiple gunshot...
Three photos of unknown provenance are often reported to be of Holliday, some of them supposedly taken by C.S. Flyin Tombstone, but sometimes reported to have been taken in Dallas. Holliday lived in a rooming house in front of Fly's photography studio. Many persons share similar facial features, and the faces of people who look radically different can look similar when viewed from certain angles. Because of this, most museum staff, knowledgeable researchers, and collectors require provenance or a documented history for an image to support physical similarities that might exist. Experts rarely offer even a tentative identification of new or unique images of famous people based solely on similarities shared with other known images. 1. Cropped from a larger version, Holliday's graduation photo from the Pennsylvania School of Dental Surgery in March 1872, age 20, known provenanceand authenticated as Holliday 2. Cropped from a larger version, Holliday in Prescott, Arizona in 1879, age 27...
- Early life
- Early career
- Later years
- Later life
- Plot summary
Although he sometimes drank three quarts of whiskey a day, he was the most skillful gambler, and the nerviest, fastest, deadliest man with a six-gun I ever saw. It is doubtful that even Doc Holliday drank three quarts of whiskey a day, and he didnt kill many men with his six-gun, but that was the tribute paid to Doc by Wyatt Earp, who was his friend and something of a tough character himself.
Much has been written about Holliday (including The Wests Deadliest Dentist, by Robert Barr Smith, in the April 1994 Wild West), and in most accounts, inaccuracies abound. One writer said Holliday won more than thirty duels to the death. More than one historian has written that Doc killed 16 men. Such numbers are fanciful. Many Holliday stories are sensational tales that wont hold up to investigation. Still, the true story of John Henry Hollidays short life is an exciting one.
John Henry was born in Griffin, Ga., on August 14, 1851, to Henry Burroughs Holliday and Alice Jane Holliday. The Hollidays first child, Martha Eleanora, had died on June 12, 1850, at 6 months, 9 days. According to church records, John Henry, infant son of Henry B. and Alice J. Holliday, received the ordinance of baptism on Sunday, March 21, 1852, at the First Presbyterian Church in Griffin. John Henrys mother was a Southern beauty, and his father was a druggist, planter and soldier. Henry Holliday volunteered to fight Indians in Georgia in 1838, Mexicans in 1846 and Yankees in 1861. He rose to the rank of major during the Civil War, but sickness caused him to resign his commission in 1862. Two years later he moved his family to Valdosta, Ga., near the Florida line, when he realized that his old home was in the path of Union General William Tecumseh Shermans March to the Sea. The senior Holliday quickly became one of Valdostas leading citizens. In 1876, he was elected mayor.
Alice Holliday died on September 16, 1866, after a long illness. Her death was a terrible blow to 15-year-old John Henry, as he and his mother had been very close. It did not help that his father married Rachel Martin only three months later, on December 18, 1866. Rachel was only a few years older than John Henry. On his way to Las Vegas, New Mexico Territory, in 1879, Holliday, according to legend, drew more blood. In the railroad construction camp of Otero, Doc is said to have killed yet another argumentative but unidentified soul, who was planted in the local cemetery. As expected, there is no record or evidence whatsoever of such an incident. Many accounts make much over Hollidays killing a man named Mike Gordon on July 20, 1879, in Las Vegas. But a coroners inquest held the day Gordon was killed made no mention of Holliday; it was ruled that the fatal gunshot wound to Gordons chest was inflicted by some person unknown to that jury. The newspapers of the time expounded on the killing for days without a single mention of Holliday, who owned a saloon on Center Street. The Earp party encountered Stilwell at the railroad station in Tucson on March 20. Wyatt chased him down the track and filled him full of holes. Holliday shot him twice more for good measure, even though Stilwell was already dead. A Tucson coroners jury named Wyatt and Warren Earp, Holliday, Texas Jack and McMasters as the men who had killed Stilwell. The Tucson Weekly Citizen of March 28, 1882, noted: Frank Stilwell was buried this afternoon, the coffin being conveyed to the grave in an express wagon, unfollowed by a single mourner. The killing of Stilwell was only the beginning of Wyatt Earps bloody trail of vengeance, and Doc Holliday rode along all the way. When they learned that Pete Spencer was at his wood camp at South Pass in the Dragoon Mountains, Earp, Holliday and the rest of the federal posse rode there on March 22, 1882. They did not find Spencer, but they came upon Florentino Cruz. When Cruz fled, the posse shot him to pieces. Two days later, the Earp party was riding along a deep wash near Iron Springs when Curly Bill Brocius and eight of his men opened fire on them. Wyatt Earp slid down from his horse and killed Curly Bill with a blast from a double-barrel shotgun. Johnny Barnes, who had been one of Virgils ambushers, was badly wounded in the Iron Springs fight and never recovered.
Because of his familys status, John Henry was compelled to choose some sort of profession. He enrolled in dental college in 1870, attending lecture sessions in 187072. He wrote his thesis on Diseases of the Teeth. Lucian Frink, who practiced dentistry in Valdosta from 1868 until 1879, served as his preceptor. At the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgerys 16th annual commencement in Philadelphias Musical Fund Hall on March 1, 1872, the college conferred a Degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery upon 26 men, one of whom was John Henry Holliday.
Upon completion of his training, Dr. Holliday opened an office with Dr. Arthur C. Ford in Atlanta. A short time later, Holliday discovered that he had tuberculosis. He consulted a number of doctors, and all of them predicted a short future. They did say, however, that he would do better in a dry climate. So Holliday packed up and headed west. His first stop was in Dallas, Texas, the last bastion of civilization before the uncivilized West. A listing in the 1873 Dallas business directory reads: Holliday, J.H. (Seegar & Holliday) Elm between Market and Austin Streets. John Seegar, also from Georgia and a friend of Henry Burroughs Holliday, helped John Henry to get established in Dallas. Not long after hiring the young man, Seegar made him a partner.
According to legend, Holliday was already a killer before he came to Texas. Back in Valdosta, he was involved in an argument with some black youths over a swimming hole in the Withlacoochee River and was said to have killed one or more of them. Actually, he shot none of them; he fired over their heads. Like much of what has been written about Hollidays life, details of the swimming hole incident were derived from legend, fiction and supposition not facts. Many writers and newspaper reporters have had Holliday killing men he never met, in places he never was; killing men that were actually killed by someone else; and killing men that were not killed at all. In Dallas, on January 2, 1875, Holliday and a local saloonkeeper named Austin had a disagreement that flared into violence. Both men produced six-shooters. Several shots were fired, but not one struck its intended target. Both shooters were arrested. Sometime later, Holliday supposedly shot and killed a prominent citizen and had to flee Dallas. No newspaper accounts or court records could be found to support the death of this unnamed victim. That June, Holliday was indicted by a grand jury for gaming in a saloon in Fort Griffin, Texas. By the time he had reached Jacksboro, Texas, in 1876, he was known as the Deadly Dentist, thanks in large part to his own tales. In Jacksboro he supposedly enhanced his reputation with three fights. His alleged tally, accepted as gospel by some writers, was one gambler dead, two gamblers wounded and one 6th Cavalryman dead. No newspaper accounts, court records or Army records mention any such occurrences.
In the early fall of 1877, Holliday was back in Fort Griffin, Texas. In November, Wyatt Earp rode into the Flat (the name for the civilian settlement near the fort) on the trail of outlaw Dave Rudabaugh. Holliday found out where Rudabaugh was and informed Earp of his whereabouts down near Fort Davis. Holliday and Earp thus became friends a friendship that would last all of Docs life.
In Dodge City, the couple registered at Deacon Coxs boardinghouse as Dr. and Mrs. John H. Holliday. The Queen of the Cow Towns had no dentist, so Doc hung out his shingle once more in 1878. The local paper carried his ad:
A story is also told about how Holliday saved Wyatt Earps life in Dodge City in 1878. It seems that two Texas cattlemen, Ed Morrison and Tobe Driscall, along with 25 Texas cowhands, were taunting Wyatt and were about to shoot him. At the last possible moment, Doc jumped in, a revolver in each hand. During this distraction, Wyatt Earp regained his gun and pistol-whipped Morrison. This fearless peace-keeping duo then ordered the Texans to shed their hardware. One was so completely foolish as to pull out his gun, and Holliday shot him without hesitation. Despite the overwhelming odds in their favor, the other Texans complied with the order. One report said that 50 revolvers were picked up from the street, which suggests that virtually every one of the Texans was a two-gun man.
Eventually, they persuaded her to sign an affidavit implicating Holliday in the attempted holdup and murders of Philpot and Roerig. Justice Wells Spicer issued a warrant for Hollidays arrest on the strength of Kates affidavit. When Kate sobered up, she realized what she had done. She insisted that she had signed a paper while drinking with Behan and Joyce but that she could not remember what it was. Witnesses to Hollidays whereabouts at the time of the robbery and Kates new stand exposed the Cowboy plot, and Holliday was released. The district attorney labeled the charges ridiculous and threw them out. Doc gave Kate some money and put her on a stage leaving town. As far as he was concerned, his debt to her, which he had carried since shesaved him in Fort Griffin, was paid in full.
Violence and bloodshed on both sides of the border had been straining relations between the American and Mexican governments. Both governments feared that the border might explode in gunfire if the situation was not soon corrected. These fears were not unfounded. On August 13, 1881, the international border near where the territories of New Mexico and Arizona meet did explode.
Early the morning of August 13, the Clanton party was attacked by riflemen. Lang, Gray, Crane, Snow and Clanton were killed; Beyers and Ernshaw were wounded but escaped. The attackers were said to be Mexicans. Several historians, including this author, believe that an Earp federal posse was involved in the deaths of these men. Records show that Marshal Crawley Dake was ordered to send a posse down to the border to quell the disturbances caused by the Cowboys. Marshal Dake trusted Wyatt Earp and likely had Earp head the posse. Logically, the first place for this federal posse to search would have been the area where Arizona, New Mexico, Sonora and Chihuahua all met. It appears that they did, indeed, find the Cowboys in Guadalupe Canyon (or possibly Skeleton Canyon). And the posse must have been most happy to see Jim Crane with them.
The Mexican government was emphatic about the Cowboy rustling problem either the Americans would have to stop the Cowboys from coming across the border to steal or the Mexicans would. So there may have been Mexicans present in the canyon, too, either working with the American lawmen in a joint effort or simply observing the American effort to curb the outlaws. Both Doc Holliday and Warren Earp were wounded in that border gun battle, and they did not reappear in Tombstone until they had recovered. That explains why Holliday had a cane on October 26, 1881, and why Warren missed the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Three days later, Ike Clanton, who had run away when the shooting started, filed a complaint. Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday were arrested, and hearings were held in Justice Wells Spicers court from November 2 to November 29. When Spicer had heard all the testimony, he issued this opinion: In view of all the facts and circumstances of the case, considering the threats made, the character and position of the parties, and the tragical results accomplished in manner and form as they were, with all surrounding influences bearing upon the result of the affair, I cannot resist the conclusion that the defendants were fully justified in committing these homicides, that it was a necessary act done in the discharge of official duty.
In shock, Ike Clanton left and went to the Grand Hotel. Holliday went to his room at Flys Boardinghouse. The next day, the 26th, Ike appeared at Flys, looking for Holliday. The doctor wasnt in. Big Nose Kate was visiting Doc at the time, and Mrs. Fly told her that Clanton had been there trying to find Holliday. When Kate informed Doc of this, he replied, If God will let me live long enough, he will see me!
Shortly afterward, word was conveyed to the Earps that the Cowboys were gathered in the wagon lot next to Flys Photo Gallery and were wearing guns in violation of city law. Holliday met the Earps near Haffords Saloon, at the corner of Allen and Fourth streets, and demanded that he be allowed to join them in their little walk. Five men, potential killers, lay in wait just down Fremont Ike and Billy Clanton, Frank and Tom McLaury, and Billy Claibourne.
- In popular culture
- Early years
- Early life
- Powers and abilities
- Later life
- In fiction
In the 1993 movie Tombstone, Doc Holliday (portrayed by actor Val Kilmer) is depicted as a good guy at heart, helping Wyatt Earp to keep order and law in the dangerous old west town of Tombstone, Arizona. As is the case with Earp, there is a mound of evidence that the real Doc Holliday wasnt nearly so squeaky clean. Here is the truth behind the legend of the slickest gunslinger in the west, Doc Holliday.
Born John Henry Holliday on August 4, 1851 in Griffin, Georgia (today, a suburb of Atlanta), Doc was the second child born to his parents, Henry (Major) and Alice Jane Holliday, but his older sister passed away during childbirth. He would remain an only child. His father was a veteran of several wars, including the Cherokee Indian War and the Mexican-American war. When he returned in 1848 from the Mexican-American war, he brought with him an orphaned Mexican boy named Francisco Hidalgo. It is said when John Henry was a young child, Francisco taught him how to become the quickest draw in the west.
Growing up on a Southern frontier farm was tough living, with humid air and erratic weather. Johns family was Scottish-Irish, like many in the region, and he was raised Protestant. His mother taught him manners and etiquette, while his father regaled him with war stories and survival skills. John was but nine years old when the Civil War broke out and his father once again left for war, but not before moving his family even further south, to the Georgia-Florida border. John attended school and was a good student, though he was noted as being somewhat rebellious.
Now, here begins the more interesting part of Hollidays life. In 1872, in a story recounted in a Doc Holliday biography written by Gary Roberts, Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend, (but first conveyed in 1907 by noted writer Bat Masterson) Holliday first killed a man in Georgia during a racial dispute. Holliday and a few friends were at a watering hole when a group of African-American men joined them as well. Holliday did not approve and told them to leave. They didnt. He produced a gun and shot one to three men (reports vary) to death. Now, a few historians think this story may not be entirely accurate due to discrepancies in the 1907 version, but it wouldnt have been too out of character for Holliday given his preponderance towards violence.
Also around this time, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis just like his mother, who he watched die from the disease. With no effective cure, it was thought that a dry climate could at least alleviate the symptoms. Either because he was run out of town or due to his sickness, or maybe both, he moved to the dry air of Dallas, shortly thereafter in 1872.
Refined, intelligent, and good at keeping a poker face, Doc excelled at Faro, where he became a dealer (or banker) at several saloons across Dallas. Faro was a game which pitted the banker against the other players. It was also a game that could be easily rigged. Doc was extremely good at Faro, or at least extremely good at cheating, earning himself a lot of money and a lot of enemies.
Throughout the next few years, Doc was regularly arrested and fined for his gaming in Dallas. To avoid charges, he went on the run throughout the Southwest, dealing Faro at saloons all along the way. He got into more than one disagreement that required the use, or at least the threatening of, the skills he learned from Fransisco so many years back. He seems to have gotten into gunfights throughout Texas, Kansas, Wyoming, and New Mexico. He also is known to have sliced open a mans stomach when the man refused to follow the Faro rules that Doc had implemented. At one point, it is thought that US Marshals and Texas Rangers were even after him. In 1879, he had made enough money to open his own saloon in New Mexico. He spent his time dealing Faro and drinking heavily, until one night a former army scout put up a fuss when one of Hollidays saloon girls (possibly a prostitute) told him that she wasnt in love with him. The army scout went outside and began to fire shots into Hollidays establishment. So, Doc went outside and killed the man. The following year, he found himself in Tombstone, Arizona where history was waiting for him.
Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday first became familiar, where else, but at a Faro gaming table. As the deputy of Dodge City, Earp was on the trail of well-known train robber Dave Rudabaugh and was venturing way out of his jurisdiction in pursuit, nearly 400 miles and into Fort Griffin, Texas. Historians believe Earp wasnt doing this out of any sense of justice, but rather for the considerable reward money. Either way, he was directed to the Faro table of Doc Holliday, who had dealt with Rudabaugh. Normally, Holliday would never talk to a lawman, but upon hearing about the reward over a game of Faro, he spilled the beans that he had heard that Rudabaugh was hightailing it back to Kansas. Earp wired the information to a friend there and Rudabaugh was soon captured. It is not known if Earp shared the reward money with Holliday, nor who won that game of Faro.
Also, according to a story supposedly told by Earp (possibly just a legend, given Earps and his many biographers known propensity to make up such stories), Holliday once saved Earps life. In 1879, with Holiday paying a visit to Dodge City with his girlfriend Big Nose Kate, the noted cowboy Tabo Driskell pulled a gun on Earp and was about to shoot him when Holliday came up behind him and placed a gun at his temple. Driskell dropped his gun and from then on, Earp credited Holliday with saving his life. Whether true or not, in 1881, Earp wrote a letter to Holliday asking him to join him in Tombstone, saying they could use a dentist in those parts. More likely, Earp probably just wanted his favorite Faro dealer by his side to help fleece the denizens of the then prosperous silver mining town. So, Doc Holliday moved to Tombstone and that was where his legend was made and why anybody still remembers who he was.
It seems Hollidays participation in the showdown at the OK Corral (or rather in a vacant lot next to the OK Corral) against Ike Clanton and his men had more to do with his loyalty to Earp, and the fact that he rarely said no to a gunfight, than upholding the law. There is also some evidence that Clanton may have been spreading rumors about Holliday robbing a stagecoach and that his girlfriend, Big Nose Kate, was a prostitute. There is also a story that Clanton called Holliday and the Earps out for the fight over they having cheated Clanton in a Faro game. On the other hand, this all may have been said after the fact to give Holliday reason to be in the gunfight.
The violence only took thirty seconds, left three men dead, and several men injured. While no one knows for sure who fired first, it was Docs bullet that first rendered a fatal shot. It is even written in some accounts that Clanton was not armed. But finding the truth about what happened in that gunfight is about as difficult as finding Bigfoot.
In the end, Holliday, along with Earp, was put on trial for murder. He was exonerated, but several attempts were made on his life over the next few years. He eventually made his way to Colorado where he increasingly became dependent on alcohol and opium as his health deteriorated.
He died in 1887 at the young age of 37 in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, from the same illness that claimed his mother tuberculosis.
Wyatt Earp lived on and moved to Los Angeles in the early 20th century where his story got the Hollywood treatment, most prominently in the largely fictitious, but ever popular, biography Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshall. Always loyal to his friend, Earp perpetuated the myth that his card shark, gun fighter pal, Doc Holliday, was an old west hero. It seems, if we are taking real historical accounts and evidence into consideration, this is actually quite false. But, as with Earps Hollywoodized tale, it sure makes a great story.
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