My Story

Doc Holliday

Doc Holliday
Doc HollidayatAge20.jpg

John Holliday, age 20
Born John Henry Holliday
August 14, 1851
Griffin, Georgia, U.S.
Died November 8, 1887 (aged 36)
Glenwood Springs, Colorado, U.S.
Resting place
Pioneer Cemetery, Linwood, Colorado, U.S.A.
Education Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery
Occupation Dentist, professional gambler,gunfighter
Known for Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
Earp Vendetta Ride
  • Henry Burroughs Holliday
  • Alice Jane McKey

John Henry “Doc” Holliday (August 14, 1851 – November 8, 1887) was an American gambler, gunfighter, dentist, and a good friend ofWyatt Earp. He was a Deputy U.S. Marshal during and after the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.[1]

At age 20, Holliday earned a degree in dentistry from the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery. He set up practice in Atlanta, Georgia but he was soon diagnosed with tuberculosis, the same disease that had claimed his mother when he was 15. Hoping the climate in American Southwest would ease his symptoms, he moved to that region and became a gambler, a reputable profession in that day.[2]Over the next few years he had a number of armed confrontations that earned him a reputation as a deadly gunman. While in Texas, he saved Wyatt Earp’s life and they became friends. In 1880, he joined the Earps in Prescott, Arizona, and then in Tombstone. On October 26, 1881, after many months of threats and attacks on his character, Holliday was deputized by Virgil Earp. The lawmen attempted to disarm five Cowboys which turned into the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

After the Tombstone shootout, Virgil Earp was maimed by hidden assailants and Morgan Earp was murdered. Unable to get justice through the courts, Wyatt Earp took matters into his own hands. Deputy U.S. Marshal Wyatt Earp deputized Holliday and others and as a federal posse, they pursued the outlaw Cowboys they believed were responsible. They found Frank Stilwell lying in wait as Virgil boarded a train for California and killed him. The local Sheriff issued a warrant for the arrest of five members of the posse, including Holliday. The posse killed three others during late March and early April, 1882, before they rode to New Mexico and later Colorado. Wyatt Earp learned of an extradition request for Holliday and arranged for Colorado Governor Frederick Walker Pitkin to deny Holliday’s extradition. Holliday spent the remaining few years of life in Colorado and died in his bed at the Glenwood Springs Hotel of tuberculosis at age 36.

Holliday’s colorful life and character have been depicted in many books and portrayed by well-known actors in numerous movies and television series. Since his death, researchers have concluded that Holliday killed from three to seven men and took part in nine shootouts.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Holliday was born in Griffin, Georgia, to Henry Burroughs Holliday and Alice Jane Holliday (née McKey).[4] He was of English ancestry.[5] His father served in the Mexican–American War and the Civil War (on the side of the Confederates), during which his father brought with him an adopted son named Francisco and taught Holliday shooting.[6] His family was baptized him at the First Presbyterian Church in 1852.[7] He had a sister, Martha Eleanora Holliday, born December 3, 1849, who died six months later.[8][9]

In 1864, his family moved to Valdosta, Georgia,[7] where his mother died of tuberculosis on September 16, 1866, when he was 15 years old.[4] The same disease killed his stepbrother. Three months later, his father married Rachel Martin. While in Valdosta, he attended the Valdosta Institute,[7] where he received a strong classical secondary education in rhetoric, grammar, mathematics, history, and languages—principally Latin but also French and some Ancient Greek.[7]

In 1870 the 19-year-old Holliday left home to begin dental school in Philadelphia. On March 1, 1872, at the age of 20, he met the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery from the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery (which later merged with the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine).[4] He graduated five months before his 21st birthday, and his degree was held until he turned 21, the minimum age required to practice dentistry.[3]:50

Begins dental practice[edit]

Atlanta in 1864.

Holliday moved to St. Louis, Missouri so he could work as an assistant for a classmate, A. Jameson Fuches, Jr.[3]:51 Less than four months later, at the end of July, he relocated again to Atlanta where he joined the dental practice. He lived with his uncle and his family so he could begin to build up his dental practice.[10] A few weeks before his birthday, noted dentist Arthur C. Ford advertised in the Atlanta papers that Holliday would substitute for him while he was attending dental meetings.

Fight in Georgia[edit]

Some stories about Holliday report that he was involved in a shooting on the Withlacoochee River, Georgia, in 1873. At age 22, Holliday went with some friends to their favorite bathing place but discovered it was occupied by a group of African-American youths. Holliday and his companions told them to leave, but they refused. Accounts of this event vary, as violence against blacks was largely undocumented at the time. Holliday left and returned carrying either a shotgun or a pistol and started shooting, either at or over the heads of the black youths. Some of the African-Americans may have shot back. Some family members and friends allege that Holliday killed one to three youths, but other members of Holliday’s family disputed those accounts.[3]:64–67

Diagnosed with tuberculosis[edit]

Shortly after beginning his dental practice, Holliday was diagnosed with tuberculosis.[11] He may have contracted the disease from his mother. He was given only a few months to live, but was told that drier and warmer climate might slow the deterioration of his health.[4][12] After Ford returned, Holliday left in December for Dallas, Texas the last big city before the uncivilized Western Frontier.[3]:53, 55

Move to Dallas[edit]

In September 1873, Holliday moved to Dallas, Texas, partnered with a friend of his father’s, Dr. John A. Seegar,[9] and they won awards for their dental work at the Annual Fair of the North Texas Agricultural, Mechanical, and Blood Stock Association at the Dallas County Fair. They recevied all three awards: “Best set of teeth in gold,” “Best in Vulcanized rubber” and “Best set of artificial teeth and dental ware.”[8] Their office was located between Market and Austin Streets along Elm Street, about three blocks east of the site of today’s Dealey Plaza.[13]

They dissolved the practice on March 2, 1874, and Holliday opened his own practice over the Dallas County Bank at the corner of Main and Lamar Street. The tuberculosis caused coughing spells at inopportune times, and his dental practice slowly declined. Meanwhile Holliday found he had some skill at gambling, and he soon relied on it as his principal income source.[9]

On May 12, 1874, Holliday and 12 others were indicted in Dallas for illegal gambling.[13] He was arrested in Dallas in January 1875 after trading gunfire with saloon keeper Charles Austin, but no one was injured and he was found not guilty.[4] He moved his offices to Denison, Texas, and after being found guilty of and fined for gaming in Dallas, he decided to leave the state.

Heads further west[edit]

Holliday headed towards Denver, following the stage routes and gambling at towns and army outposts along the way. During the summer of 1875 he settled in Denver under the alias “Tom Mackey” and found work as a Faro dealer for John A. Babb’s Theatre Comique at 357 Blake street. While there, he got in an argument with Bud Ryan, a well-known and tough gambler. Drawing knives, they fought and Doc left Ryan seriously wounded.[14]

Doc left after hearing about gold being discovered in Wyoming, and on February 5, 1876, he relocated to Cheyenne. He found work as a dealer for Babb’s partner, Thomas Miller, who owned a saloon called the Bella Union. In the fall of 1876, Miller moved the Bella Union to Deadwood (site of the gold rush in the Dakota Territory), and Holliday moved with him.[10]:101–103

In 1877, Holliday returned to Cheyenne and Denver, eventually making his way to Kansas to visit an aunt. He left Kansas and returned to Texas, setting up as a gambler in the town ofBreckenridge, Texas. On July 4, 1877, he got involved in an altercation with another gambler named Henry Kahn, whom Holliday beat repeatedly with his walking stick. Both men were arrested and fined, but later in the day Kahn shot an unarmed Holliday, wounding him seriously.[10]:106–109

Big Nose Kate

The Dallas Weekly Herald incorrectly reported that Holliday had been killed in its July 7 edition. His cousin, George Henry Holliday, moved west to take care of him during his recovery. Fully recovered, Holliday relocated to Fort Griffin, Texas. While dealing cards at John Shanssey’s saloon, he met Mary Katharine Harony, a dance hall woman and occasional prostitute. Her nose was a prominent feature, and she also had other prominent curves. “Tough, stubborn and fearless,” she was educated but chose to work as a prostitute because she liked her independence. She was the only woman Doc had a relationship with.[9][10]:109

Befriends Wyatt Earp[edit]

In October 1877, outlaw Dave Rudabaugh robbed a Sante Fe Railroad construction camp and fled south. Wyatt Earp was given an temporary commission as Deputy U.S. Marshal and he left Dodge City following Rudabaugh over 400 miles (640 km) to Fort Griffin, Texas, 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, who Earp had known since he was 21.[10]:113 Shanssey told Earp that Rudabaugh had passed through town earlier in the week, but he didn’t know where he was headed. Shanssey suggested Earp ask gambler Doc Holliday, who had played cards with Rudabaugh.[15] Holliday told Earp that Rudabaugh was headed back to Kansas.

In early 1878 Earp returned to Dodge City where he become the assistant city marshal, serving under Charlie Bassett. During the summer of 1878, Holliday and his common-law wife also arrived up in Dodge City. According to an account of the event recounted by John Flood and another by Glenn Boyer in I Married Wyatt Earp, Wyatt Earp had run cowboys Tobe Driskill and Ed Morrison out of Wichita earlier in 1878. During the summer the two cowboys accompanied by another two dozen cowboys rode into Dodge and shot up the town, galloping down Front Street. They entered the Long Branch Saloon, vandalized the room and harassed the customers. Hearing the commotion, Wyatt burst through the front door and before he could react a large number of cowboys were pointing their guns at him. In one version, Holliday was playing cards in the back and, hearing the noise, quietly came out and put his pistol at Morrison’s head, forcing him and his men to disarm. In another version of the story, Holliday burst through the front door, both guns drawn, gaining Earp enough time to draw his weapons and face the cowboys down.[16][17] Whatever actually happened, Earp credited Holliday with saving his life that day and he and Earp became friends.[18]

Other confrontations[edit]

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, but this was the last known time that he worked as a dentist.[10]:113 He gained the nickname “Doc” during this period.[3]:74

Holliday was engaged in another gunfight with a bartender named Charles White. According to eyewitness Gillie Otero Jr., 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. Holliday thought that he had killed White and left for Dodge City, but White survived the wound.[3]:120 In another instance, Bat Masterson said that Holliday was in Jacksonboro and got into a gunfight with an unnamed colored soldier who Holliday shot and killed. Historian Gary L. Roberts found a record for a Private Jacob Smith who had been shot and killed by an “unknown assailant”.[3]:78–79

Move to New Mexico[edit]

Dodge City had been a frontier cowtown for several years, but by 1879 had begun to settle down. Later in life, Wyatt wrote that “In 1879 Dodge was beginning to lose much of the snap which had given it a charm to men of reckless blood, and I decided to move to Tombstone, which was just building up a reputation.”[19]:17 Holliday had become well known for his skill with a gun as well as with the cards. In 1879, Virgil Earp wrote Wyatt about the opportunities in the boomtown of Tombstone. In September 1879, Wyatt resigned as assistant marshal in Dodge City. Holliday and Big Nose Kate joined Wyatt and Jim Earp and their wives for the trip to the Arizona Territory.[19]:18[20][21]:30–31 A few days before Christmas in 1878, they stopped in Las Vegas, New Mexico, where Wyatt reunited with Holliday. The 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, Doc was indicted for “keeping [a] gaming table” and was fined $25. The ban on gambling combined with extreme low temperatures persuaded Doc to return to Dodge City for a few months.

Royal Gorge War[edit]

In Dodge City, Doc joined a team being formed by Deputy U.S. Marshal Bat Masterson. He had been tasked with preventing an outbreak of guerrilla war between the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad who were vying to be the first to claim a right-of-way across the Royal Gorge. Both were striving to be the first to provide rail access to the boom town of Leadville.[22] Royal Gorge was a bottleneck along the Arkansas, too narrow for both railroads the to pass through, and there was no other reasonable access to the South Park area. Doc remained there with for about two and a half months. The Federal intervention prompted the so-called “Treaty of Boston” to end the fighting. The D&RGW completed its line and leased it for use by the Santa Fe.[23] Doc took home a share of a $10,000 bribe paid by the Denver and Rio Grande to Bat Masterson to give up their possession of the Santa Fe roundhouse and returned to Las Vegas were Big Nose Kate had remained.

Builds saloon in Las Vegas[edit]

The Santa Fe Railroad built tracks to Las Vegas but bypassed the city by about a mile. A new town was built up near the tracks and prostitution and gambling flourished. On July 19, 1879, Holliday and John Joshua Webb, former lawman and gunman, were seated in a saloon in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Former U.S. Army scout Mike Gordon tried to persuade one of the saloon girls, a former girlfriend, to leave town with him. She refused and Gordon stormed outside. He began firing into the building,[24] and a few hours later Gordon was found mortally wounded outside. Some attribute the shooting to Holliday, but no conclusive proof of Gordon’s killer was ever found.[24][25] The next day Doc paid $372.50 to a carpenter to build a clapboard building to house Doc Holliday’s Saloon with John Webb as his partner. He was fined twice for keeping a gambling device, and again for carrying a deadly weapon.[26]:134

Move to Arizona Territory[edit]

Autographed photo of Holliday taken in 1879 inPrescott, Arizona

It appeared Holliday and Kate were settling in to life in Las Vegas when Wyatt Earp arrived on October 18, 1879, with news of the boom going on in Tombstone, Arizona Territory. Holiday and his common-law wife Big Nose Kate joined Wyatt and his wife Mattie, Jim Earp and his wife and step-daughter, and they all left the next day for Prescott, Arizona Territory. They arrived within a couple of weeks and went straight to the home of Constable Virgil Earp and his wife Allie. Holliday and Kate 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.[19][26]:134 Holiday 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 Cochise County 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.

Accused in stagecoach robbery[edit]

Holliday and his mistress Big Nose Kate had many fights. After a particularly nasty, drunken argument, Holliday kicked her out. County Sheriff Johnny Behan and Milt Joyce saw an opportunity and exploited the situation. They plied Big Nose Kate with more booze and suggested to her a way to get even with Holliday. She signed an affidavit implicating Holliday in an attempted robbery and murder of passengers aboard a Kinnear & Company passenger stage on March 15, 1881, carrying US$26,000 in silver bullion (about $635,386 in today’s dollars). Three Cowboys stopped the stage between Tombstone and Benson, Arizona.[27]:180

Bob Paul, who had run for Pima County Sheriff and was contesting the election he lost due to ballot-stuffing, was riding along as the Wells Fargo shotgun messenger. He had taken the reins and driver’s seat in Contention City because the usual driver, a well-known and popular man named Eli “Budd” Philpot, was ill. Philpot was riding shotgun. Paul fired his shotgun and emptied his revolver at the robbers, wounding a Cowboy later identified as Bill Leonard in the groin. Philpot and passenger Peter Roerig, riding in the rear dickey seat, were both shot and killed.[28]

Holliday was a good friend of Leonard, a former watchmaker from New York.[29]:181 Based on the affidavit sworn by Big Nose Kate, Judge Wells Spicer issued an arrest warrant for Holliday.[30]

Rumors flew that Holliday had taken part in the shooting and murders. Tombstone saloon owner Milt Joyce disarmed Holliday one day when he got into an altercation with fellow gambler Johnny Tyler. Later that day, Holliday heard that Joyce was spreading rumors that Holliday had taken part in the robbery. Drunk, Holliday returned to Joyce’s saloon and, insulting Joyce, demanded his firearm back. Joyce refused and threw him out, but Holliday came back carrying a “self cocker” and started firing. Joyce pulled out a pistol and Holliday shot the revolver out of Joyce’s hand, putting a bullet through his palm. When Joyce’s bartender Parker tried to grab his gun, Holliday wounded him in the toe. Joyce picked up his pistol and bufffaloed him, knocking Holliday out.[30]

The Earps found witnesses who could attest to Holliday’s location elsewhere at the time of the stagecoach murders and Kate sobered up, revealing that Behan and Joyce had influenced her to sign a document she didn’t understand. With the Cowboy plot revealed, Spicer freed Holliday. The district attorney threw out the charges, labeling them “ridiculous.” Doc gave Kate some money and put her on a stage out of town.[30]

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral[edit]

On October 26, 1881, Virgil Earp was Deputy U.S. Marshall and also Tombstone’s city police chief. He received reports that Cowboys were armed in violation of the city ordinance that required them to deposit their weapons at a saloon or stable soon after arriving in town. Fearing trouble, Virgil deputized Holliday. Accompanied by Wyatt and Morgan, the men went to find the Cowboys, and Virgil retrieved a short messenger shotgun from the Wells Fargo office.

En route, they ran into Cochise County Sheriff Johnny Behan, who told them or implied that he had disarmed the Cowboys. To avoid alarming citizens and lessen tension when disarming the Cowboys, Virgil gave the coach gun to Holliday so he could conceal it under his long coat. Virgil Earp took Holliday’s walking stick.[31] The lawmen found the Cowboys in a narrow lot next to Fly’s boarding house and photography studio, where Holliday had a room. It’s possible that Holliday thought that they were waiting there to kill him.[32]

There were conflicting accounts of the 30 second gunfight. According to different witnesses, Holliday first pulled out a chrome-plated pistol he was known to carry, while others reported he used a longer, bronze colored gun, possibly the coach gun. In any case, Holliday killed Tom McLaury with a shotgun blast in the side of his chest. Holliday was grazed by a bullet supposedly fired by Frank McLaury on Fremont Street who supposedly challenged Holliday, yelling, “I’ve got you now!” Holliday reportedly replied, “Blaze away! You’re a daisy if you have.” Frank was shot in the stomach and in the head and killed. Holliday may have also wounded Billy Clanton.

One analysis of the fight gives credit to either Holliday or Morgan Earp for firing the fatal shot at Frank on Fremont Street. Holliday may have been on Frank’s right and Morgan on his left, and Frank was shot in the right side of the head, so Holliday is often given credit for shooting Frank. However, Wyatt Earp had shot Frank in his torso, earlier, a shot that alone could have killed him. Frank would have turned away after having been hit and Wyatt could have placed a second shot in Frank’s head.[33][34] It is also highly unlikely that Morgan fired the fatal shot, as he had been shot across both shoulder blades, possibly leaving him incapable of shooting accurately.[35]

Big Nose Kate, his longtime companion, said she remembered Holliday’s reaction after the gunfight. She reported that Holliday came back to his room, sat on the bed, wept, and said, “That was awful—awful”,[10]:169 although some historians dispute whether she was actually present. A 30-day-long preliminary hearing found that the Earps and Holliday had acted within their duty as lawmen, although this did not pacify Ike Clanton.

Earp Vendetta Ride[edit]

Main article: Earp Vendetta Ride

The situation in Tombstone soon grew worse when Virgil Earp was ambushed and permanently injured in December 1881. Then Morgan Earp was ambushed and killed in March 1882. After Morgan’s murder, Virgil Earp and many remaining members of the Earp families fled town. Holliday and Wyatt Earp stayed in Tombstone to exact retribution on Ike Clanton and the corrupt members known as the Cowboys. Several Cochise County Cowboys were identified by witnesses as suspects in the shooting of Virgil Earp on December 27, 1881, and the assassination of Morgan Earp on March 19, 1882. Some circumstantial evidence also pointed to their involvement. Wyatt Earp had been appointed Deputy U.S. Marshall after Virgil was maimed. He deputized Holliday, Warren Earp, Sherman McMaster, and “Turkey Creek” Jack Johnson. Although sick with tuberculosis, Holliday managed to ride with the posse into the badlands in search of the cowboys. It was in that time that Holliday said farewell to Kate for good.

The Earp party guarded Virgil Earp and his wife Allie on their way to the train for California. In Tucson, the group spotted an armed Frank Stilwell and Ike Clanton who they thought were lying in wait to kill Virgil. On Monday, March 20, 1882, Frank Stilwell’s body was found at dawn alongside the railroad tracks, riddled with buckshot and gunshot wounds.[36] Wyatt credited himself as the one who fatally shot Stilwell with a shotgun; other bullets placed into him may have been fired by Doc Holliday.[37]

Tucson Justice of the Peace Charles Meyer issued arrest warrants for five of the Earp party, including Holliday. On March 21, they returned briefly to Tombstone, where they were joined by Texas Jack Vermillion and possibly others. Wyatt deputized the men who rode with him. After leaving Tombstone, the posse made its way to Spence’s wood-cutting camp in the South Pass of the Dragoon Mountains. There they found and killed outlaw cowboy Florentino “Indian Charlie” Cruz.

Gunfight at Iron Springs[edit]

Two days later, Earp’s posse arrived at Iron Springs located in the Whetstone Mountains. There, they came upon eight cowboys camping in the springs, and the posse decided to sneak around and ambush the cowboys. Things went bad when the cowboys, well-hidden in the bank, surprised and ambushed the party instead. Outnumbered and outgunned, Holliday, Johnson, and McMaster fled to find cover. Holliday also assisted Vermillion who got pinned down under his horse. Wyatt Earp in retaliation, stood his ground and killed Curly Bill Brocius, who was a prime suspect in Morgan’s death, with a shotgun to the chest. Earp also shot two other cowboys with his pistol, Johnny Barnes in the chest and Milt Hicks in the shoulder. Holliday gave covering fire as the posse retreated from the mountains. Barnes, mortally wounded, died afterward. Holliday left his own record of the battle during an interview.[38]

Holliday and four other members of the posse were still faced with warrants for Stilwell’s death. The group elected to leave the Arizona Territory for New Mexico and then Colorado. While in Trinidad, Colorado, Wyatt Earp and Holliday parted ways, going separately to different parts of Colorado. Holliday arrived in Colorado in mid April 1882.[3]

Arrives in Colorado[edit]

On May 15, 1882, Holliday was arrested in Denver on the Arizona warrant for murdering Frank Stilwell. Wyatt Earp, fearing that Holliday could not receive a fair trial in Arizona, asked his friend Bat Masterson, Chief of Police of Trinidad, Colorado, to help get Holliday released. The extradition hearing was set for May 30.[39]:230 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.” Pitkin was persuaded by the evidence presented by Masterson and refused to honor Arizona’s extradition request.[39] 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—one on bunco charges that Masterson had fabricated in Pueblo, Colorado.[39]

Masterson took Holliday to Pueblo, where he was released on bond two weeks after his arrest.[40] Holliday and Wyatt met briefly and for what would be the last time after Holliday’s release during June 1882 in Gunnison.

Death of Johnny Ringo[edit]

On July 14, 1882, Johnny Ringo was found dead in the crotch of a large tree in West Turkey Creek Valley near Chiricahua Peak, Arizona Territory. He had a bullet hole in his right temple and a revolver was found hanging from a finger of his hand. In his book I Married Wyatt Earp, editor Glenn Boyer wrote that Josephine Marcus Earp said Wyatt Earp and Holliday returned to Arizona to kill Ringo. Josephine reported that Holliday killed Ringo with a rifle, but this contradicts the coroner’s finding that Ringo committed suicide, dying by a pistol shot at close range. Boyer’s book “is now recognized by Earp researchers as a hoax”[41] that cannot be relied upon.[42]:489

The newspaper in Salida, Colorado reported that Holliday had arrived there on July 7, six days and 500 miles (800 km) from where Ringo died. However, district court records fromPueblo County, Colorado document that both Holliday and his attorney appeared in court on July 11, 14, and 18, 1882, making it impossible for them to have been in Arizona at the same time. The court record for July 11 indicates that Holliday appeared in person, using the phrase in propria persona or “in his own person”. In her book Doc Holliday, A Family Portrait, author Karen Holliday Tanner noted that the court record for July 11 indicated that he appeared in person, using the phrase in propria persona or “in his own person”. She also described a writ of habeas corpus that was issued for Holliday on July 11. She speculated that he may not have been physcially present in Pueblo[10] and that his attorney appeared on his behalf. Tanner asserts that the phrase was standard legal filler and doesn’t prove that Holliday was in court.[10]:295–5

Death and burial[edit]

Holliday spent his remaining days in Colorado. After a stay in Leadville, he suffered from the high altitude. He increasingly depended on alcohol and laudanum to ease the symptoms of tuberculosis, and his health and his skills as a gambler and gunfighter began to deteriorate.[10]:218 One of Holliday’s last shootings took place Hyman’s saloon in Leadville, Colorado. Holliday borrowed $5 from Billy Allen, a bartender and special officer at the Monarch Saloon, which enabled Allen to carry a gun and make arrests within the saloon. Holliday was down to his last dollar. He’d pawned his jewelry and when Allen demanded he be repaid, Holliday couldn’t comply. Fearful Allen would come gunning for him, Holliday secreted a weapon behind the counter at Hymen’s and when Allen appeared in the doorway, Holliday shot him, hitting him in the arm. Before he could shoot again, the bar man disarmed him. Holliday was put in the county jail for a week. During the subsequent trial, he claimed self-defense under the doctrine of no duty to retreat. He produced a witness who testified that Allen had been armed and in Hymen’s earlier in the day apparently looking for Holliday. On March 28, 1885, the jury acquitted Holliday.[43]

This was the second or third time that Holliday shot a man in the hand or the arm to disarm him and force him to drop his weapon, his favorite method of dueling, which avoided the risk of capital punishment for killing.[3]:373

Final days[edit]

The records were lost of exactly where Holliday’s body is located within the cemetery, so the City ofGlenwood Springs erected a headstone, but it had the wrong birth year on it. This monument replaced the former monument.

In 1887, prematurely gray and badly ailing, Holliday made his way to the Hotel Glenwood, near the hot springs of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. (The Hotel Glenwood was not a sanatorium, as is popularly believed. The Glenwood Springs sanatorium was built in 1896, nine years after Holliday’s death.[44]) He hoped to take advantage of the reputed curative power of the waters, but the sulfurous fumes from the spring may have done his lungs more harm than good.[10]:217 As he lay dying, Holliday is reported to have asked the nurse attending him at the Hotel Glenwood for a shot of whiskey. When she told him no, he looked at his bootless feet, amused. The nurses said that his last words were, “This is funny.”[7] He always figured he would be killed someday with his boots on.[3]:372 Holliday died at 10 am on November 8, 1887. He was 36.[8] Wyatt Earp did not learn of Holliday’s death until two months afterward. Big Nose Kate later said that she attended to him in his final days, but it is also doubtful that she was present.[3]:396


The Glenwood Springs Ute Chief of November 12, 1887, wrote in his obituary that Holliday had been baptized in the Catholic Church. This assertion in his obituary was based on correspondence written between Holliday and his cousin, Sister Mary Melanie, a Catholic nun. No baptismal record exists, however, in St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Glenwood Springs or at the Annunciation Catholic Church in nearby Leadville, Colorado.[10]:300 Holliday’s mother had been raised a Methodist and later joined a Presbyterian church (her husband’s faith) but objected to the Presbyterian doctrine of predestination and reconverted to Methodism publicly before she died, saying that she wanted her son John to know what she believed.[3]:14, 41 Holliday himself was later to say that he had joined a Methodist church in Dallas.[3]:70 At the end of his life, Holliday had struck up friendships with both a Catholic priest, Father E.T. Downey, and a Presbyterian minister, Rev. W.S. Randolph, in Glenwood Springs. When he died, Father Downey was out of town, and so Rev. Randolph presided over the burial at 4 pm on the same day that Holliday died. The services were said to be in the presence of “many friends.”[3]:370, 372


Holliday is buried in Linwood Cemetery overlooking Glenwood Springs. Since Holliday died in November, the ground may have been frozen. Some modern authors like Bob Boze Bell[45] speculate that it would have been impossible to transport him to the cemetery, which was only accessible via a difficult mountain road, or to dig a grave because the ground was frozen. Author Gary Roberts located evidence that other bodies were transported to the Linwood Cemetery at the same time of the month that year. Contemporary newspaper reports explicitly state that Holliday was buried in the Linwood Cemetery, but the exact location of his grave is uncertain.[3]:403–404

Public reputation[edit]

Publicly, Holliday could be as fierce as was needed for a gambling man to earn respect, and his reputation as skilled gunfighter is generally agreed upon by historians.[3]:410 According to Tombstone, Arizona resident George W. Parsons, he told Johnny Ringo in January 1882, “All I want of you is ten paces out in the street.” He and Ringo were prevented from a gunfight by the Tombstone police who arrested them 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. The coroner’s inquest found that Frank had been shot in the stomach and under his ear, which killed him. Holliday was also part of a group of men led by Wyatt Earp guarding Virgil Earp, who had been maimed in an ambush in January. Once in Tucson, they found Frank Stilwell in the railyard, and Holliday may have been one of several men who discharged their weapons into his body. Holliday joined Wyatt and other men in a federal posse who killed three other outlaw Cowboys during the Earp Vendetta Ride. Holliday reported that he had been arrested 17 times, four attempts had been made to hang him, and that he survived ambush five times.[38]


Throughout his lifetime, Doc was known by many of his peers as a tempered, calm Southern gentleman. In an 1896 article, Wyatt Earp said that “Doc was a dentist, not a lawman or an assassin, 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 that I ever knew.”[46]:207

In a newspaper interview, Holliday was once asked if his conscience ever troubled him. He is reported to have said, “I coughed that up with my lungs, years ago.”[47]:189

Stabbings and shootings[edit]

Much of Holliday’s violent reputation was nothing but rumors and self-promotion. However, he showed great skill in gambling and gunfights on several occasions. His tuberculosis didn’t hamper his ability as a gambler and a marksman. Holliday was ambidextrous and was known to have carried two pistols into fights. There were three or four instances when Holliday used a shotgun.[citation needed]

There are no contemporaneous newspaper accounts or legal records that offer proof of the many unnamed men whom Holliday is credited with killing in popular folklore, with the exception of Mike Gordon in 1879 and a few other victims. The same is true for the several tales of knifings credited to Holliday by early biographers. Some scholars argue that Holliday may have encouraged the stories about his reputation, although his record never supported those claims.[3]:410 Overall, Holliday was in at least five one-on-one gunfights in his lifetime.[30]

In a March 1882 interview with the Arizona Daily Star, Virgil Earp told the reporter, “There was something very peculiar about Doc. He was gentlemanly, a good dentist, a friendly man, and yet outside of us boys I don’t think he had a friend in the Territory. Tales were told that he had murdered men in different parts of the country; that he had robbed and committed all manner of crimes, and yet when persons were asked how they knew it, they could only admit that it was hearsay, and that nothing of the kind could really be traced up to Doc’s account.”[48]

Arrests and convictions[edit]

Biographer Karen Holliday Tanner found that Holliday had been arrested 17 times before his 1881 shootout in Tombstone. Only one arrest was for murder, an 1879 shootout with Mike Gordon in New Mexico. Holliday was not successfully prosecuted. In the preliminary hearing following the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Judge Wells Spicer exonerated Holliday’s actions as a duly appointed lawman. In Denver, the warrant for Frank Stilwell‘s murder went unserved when the governor was persuaded by Trinidad Chief of Police Bat Masterson to release Holliday to his custody for bunco charges.[10]

Out of all his other arrests, Holliday pleaded guilty to two gambling charges, one charge of carrying a deadly weapon in the city (in connection with the argument with Ringo), and one misdemeanor assault and battery charge (his shooting of Joyce and Parker). The others were all dismissed or returned as “not guilty”.[10]

Alleged murder of Ed Bailey[edit]

Wyatt Earp recounted one event during which Holliday killed a fellow gambler named Ed Bailey. Wyatt and his common-law wife Mattie Blaylock were in Fort Griffin, Texas, during the winter of 1878, looking for gambling opportunities. Earp visited the saloon of his old friend from Cheyenne, John Shannsey, and met Holliday at the Cattle Exchange.[49]

According to Earp, Holliday was playing poker with a well-liked local man named Ed Bailey. Holliday caught Bailey “monkeying with the dead wood,” or the discard pile, which was against the rules. Holliday reminded Bailey to “play poker”, which was a polite way to caution him to stop cheating. When Bailey made the same move again, Holliday took the pot without showing his hand, which was his right under the rules. Bailey immediately went for his pistol, but Holliday whipped out a knife from his breast pocket and “caught Bailey just below the brisket” or upper chest. Bailey died and Holliday, new to town, was detained in his room at the Planter’s Hotel.[10]:115

In Stuart Lake‘s best-selling biography, Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal (1931), Earp is quoted as saying that Holliday’s girlfriend, Big Nose Kate, devised a diversion. She procured a second pistol from a friend in town, removed a horse from its shed behind the hotel, and then set fire to the shed. Everyone but Holliday and the lawmen guarding him ran to put out the fire, while she calmly walked in and tossed Holliday the second pistol.[49] However, no contemporaneous records have been found of either Bailey’s death or of the shed fire. In addition, Big Nose Kate denied that the story was true before she died in 1940 and laughed at the idea of “a 116-pound woman holding a gun on a sheriff”.[3]:87

Photos of Holliday[edit]

There are three photos of unknown provenance often reported to be of Holliday, some of them supposedly taken by C.S. Fly in Tombstone, but sometimes reported to have been taken in Dallas. Holliday lived in a rooming house in front of Fly’s photography studio. Many individuals 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 will rarely offer even a tentative identification of new or unique images of famous people based solely on similarities shared with other known images.[50]


Life-size statues of lawmanWyatt Earp and deputy Doc Holliday at the Historic Railroad Depot

Doc Holliday is one of the most recognizable figures in the American Old West, but he is most remembered for his friendship with Wyatt Earp and his role in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Holliday’s friendship with the lawman has been a staple of popular sidekicks in culture,[51] and Holliday himself became a stereotypical image of a deputy and a loyal companion in modern times. He is typically portrayed in films as being loyal to his friend Wyatt, whom he sticks with during the duo’s greatest conflicts, such as the Gunfight at the OK Corral and Earp’s vendetta, even with the ensuing violence and hardships which they both endured.[3] Together with Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday has become a modern symbol of loyalty, brotherhood, and friendship.[52]

A life-sized statue of Holliday and Earp by sculptor Dan Bates was dedicated by the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum at the restoredHistoric Railroad Depot in Tucson, Arizona, on March 20, 2005, the 122nd anniversary of the killing of Frank Stilwell by Wyatt Earp. The statue stands at the approximate site of the shooting on the train platform.[53][54] The facial features on this statue are based on the set of supposed portrait photos and not on the two known authentic photos of him.

“Doc Holliday Days” are held yearly in Holliday’s birthplace of Griffin, Georgia. Valdosta, Georgia held a Doc Holliday look-alike contest in January 2010, to coincide with its sesquicentennial celebration.[55] It was won by local resident Jason Norton.[56]

Places are also named after him, with themes about his life, such as a restaurant called “J Henry’s” which features pictures and memorabilia of Holliday in Holliday’s home town ofGriffin, on College Street. A bar called “Doc Holliday’s Saloon,” featuring murals and pictures of Holliday, exists on Avenue A in the East Village district of New York City. The Holliday Skate Palace, a roller skating rink in the 1970s and 1980s, was named in his honor in Valdosta, Georgia, where he formerly resided.

In popular culture[edit]

Holliday was nationally known during his life as a gunman. The shoot out at the O.K. Corral has become one of the most famous frontier stories in the American west, and numerouswesterns TV shows and movies have been made about it. Holliday is usually a prominent part of the story.

Pin It

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *