brief summation of the history of Doc Holliday
|In the early hours of August 14, 1851 in Griffin, GA John Henry Holliday was born to Henry Burroughs and Alice Jane Holliday. He was the son of a Pharmacist turned firey Confederate Major. Church records of the day state "John Henry, infant son of Henry B. and Alice J. Holliday, recieved the ordinance of Baptism on Sunday, March 21,1852, at the First Presbyterian Church in Griffin.". Little did his parents know that the child they had given birth to was to go on to become one of the most feared men in American Western History.
Alice Jane died on September 16, 1866, and this was a terrible blow to young John Henry, for he and his mother had been very close. Then, on December 18, 1866, only three short months after his mother's death, his father remarried and moved them all to Valdosta, Ga, where Major Holliday became one of the front-most citizens, serving as Mayor, the Secretary of the County Agricultural Society, a Member of the Masonic Lodge, the Secretary of the Confederate Veterans Camp, and the Superintendent of local elections.
When it came time for John Henry to choose a proffession, he chose dentistry, and enrolled in dental school in 1870. There he attended his lectures, wrote his thesis, and did his required two years apprentiship under Dr. L.F. Franks. On March 1st, 1872, the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery in Philadelphia, conferred the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery upon 26 men, one of whom was John Henry Holliday. Shortly after graduation, he opened practice in Atlanta.
John proved to be a good dentist, but shortly after he began practicing, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He consulted a number of doctors, but the general consensus among them was that he had only months to live, although they thought he might add a few years to his life if he moved to a dry climate. He took their advice and headed west, making his first stop in Dallas, TX, at the end of the railroad line. This was in October 1873, and he quickly gained employment as an associate of a Dr. John A. Seegar. He hung out his shingle and prepared for business, but was constantly wracked by coughing fits due to his terrible disease, often while in the middle of a dental procedure. As a result, his dental business began to dwindle and Doc soon had to find another means of livelihood.
It seems he possessed a natural gift for gambling, and this quickly became his only means of support. In those days a gambler had to be able to defend himself, for none stood with him. Doc was well aware of this and practiced religiously with gun and knife. On January 2, 1875, Doc and a saloon keeper named Austin got into an argument during which both men went for their guns. Several shots were fired, but none found their target.Most locals found a gunfight like this to be highly amusing, but soon changed their outlooks when, a few days later, Doc put two rather large holes through a prominent citizen, leaving the man very dead. Doc was forced to flee from Dallas and made his way to Jacksboro, where he found a job dealing Faro.
By this time, Doc had begun carrying one pistol in a shoulder holster, another on his hip, and a long, razor-sharp knife as well. During a very short span of time, he was involved in three more gunfights, one of which left another dead man to his credit, but because this was a particularly wild area of the west, no action was taken against him. In the summer of 1876, he was involved in yet another gunfight, but this time he was careless enough to kill a soldier from nearby Fort Mitchell, and this killing brought the US Government into the investigtaion.
On the run again, Doc hit the trail again, only this time it was cluttered with the Army, US Marshalls, Texas Rangers, local lawmen and ordinary citizens, all eager to collect the reward that was offered for his capture. He knew that,were he captured, his neck would be stretched with very few prelimenaries, so he headed straight into Apache country and on to Colorado. During short stops in Pueblo, Leadville, Georgetown, and Central City, three more men went down in front of his guns before he reached Denver.
Once in Denver, Doc went by the name Tom Mackey and was unknown until he was involved in an argument with a man named Bud Ryan. During the ensuing fight, he came extremely close to cutting off Ryan's head, and although Ryan survived, his face and neck were badly mutilated. Although Ryan did not die, public resentment had Doc fleeing again. He went to Wyoming, New Mexico, then on to Fort Griffin, TX. It was there that Doc met the only woman who would ever be involved in his life, aHungarian prostitute and bar girl known as Big Nosed Kate, a stubborn woman with a firey temper, who would be involved in his life off and on for several years to come.
While in Fort Griffin, and working at Shanssey's Saloon, Doc met a man who was not only to become his closest friend, but who would also have a profound influence upon his life, the legendary Wyatt Earp. Earp had ridden into town in pursuit of Dave Rudabaugh, who was wanted for train robbery in Dodge City. Doc agreed to help Wyatt find the information that he needed, and the two became fast friends. Doc had already earned the reputation of a cold-blooded killer, and many believed he liked to kill, however, this was not the case. Simply put, he was just a hot-tempered Southerner who stood aside for no man. Bat Masterson once said of him, "Doc Holliday was afraid of nothing on Earth". Doc was a fatalist. He knew that he was already condemned to a slow and agonizing death, so if death came quick and painless, who was he to object. Actually, he expected a violent end due to the violent life he lived.
A man named Ed Bailey sat down to play poker with Doc one evening in Fort Griffin. Bailey was somewhat of a local bully, and had grown accustomed to having his way without objection or question. In an obvious attempt to irritate Doc, Bailey kept picking up the discarded cards and looking thru them, a strict no-no in the rules of Western poker, and anyone who violated this rule forfeited the pot. Holliday warned him twice, but on the very next hand, Bailey proceeded to do the same thing yet again. Doc, without speaking a word, reached out and raked in the entire pot, and this prompted Ed Bailey to produce a six-gun, while a large knife appeared in Doc's hand. Before Bailey could pull the trigger, with one mighty slash, Doc completely disemboweled him. Bailey slumped across the table, spilling blood everywhere.
Doc stuck around town and allowed the Marshal to arrest him, believing that he was obviously defending himself. This proved to be a great mistake though, because as soon as Doc had been disarmed and incarcerated, Bailey's friends began clamoring for his blood. Big Nose Kate knew that Doc was done for if she didnt intervene, and set to work by starting a fire in a nearby shed. As soon as Doc and the officer guarding him were alone, she rushed into the jail and confronted them, a pistol in each hand. She disarmed the startled guard, passed a pistol to Doc, and the two vanished into the night, headed for Dodge City on "borrowed" horses.
Arriving in Dodge City, the couple registered at Deacon Cox's Boarding house as Dr. and Mrs. J.H. Holliday. Doc felt he owed Kate a great deal for saving him from a hanging tree in Fort Griffin, and was determined to do whatever it took to make her happy. She gave up being a prostitute and hanging out in the saloons, and Doc gave up gambling and hung out his shingle again. All of Doc's good intentions went unappreciated however, and did not endure for long. Kate stood the boredom of respectable living for as long as she could, then told Doc that she was going back to the excitement of the gambling dens. Consequently, the two split up, as they were fated to do on many occasions during Doc's life.
September found Doc dealing faro at the famous Long Branch Saloon. A great many Texas cowboys had just arrived in town with a herd of cattle, and after many weeks on the trail, they were a rowdy bunch, ready to paint the town. Word came into the saloon that several of the cowboys had Wyatt Earp cornered and were bragging that they were gonna shoot him down. Doc leapt from the his seat and charged out the door, pistol in hand. When he reached the scene, he found two cowboys, Morrison and Driscoll, holding their revolvers on Wyatt and taunting him to draw his weapon before they shot him. Around twenty or so of their friends were standing around, also goading and insulting the enraged, but helpless, Wyatt. Doc let fly with a string of obscenities and insults of his own, and as soon as they two armed cowboys turned their attention to him, Wyatt rapped Morrison on the back of the skull with his long barreled Colt. He then set about the task of relieving the rest of the cowboys of their guns. Wyatt Earp would never forget that Doc had saved his life that night in Dodge City.
Kate and Doc soon had another of their frequent and violent quarrels, and Doc saddled his horse and rode out to Trinidad, Colorado. Not long after he arrived, a young gambler who called himself Kid Colton, badgered Doc into a fight, in an attempt to make a name for himself. Doc's gun roared twice, and the young man collapsed in the dusty street. Consequently, Doc thought it best to set out again, and rode off to New Mexico, where, in the summer of 1879, he tried for one last time to practice as a dentist. It was a weak attempt at best and ended a short time later when he bought a saloon. A short while later, he got into a fight with a local gunman who, by all evidence, was immensley popular with the townspeople. Doc politely invited him to start shooting whenever he felt like it, then blasted him three times in the stomach. A mob quickly assembled and began making plans to decorate a tree, with Doc as an ornament, so he wisely disappeared like a ghost. He headed back to Dodge City, figuring that, with Wyatt Earp as his friend, he would surely be safe there. When he arrived, however, he discovered that Wyatt was gone, headed to a new silver strike in a small town in Arizona called Tombstone.
With nothing left to hold him in Dodge City, Doc headed west toward Tombstone. Although he had no way of knowing it, he would soon be introduced to more of the Earp family, for all of Wyatt's brothers were bound for Tombstone as well. Younger brother Morgan was coming in from Montana, Wyatt and older brother James from Dodge City, and eldest brother Virgil from Prescott. Doc, in fact, arrived in Prescott before Virgil left, but Virgil left town without him, because Doc was having a fantastic run of luck at the poker tables.
Big Nose Kate, also enroute to Tombstone, caught up with Doc in Prescott while he was winning at poker. The two of them arrived in Tombstone in early summer 1880 and Doc, with $40,000.00 recently liberated from Prescott gamblers in his pocket, found that Kate was very happy to be in his company. Doc found Kate living quarters on the north side of Allen St. and Kate wasted no time in setting up shop. She purchased a large tent, rounded up a few girls and some cheap whiskey, and was soon making a large income operating Tombstone's first "sporting house".
The outlaw faction that existed in Tombstone had grown accustomed to having things their way for quite some time and hated the arrival of Doc and the Earps. Old Man Clanton, his sons, Ike, Phin, and BIlly, the McClowery brothers, Frank and Tom, Curly Bill Brocious, John RIngo and their followers wasted no time in expressing their resentment. Doc had become quite a famous gunman by that time and several men had breathed their last in encounters with him. This would make him a welcome addition to the fight between that Earps and that band of outlaws that would eventually come.
Once they were settled in town, Doc and Kate picked up where they had left off. Although they lived together, Doc went back to gambling and Kate back to operating as a prostitute. One night, Kate got drunk and abusive and Doc threw her out. As luck would have it, two men had been killed in a train robbery and the outlaws siezed this opportunity to try and frame Doc for one of the murders. Sheriff John Behan found Kate drunk and still infuriated at Doc having thrown her out. He spoke kindly to her, fed her more whiskey, and got her to sign and affidavit implicating Doc in the murder. The Earps set about rounding up witnesses that could verify Doc's whereabouts on the night in question, and when Kate sobered up and realized what she'd done, she recanted her statement. Since witnesses and Kate's new statement exposed the frame-up, Doc was released. Doc gave her some money and put her on a stage leaving town, his debt to her paid in full as far as he was concerned.
On October 26, 1881, Virgil Earp recieved word that some of the outlaw faction were gathering at the OK Corral. They were armed, which was against city law. The Earps set out to disarm them, with Doc joining them along the way. When Wyatt Earp and Billy Clanton opened the fight, Doc shot Billy in the chest, then Cut Tom McClowery down with a double charge of buckshot, blasting the life out of him before he even hit the ground. Wyatt allowed Ike Clanton to run from the fight, but Doc threw bullets at him as he fled, only just missing him. A bullet from Frank McClowery hit Doc's holster and burned a painful crease across his thigh. Doc's answer to that was to send a bullet crashing into Frank's brain. Less than thirty seconds after the first shot, three men were dead and three more lay wounded. At least one of Doc's bullets was in each of the three dead cowboys. Virgil Earp had been shot in the leg and Morgan Earp through both shoulders. Only Wyatt escaped the battle unscathed.
On March 18, 1882, Morgan Earp was shot while playing pool, the bullet entering his back, and snuffing out his life. Shortly after, Virgil was seriously wounded by the same shooters. This set Wyatt into a rage. He rounded up Doc and some close friends and they set out after them. On March 20, 1882, Wyatt killed Frank Stillwell at Tuscon Station. This killing was just the start of Wyatt's bloody trail of vengance, and Doc Holliday rode beside him all the way. They cornered Indian Charlie and forced him to name the men who murdered Morgan, himself included, and Wyatt shot him to pieces, the date was March 22,1882. On March 24, 1882, Wyatt killed Curly Bill Brocious and gave Johnny Barnes wounds which he died from later.
In a little more than a year, the list of outlaws that had been taken out was incredible: "Old Man" Clanton, Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury, Tom McLaury, Frank Stilwell, Indian Charlie, Dixie Gray, Florentino Cruz, Curly Bill, Johnny Barnes, Jim Crane, Harry Head, Bill Leonard, Joe Hill, Luther King, Charley Snow, Billy Lang, Zwing Hunt, Billy Grounds and Hank Swilling. Doc accounted for more than his share of dead outlaws.
In May of 1887, Doc went to Glenwood Springs, Colorado, to try the sulfur vapors for his health, as it was steadily growing worse. He spent his last 57 days in bed and was delerious for 14 of them. On November 8, 1887, he awoke clear headed and asked for a glass of whiskey. It was brought to him and he drank it down in obvious pleasure. When he had finished, he looked down at his bare feet, quietly remarked "this is funny", and then he closed his eyes, and died..
Doc had come to the West knowing that his days were numbered and expecting to die of a gunshot or knife in his ribs, and thus he found it funny that he died peacefully in bed. In later years Wyatt Earp remarked of him "He was the most skillful gambler, and the nerviest, fastest, deadliest man with a six-gun I ever saw." His remains are buried in the Glenwood Cemetary in Glenwood Colorado, his headstone proudly inscribed with a winning poker hand and the lament "he died in bed".
So passed the West's deadliest gun.