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People and Places of the Old West

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Doc Holliday PDF Print E-mail
Written by Curly   

John Henry "Doc" Holliday - August 14, 1851- November 8, 1887

Doc was born in Griffin, GA. to a wealthy southern family. Doc's father, Major Henry Burroughs Holliday, participated in the Cherokee Indian War, Mexican War and Civil War.

When the major returned from the Mexican War, he brought home a young Mexican boy who was orphaned by the war, his name was Francisco Hidalgo. After the major served the Confederate Army, he moved his family from Griffin, GA. to Valdosta, GA., to land that was given to him.  Doc's mother, Alice Jane Mckey Holliday, died of tuberculosis in 1866, when Doc was 12, his step brother Francisco also died of tuberculosis a short time later, this is where it is believed that Doc contracted the disease.

Doc attended the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery and graduated in 1872. Shortly after, probably 1873, Doc traveled west, to Dallas, because the drier climate would be better for his health.  Doc being a well educated man, stood out from the crowd in the west, he spoke Latin, French and played the piano, he was taught by his mother to play. He did love his trade of dentistry and tried making a living at it in the west, but his constant coughing kept his patients from coming back.  As his dentistry practice failed, he found a new line of work, gambling, which he also found to be more fun, Doc was good at it too and held the respect of other gamblers.  Doc, knowing that he was dying a slow death, was fearless, figuring he had nothing to lose, that's one of the reasons why he was so dangerous, he had a bad outlook on life because of the disease and wanted to die. Doc always liked to be well dressed, was very intelligent with a quick wit and was known for a good sense of humor, at someone else's expense of course.

The earliest recorded gunfight of Doc Holliday was on January 1, 1875 in Dallas. He was gambling in a saloon owned by a man by the name of Austin.  They got into an argument over a card game and both pulled the six shooters and firing, both missed, but they were both arrested for it and later released.

Around 1877, Doc met Wyatt Earp in a saloon called Shanessy's in Fort Griffin, Texas. They immediately hit it off and became instant friends, both admiring certain qualities of each other. Wyatt said Doc was "the nerviest, speediest man with a six-shooter he ever knew".  Later in 1877, Doc was involved in another fracas over gambling in Fort Griffin, this time with with a man by the name of Ed Bailey. Bailey drew his gun, but Doc got to him first with a knife and killed him. Even though it was in self defense with many witnesses, Bailey was well liked by the town and Doc was arrested for murder. He was held in a hotel room, because the town didn't have a jail cell. Doc's long time lady friend, and the only woman to have captured Doc's guarded affection, Big Nose Kate, her real name was Mary Katherine Harony, came to Doc's rescue. She started a fire in the back of the hotel as a diversion, then with a six gun in hand, she got the drop on the deputy charged with guarding the prisoner and her and Doc escaped. They hid out overnight and in the morning they left for Dodge City. Exactly when Kate and Doc met isn't known, sometime in the 1870's, but what is known is that Kate left Davenport, IA. as a young girl to seek her fortune in the west. She landed in a Kansas bordello where her and Doc met. Kate was a big woman standing inches above Doc and she captured Doc's attention, he was just plain drawn to her. There is a rumor that they actually married in St. Louis in the 1870's, but no record can be found, as far as I know anyway. Once Doc and Kate arrived in Dodge City, he quickly renewed his friendship with Wyatt Earp, who was a deputy marshal.

In 1879, Doc was making good money as a gambler and part owner of a saloon in Las Vegas, NM. His partner and financial backer, John Joshua Webb, was once a Dodge City lawman.  On July 19, 1879, Webb and Doc were seated at a card table, when a bully and former army scout, Mike Gordon, began an argument at the bar. He was yelling at one of the saloon women, who had once been the object of his affection, but had since brushed him off, to pack her bags and leave town with him. She refused his offer and Gordon stormed out of the saloon into the street shouting obscenities at Doc and then began shooting at the front of the saloon. Doc stepped outside and a shot from Gordon's six gun whizzed past him. Doc calmly pulled his pistol and shot once, fatally wounding Gordon, who died the next day, still cursing Doc with his last breath.   

With word that he would be arrested for this killing, Doc rode out of Las Vegas and went back to Dodge City and he was glad he was going back. Once he arrived there, he found out his friend Wyatt Earp had just left, heading west for Tombstone. Doc took out after him and before Wyatt's party made it to Tombstone, Doc caught up with them, figuring he would accompany the Earp's there.

Doc and Wyatt had a strange friendship and much has been written about them. They had a deep respect for each other, Doc would even try to emulate Wyatt's style and openly looked up to him for his nervy and decisive actions when dealing with outlaws. Most proper folk thought of Doc as a lowlife, doing most anything for money. On the other hand, they looked at Wyatt as an incorruptible lawman. There are stories of Wyatt saving Doc from a lynch mob and how Wyatt financed Doc's gambling, receiving a percentage of the winnings for his investment. Over the years, both men's reputation grew and spread, they made a formable pair that most dared not mess with. Doc was proud to be known as Wyatt's backup man, making sure Wyatt didn't take a slug in the back. Wyatt did his part for Doc too, spreading word of Doc's gunfights, fueling his reputation as a gunman. Doc took great pleasure in making men back down, he would prod and challenge them and look for insults even though there weren't any just get in someone's face. This was a practice done by most gunmen, challenging men then watching them back down, they reveled in their reputations, sometimes earned, sometimes not, but a reputation nonetheless.

In the spring of 1881, Doc and Kate were still in Tombstone. They fought often, but this next one was the biggest, Doc through Kate out of his hotel room. She then befriended the boys in the Clanton-McLowery gang. A Wells Fargo stage was robbed, killing the driver, Bud Philpot. Doc was accused of leading the robbery by the Clanton's and Big Nose Kate gave a deposition that Doc was bragging about it. Doc was politely asked by Cochise County Sheriff John Behan to come with him to answer to the deposition. Behan was known to be in cahoots with the Clanton's, looking the other way when they rustled cattle and was in general a weak man. Doc went to the jail with Behan, denying he had anything to do with this robbery, which the bandits didn't get away with any of the money. Doc told Behan: "If I had pulled that job, I'd have gotten away with the eighty thousand". Doc then stood up and walked back to the Oriental Saloon to resume his card game. He was never indicted for the crime, of course it helped that his best friend Wyatt Earp was deputy marshal and later on, Wyatt brought in suspects of that crime.

Doc was very angry at Kate for the accusations telling her never to speak to him again. Doc heard that a Tombstone bar owner, Mike Joyce, was spreading the rumor about Doc robbing the stage, he rushed over to the saloon. Both men drew their guns, Doc shot the six gun out of Joyce's hand, putting a bullet through his palm, which just enhanced the reputation of Doc as an expert marksman. Doc's real anger was aimed at the Clanton-McLowery clan for "stealing" Kate and for the accusations they made about the stage robbery. Doc sought out Ike Clanton on October 26, 1881 and cursed him in a Tombstone saloon. Clanton, not known for his courage unless the odds were in his favor pleaded to be spared and was later pistol whipped by Wyatt that day. The Clanton-McLowery clan then sent a challenge to the Earp's for a showdown the next day at the OK Corral.

As Doc and the Earp's approached the corral, the Earp's all dressed in black suits with stern serious faces, and Doc strolling along in his gray suit whistling. In the end, Billy Clanton, Tom and Frank McLowery were killed and Virgil and Morgan Earp were wounded. Doc shot Tom McLowery with the shotgun he was carrying under his coat. Ike Clanton turned and ran when the shooting began, Doc pulled his six gun and fired at the fleeing Clanton, but missed his mark.

In May of 1887, Doc, in his poorest health yet, went to Glenwood Springs, CO., where he heard that the sulphur springs might help his condition, but of course, they didn't. Doc spent the last days of his life there and the last two months before his death, he didn't even go out of his room. As the end came near, Doc had his bowie knife and six shooter on the table next to his bed. Doc Holliday died on November 8, 1887. He was to be buried in the Linwood Cemetery, but it being winter, the road up to the cemetery was iced over, so they buried him at the bottom of the hill with plans to rebury him later, although, they never did, so the story goes anyway.


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