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Doc Holliday.JPG (6070 bytes)Doc Holliday

1851-1887

John Henry "Doc" Holliday  was Wyatt Earp's best friend and, some historians believe, responsible for quite a few of the troubles that ensued in Tombstone. Born on August 14th, 1851 in Georgia, with a cleft palate and lip to an aristocratic Southern mother and middle class father, life was interesting from the beginning.  His uncle, John McKey, for whom he was named, was a talented surgeon.  While still a baby, Dr. McKey repaired the problem.  I'm sure it was one of the reasons that later in life Doc chose to wear a moustache to cover the scars.

His mother, whom he loved, died of tuberculosis shortly after his 15th birthday.  The disease eventually took other family members and, of course, John Henry as well 21 years later.

He was educated at the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery and practiced for a short time as a dentist. Soon, however, Holliday was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and headed out west. Doc tried to keep up with his dental practice, but patients found it uneasy to have a man with tuberculosis coughing in their face. Doc found that there was money and adventure to be had in gambling, so this became his profession.

"Homicidal" and "killer" are often used to describe Holliday. Doc had nothing to lose, he was dying of tuberculosis and this was probably the likely cause of his reckless attitude. Doc's reputation as being an ace with a gun are by most accounts, inaccurate. Doc may have been well and good with a gun when he was sober, but since he spent most his later years in a pickle, we don't really know. Many humorous stories about Doc are told of him, usually in a drunken stupor, trying to shoot someone that has come into confrontation with him, and missing badly. Whatever bad things Doc was, there is no doubt he was a man you wanted as your friend when the chips were down.

A lifelong friend of Wyatt's, riding with him on his Tombstone vendetta, Doc is given a lot of the blame for what happened in Tombstone by some historians, and as such equal criticism is given to Wyatt for being friends with, and protecting such a dangerous man.

Drifting from Wyoming to New Mexico to Fort Griffin, Texas, Doc met the only woman who mattered to him: Big Nose Kate, a doctor's daughter who, through sad circumstances, became a  frontier dance hall woman and prostitute. Doc's mother had been born and bred in the aristocratic South.  Kate had been born and raised in the aristocracy of the Hapsburg empire of Europe.  Both had lost their parents.   Both had been thrown..or drawn...to the untamed West and the promise of riches and acceptance.

Doc met both Kate and Earp while  dealing cards in John Shanssey's saloon.The equally legendary Earp rode in from Dodge City, Kansas, on the trail of Dave Rudabaugh, who was wanted for train robbery. While Doc was helping Wyatt find the bandit, they became fast friends.

There was weak circumstantial evidence that Doc may have been involved in the stage robbery that got Bud Philpot killed (this is hotly debated, in his defense, Holliday was charged in the robbery, but all charges were dropped for lack of evidence), and he had an ungovernable temper which likely only increased the tension between the Cowboys and the Earps.

Holliday had already gained a reputation of being a cold-blooded killer. Sheriff Bat Masterson said of him: "Doc Holliday was afraid of nothing on earth." Holliday was by now a fatalist. He knew his tuberculosis already condemned him to a slow, painful death. If his demise was quick and painless in a gunfight, he wouldn't object.

In the summer of 1879, Holliday tried his hand as a dentist for the last time in Las Vegas, New Mexico. It wasn't much of an attempt and ended soon after when he bought a saloon on Center Street. A few weeks later, he got into an argument with a local gunman, who was rather popular with the locals. Not one to mince words, Doc politely invited him to start shooting whenever he felt like it and then shot him three times in the stomach.

Since he had to move on again, Holliday knew the one place he would be safe in was Dodge City. After all, Wyatt Earp was his friend. But when he rode back into town, he discovered that Wyatt had gone to a new silver strike in a place called Tombstone, Arizona.

Without Doc knowing it, he would soon get to know the entire Earp family, for all of the Earp brothers were bound for Tombstone. Morgan was coming in from Montana, Wyatt and James from Dodge City and Virgil from Prescott, where Marshal Crawley Dake had just made him a Deputy U.S. Marshal. Virgil left Prescott for Tombstone without Holliday, who was having a fantastic run of luck at the poker tables.

An outlaw gang in Tombstone had things their way for quite some time and they resented the arrival of the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday. Old Man Clanton, his sons, Ike, Phin, and Billy, the McLaury brothers, Frank and Tom, Curly Bill Brocius, John Ringo and their followers were against the Earp family. Holliday had become quite famous as a gunman by the time he had reached Tombstone, and was a welcome addition to the Earp's fight with the gang of cowboys.

One of them, Johnny Tyler, and Doc had a dispute in the Oriental Saloon, early in October, 1880. Tyler left as quickly as possible but Doc and Milt Joyce, the saloon owner, continue to argue. The argument turned into gunplay and Doc drunkenly fired several shots. Joyce struck Doc on the head with a pistol. Joyce was shot through the hand, Parker, his bartender, was shot in his foot and Holliday had a lump on his head from the pistol-whipping by Joyce. Doc was arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon.

Most likely that is why the cowboys were in a vacant lot next door near the O.K. Corral. They may have been waiting for Doc to come back to the room they shared. They would have an opportunity to kill him.

On Jan. 17, 1882, the gunfight between Wyatt, Doc and Ringo went down. Many would say that Ringo challenged all the Earps and Holliday. On March 18, 1882, the assassins struck again. Morgan Earp was playing pool with Bob Hatch at Campbell and Hatch's Saloon and Billiard Parlor. A shot was fired from the darkness of the alley. That shot struck him in the back and snuffed out his life.

Two days later, the Earp party encountered Frank Stilwell and Ike Clanton at the Tucson Station. Wyatt chased Stilwell down the tracks and filled him full of holes. A jury named Wyatt and Warren Earp, Doc Holliday, "Texas Jack", and McMasters as the men who had killed Stillwell. A Tucson judge issued warrants for their arrests.

Doc Holliday rode beside Wyatt Earp all the way. Wyatt received word that Pete Spencer was at a camp. On March 22, 1882, their posse rode there and found Florentino Cruz, who named the men who had murdered Morgan, himself included. The Earp posse shot him to pieces. Two days later, the Earp posse was riding along a deep wash near Iron Springs when they encountered Curly Bill Brocius and eight of his men. In the fight that followed, Curly Bill was killed and Johnny Barnes was mortally wounded.

In a little more than a year, the list of cowboy outlaws that had been eliminated was astonishing. Doc Holliday accounted for more than his share of the dead cowboys. When he and Wyatt Earp left Tombstone for good, they rode their horses to Silver City, New Mexico, sold them, took a stagecoach to Deming, and boarded a train for Colorado.

Doc was arrested in Denver shortly after his arrival. While Doc was in jail the Denver Republican of May 22, 1882, ran the following: "Holliday has a big reputation as a fighter, and has probably put more rustlers and cowboys under the sod than any other one man in the west. He had been the terror of the lawless element in Arizona, and with the Earps was the only man brave enough to face the bloodthirsty crowd which has made the name of Arizona a stench in the nostrils of decent men."

Holliday said in an interview, "Eight rustlers rose up from behind the bank and poured from 35 to 40 shots at us. Our escape was miraculous. The shots cut our clothes and saddles and killed one horse, but did not hit us. I think we would have been killed if God Almighty wasn't on our side. Wyatt Earp turned loose with a shotgun and killed Curly Bill. The eight men in the gang which attacked us were all outlaws, for each of whom a big reward has been offered... If Mallan was along side Curly Bill when he was killed, he was with one of the worst gangs of murderers and robbers in the country."

For the last five years of his life, the former dentist tied to give up his gunfighter lifestyle. Holliday claimed he almost lost his life a total of nine times. Four attempts were made to hang him and he was shot in a gunfight or from ambush five times.

In May 1887, Holliday went to Glenwood Springs to try the sulfur vapors, as his health was steadily growing worse. But he was too far gone. He spent his last two months sick in bed. Accounts say that on Nov. 8, 1887, he awoke clear-eyed and asked for a glass of whiskey. His last words were, "This is funny", and died. Doc Holliday was just 36 years old. His final resting place is in the Pioneer Cemetery, in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

Source: "The Chronicles of Tombstone" by Ben T. Traywick.

Americanwest.com -- More about Doc Holliday

Doc Holliday Society -- Organization devoted to Doc's legacy

 

Map of Arizona.jpg (55174 bytes)

Map of Arizona

 

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Map of the reservations and Four Corners 

 

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