Doc Holliday

This article is about the American historical figure. For other uses, see Doc Holliday (disambiguation).
Doc Holliday

John Holliday, age 20
Born John Henry Holliday
August 14, 1851
Griffin, Georgia, U.S.
Died November 8, 1887(1887-11-08) (aged 36)
Glenwood Springs, Colorado, U.S.
Cause of death Tuberculosis
Resting place Pioneer Cemetery (aka Linwood Cemetery), Glenwood Springs, Colorado, U.S.
39°32′21.988″N 107°19′9.02″W / 39.53944111°N 107.3191722°W / 39.53944111; -107.3191722 (Pioneer Cemetery)
Education Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery
Occupation Dentist, professional gambler, gunfighter
Known for Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
Earp Vendetta Ride
Spouse(s) Big Nose Kate (m. 1877–82) (common-law wife)
  • 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 of Wyatt Earp. He is most well known for his role as a temporary deputy marshal in the events leading up to and following 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 the American Southwest would ease his symptoms, he moved to that region and became a gambler, a reputable profession in Arizona 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 Earp 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 Tombstone city marshal Virgil Earp. The lawmen attempted to disarm five outlaw cowboys, which turned into the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Following 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 formally 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. 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, contrary to considerable popular myth-making, Holliday only killed from three to seven men and took part in nine shootouts.[3]:415

Early life and education

Holliday was born in Griffin, Georgia, to Henry Burroughs Holliday and Alice Jane (McKey) Holliday.[4] He was of English ancestry.[5] His father served in the Mexican–American War and the Civil War (as a Confederate). When the war ended, he brought home an adopted son named Francisco and taught Holliday to shoot.[6] Holliday was baptized at the First Presbyterian Church of Griffin in 1852.[7] He had a sister, Martha Eleanora Holliday, born December 3, 1849, who died at the age of six months.[8][9]

In 1864, his family moved to Valdosta, Georgia,[7] where his mother died of tuberculosis on September 16, 1866.[4] The same disease killed his adopted brother. Three months after his wife's death, his father married Rachel Martin.

Holliday attended the Valdosta Institute,[7] where he received a strong classical education in rhetoric, grammar, mathematics, history, and languages—principally Latin, but some French and Ancient Greek.[7]

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 Surgery (now part of the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine).[4] Holliday graduated five months before his 21st birthday, so the school held his degree until he turned 21, the minimum age required to practice dentistry.[10]:50

Begins dental practice

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 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.[11] A few weeks before his birthday, dentist Arthur C. Ford advertised in the Atlanta papers that Holliday would substitute for him while he was attending dental meetings.

Fight in Georgia

Holliday was reported to have been involved in a shooting on the Withlacoochee River, Georgia, in 1873. At age 22, Holliday went with some friends to their favorite swimming hole, 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. 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 of the youths, but other members of Holliday's family disputed those accounts.[3]:64–67

Diagnosed with tuberculosis

Shortly after beginning his dental practice, Holliday was diagnosed with tuberculosis.[12] He was given only a few months to live, but was told that a drier and warmer climate might slow the deterioration of his health.[4][13] After Dr. Ford's return in September, Holliday left for Dallas, Texas, the "last big city before the uncivilized Western Frontier."[3]:53, 55

Move to Dallas

When he arrived in Dallas, Holliday partnered with a friend of his father's, Dr. John A. Seegar.[14] 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 received all three awards: "Best set of teeth in gold", "Best in vulcanized rubber", and "Best set of artificial teeth and dental ware."[15] Their office was located along Elm Street, between Market and Austin Streets.[16] 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 Streets.

His 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.[14] On May 12, 1874, Holliday and 12 others were indicted in Dallas for illegal gambling.[16] He was arrested in Dallas in January 1875 after trading gunfire with a saloon keeper, Charles Austin, but no one was injured and he was found not guilty.[4] He moved his offices to Denison, Texas. But after being found guilty of, and fined for, gaming in Dallas, he decided to leave the state.

Heads farther west

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 Holliday left Ryan seriously wounded.[17]

Holliday 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 Saloon. In the fall of 1876, Miller moved the Bella Union to Deadwood (site of the gold rush in the Dakota Territory), and Holliday went with him.[11]:101–103

In 1877, Holliday returned to Cheyenne, and then 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 of Breckenridge. On July 4, 1877, he got involved in an altercation with another gambler, Henry Kahn, whom Holliday beat repeatedly with his walking stick. Both men were arrested and fined, but later that same day, Kahn shot the unarmed Holliday, wounding him seriously.[11]:106–109

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. Once healed, Holliday relocated to Fort Griffin, Texas. While dealing cards at John Shanssey’s saloon, he met Mary Katharine "Big Nose Kate" Harony, a dance hall woman and occasional prostitute. Her nose was a prominent feature. "Tough, stubborn and fearless," she was educated, but chose to work as a prostitute because she liked her independence. She is the only woman with whom Holliday is known to have had a relationship.[11]:109[14]

Befriends Wyatt Earp

In October 1877, outlaw Dave Rudabaugh robbed a Sante Fe Railroad construction camp and fled south. 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 known since he was 21.[11]: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.[18] Holliday told Earp that Rudabaugh was headed back to Kansas.

Photo of the interior of the Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City, Kansas, taken between 1870 and 1885

After about a month in Fort Griffin, Earp returned to Ft Clark[19] and in early 1878, he went to Dodge City, where he became the assistant city marshal, serving under Charlie Bassett. During the summer of 1878, Holliday and his common-law wife, Harony, also arrived in Dodge City, where they stayed at Deacon Cox’s boardinghouse as Dr. and Mrs. John H. Holliday. Doc sought to practice dentistry again, and ran an ad in the local paper:

John H. Holliday, Dentist, very respectfully offers his professional services to the citizens of Dodge City and surrounding county during the Summer. Office at Room No. 24 Dodge House. Where satisfaction is not given, money will be refunded.

According to accounts of the following event reported by John Flood in his unpublished manuscript and by Glenn Boyer in I Married Wyatt Earp, Earp had run cowboys Tobe Driscall and Ed Morrison out of Wichita earlier in 1878. During the summer, the two cowboys accompanied by another two dozen men rode into Dodge and shot up the town while 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 upon hearing the noise, quietly came out and put his pistol at Morrison's head, forcing his men and him to disarm.[20][21]

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. No account of any such confrontation was reported by any of the Dodge City newspapers at the time.[9][21] Whatever actually happened, Earp credited Holliday with saving his life that day, and Earp and he became friends.[20][22]

Other confrontations

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.[11]: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 19-year-old eyewitness Miguel Otero, who would later become Governor of New Mexico Territory, 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, South Carolina, and got into a gunfight with an unnamed soldier whom Holliday shot and killed. Historian Gary L. Roberts found a record for a Private Robert Smith who had been shot and killed by an "unknown assailant".[3]:78–79

Move to New Mexico

Dodge City had been a frontier cowtown for several years, but by 1879 had begun to settle down. Later in life, Wyatt wrote, "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."[23]:17 Holliday had become well known for his skill with a gun, as well as with the cards.[24]:186

In 1879, Virgil Earp wrote Wyatt and told him 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.[23]:18[25][26]: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.[26]

Royal Gorge War

In Dodge City, Doc joined a team being formed by Deputy U.S. Marshal Bat Masterson. He had been asked to prevent an outbreak of guerrilla war between the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, which were vying to be the first to claim a right-of-way across the Royal Gorge, (one of the routes through the Rockies that crossed the continental divide and would reach the Pacific Coast) . Both were striving to be the first to provide rail access to the boom town of Leadville.[27] Royal Gorge was a bottleneck along the Arkansas, too narrow for both railroads to pass through, and with no other reasonable access to the South Park area. Doc remained there 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.[28] 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, NM where Big Nose Kate had remained.

Builds saloon in Las Vegas, NM

The Santa Fe Railroad built tracks to Las Vegas, New Mexico, but bypassed the city by about a mile. A new town was built up near the tracks and prostitution and gambling flourished there. On July 19, 1879, Holliday and John Joshua Webb, former lawman and gunman, were seated in a saloon. 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,[29] and a few hours later, Gordon was found mortally wounded outside. Some attribute the shooting to Holliday, but no conclusive evidence of who killed Gordon was ever found.[29][30] 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. While in town, he was fined twice for keeping a gambling device, and again for carrying a deadly weapon.[31]:134

Move to Arizona Territory

Autographed photo of Holliday taken in 1879 in Prescott, 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. Holliday and his wife 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 few 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.[23][31]:134 Holliday 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

Holliday and 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 and Company passenger stage on March 15, 1881, carrying US$26,000 in silver bullion (about $638,614 in today's dollars). Three Cowboys stopped the stage between Tombstone and Benson, Arizona.[32]: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.[33]

Holliday was a good friend of Leonard, a former watchmaker from New York.[34]:181 Based on the affidavit sworn by Big Nose Kate, Judge Wells Spicer issued an arrest warrant for Holliday.[35]

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 buffaloed Holliday, knocking him out.[35]

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 did not 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.[35]

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

On October 26, 1881, Virgil Earp was both Deputy U.S. Marshal and 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. The Cowboys had repeatedly threatened the Earps and Holliday. Fearing trouble, Virgil temporarily deputized Holliday and sought backup from his brothers Wyatt and Morgan. Virgil retrieved a short messenger shotgun from the Wells Fargo office and the four men went to find the Cowboys.[36]

On Fremont Street, 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.[37] The lawmen found the Cowboys in a narrow 15– to 20-ft-wide lot on Fremont Street, between Fly's boarding house and the Harwood house. Holliday was boarding at Fly's house and Holliday possibly thought they were waiting there to kill him.[38]

Different witnesses offered varying stories about Holliday's actions. Cowboys witnesses testified that Holliday first pulled out a chrome-plated pistol he was known to carry, while others reported he first fired a longer, bronze-colored gun, possibly the coach gun. Holliday killed Tom McLaury with a shotgun blast in the side of his chest. Holliday was grazed by a bullet possibly fired by Frank McLaury who was on Fremont Street at the time. He supposedly challenged Holliday, yelling, "I've got you now!" Holliday is reported to have replied, "Blaze away! You're a daisy if you have." Frank died of a shot in his stomach and behind his ear. Holliday may have also wounded Billy Clanton.[39]

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.[40][41] Morgan is highly unlikely to have fired the fatal shot, as he had been shot across both shoulder blades, possibly leaving him incapable of shooting accurately.[42]

Big Nose Kate 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",[11]: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 duties as lawmen, although this did not pacify Ike Clanton.

Earp Vendetta Ride

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. In that time, 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, whom they thought were lying in wait to kill Virgil. On March 20, 1882, Frank Stilwell's body was found at dawn alongside the railroad tracks, riddled with buckshot and gunshot wounds.[43] 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.[44]

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.

On the morning of March 22, a portion of the Earp posse including Wyatt, Warren, Doc Holliday, Sherman McMaster, and "Turkey Creek" Johnson rode about 10 mi (16 km) east to Pete Spence's ranch and woodcutting camp off the Chiricahua Road, below the South Pass of the Dragoon Mountains.[29][45][46]

According to Theodore Judah, who witnessed events at the wood camp, the Earp posse arrived around 11:00 am and asked for Pete Spence and Florentino "Indian Charlie" Cruz. They learned Spence was in jail[43] and that Cruz was cutting wood nearby. They followed the direction Judah indicated and Judah soon heard a dozen or so shots. When Cruz did not return the next morning, Judah went looking for him, and found his body full of bullet holes.[47]

Gunfight at Iron Springs

Two days later, Earp's posse traveled to Iron Springs located in the Whetstone Mountains, where they expected to meet Charlie Smith, who was supposed to be bringing $1,000 cash from their supporters in Tombstone. With Wyatt and Doc Holliday in the lead, the six lawmen surmounted a small rise overlooking the springs. They surprised eight cowboys camping near the springs. Curly Bill recognized Wyatt Earp in the lead and immediately drew his shotgun and fired at Earp. The other Cowboys also drew their weapons and began firing. Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday left the only record of the fight. Earp dismounted, shotgun in hand. "Texas Jack" Vermillion’s horse was shot and fell on him, pinning his leg and wedging his rifle underneath. Lacking cover, Doc, Johnson, and McMaster retreated.

Wyatt returned Curly Bill's gunfire with his own shotgun and shot Curly Bill in the chest, nearly cutting him in half according to Wyatt's later account.[48] Curly Bill fell into the water by the edge of the spring and lay dead.[49]

The Cowboys fired a number of shots at the Earp party, but the only casualty was "Texas Jack" Vermillion's horse, which was killed. Wyatt's long coat was punctured by bullets on both sides. Another bullet struck his boot heel and his saddle horn was hit, as well, burning the saddle hide and narrowly missing Wyatt. Firing his pistol, Wyatt shot Johnny Barnes in the chest and Milt Hicks in the arm. Vermillion tried to retrieve his rifle wedged in the scabbard under his fallen horse, exposing himself to the Cowboys' gunfire. Doc Holliday helped him gain cover. Wyatt had trouble remounting his horse because his cartridge belt had slipped down around his legs. He was finally able to get on his horse and retreat. McMaster was grazed by a bullet that cut through the straps of his field glasses.[43]

Earp and Holliday part company

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 Territory and then Colorado. Wyatt and Holliday, who had been fast friends since Holliday saved Earp's life in Dodge City during 1878,[22] had a serious disagreement and parted ways in Albuquerque.[50] According to a letter written by former New Mexico Territory Governor Miguel Otero, Wyatt and Holliday were eating at Fat Charlie's The Retreat Restaurant in Albuquerque "when Holliday said something about Earp becoming 'a damn Jew-boy.' Earp became angry and left…. Wyatt was staying with a prominent businessman Henry N. Jaffa, who was also president of New Albuquerque’s Board of Trade. Jaffa was also Jewish, and based on the letter, Earp had, while staying in Jaffa’s home, honored Jewish tradition by touching the mezuzah upon entering his home. According to Otero's letter, Jaffa told him, "Earp’s woman was a Jewess." Earp's anger at Holliday's racial slur may indicate that the relationship between Josephine Marcus and Wyatt Earp was more serious at the time than is commonly known.[51][52] Holliday and Dan Tipton arrived in Pueblo, Colorado in late April 1882.[3]

Arrives in Colorado

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, Chief of Police of Trinidad, Colorado, to help get Holliday released. Masterson drew up bunco charges against Holliday.[53]

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. Pitkin was persuaded by the evidence presented by Masterson and refused to honor Arizona's extradition request.[53]:230

Masterson took Holliday to Pueblo, where he was released on bond two weeks after his arrest.[54] Holliday and Wyatt met again in June 1882 in Gunnison[55]after Wyatt helped to keep his friend from being convicted on murder charges against Frank Stillwell;[56] and then again lastly Holliday was able to see his old friend Wyatt in the late winter of 1886, where they met in the lobby of the Windsor Hotel. Sadie Marcus described the skeletal Holliday as having a continuous cough and standing on "unsteady legs.”[57]

Death of Johnny Ringo

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"[58] that cannot be relied upon.[59]:489

The newspaper in Salida, Colorado, reported that Holliday had arrived there on July 7, six days and 500 mi (800 km) from where Ringo died. However, district court records from Pueblo 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. 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 Latin legal 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 actually in Pueblo[11] and that his attorney appeared on his behalf. Tanner asserts that the phrase was standard legal filler and does not prove that Holliday was physically present in court.[11]:295–5

Big Nose Kate

Death and burial

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 began to deteriorate.[11]:218 One of Holliday's last shootings took place in Hyman's saloon in Leadville. 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 had pawned his jewelry, and when Allen demanded he be repaid, Holliday could not comply. Fearful Allen would come gunning for him, Holliday secreted a weapon behind the counter at Hyman'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 Hyman's earlier in the day apparently looking for Holliday. On March 28, 1885, the jury acquitted Holliday.[60]

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 murder.[3]:373

Final days

The records were lost of exactly where Holliday's body is located within the cemetery, so the City of Glenwood 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.[61]) 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.[11]: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.[15] 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 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.[11]: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 reportedly attended by "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 such as Bob Boze Bell[62] speculate that it would have been impossible to transport him to the cemetery, which was only accessible by 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

Publicly, Holliday could be as fierce as was needed for a gambling man to earn respect, and his reputation as a skilled gunfighter is generally agreed upon by historians.[3]:410 According to Tombstone resident George W. Parsons, Holliday told Johnny Ringo in January 1882, "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. 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 rail yard, and Holliday may have been one of several men who shot him. Holliday joined Wyatt and other men as part of 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.[63]


Throughout his lifetime, Doc was known by many of his peers as a tempered, calm, Southern gentleman. In an 1896 article, Wyatt Earp said,

I found him a loyal friend and good company. He was a dentist whom necessity had made a gambler; a gentleman whom disease had made a vagabond; a philosopher whom life had made a caustic wit; a long, lean blonde fellow nearly dead with consumption and at the same time the most skillful gambler and nerviest, speediest, deadliest man with a six-gun I ever knew.[64]

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."[65]:189

Stabbings and shootings

Much of Holliday's violent reputation was nothing but rumors and self promotion. However, he showed great skill in gambling and gunfights. His tuberculosis did not hamper his ability as a gambler and a marksman. Holliday was ambidextrous.[38]:96

No contemporaneous newspaper accounts or legal records offer proof of the many unnamed men whom Holliday is credited with killing in popular folklore. The only men he is know to have killed are Mike Gordon in 1879; a soldier possibly named Pvt. Robert Smith; Tom McLaury in Tombstone; and possibly Frank Stilwell in Tucson. 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.[35]

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.[66]

Arrests and convictions

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, for which he was acquitted. In the preliminary hearing following the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Judge Wells Spicer exonerated Holliday's actions as those of a duly appointed lawman. In Denver, the Arizona warrant against Holliday 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.[11]

Among 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 (for his shooting of Joyce and Parker). The others were all dismissed or returned as "not guilty".[11]

Alleged murder of Ed Bailey

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.[67]

The story of Holliday killing Bailey first appeared nine years after Doc Holliday’s death in an 1896 interview with Wyatt Earp that was published in the San Francisco Enquirer.[68] 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.[11]: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.[67] However, no contemporaneous records have been found of either Bailey's death or of the shed fire. In addition, Big Nose Kate denied that Doc killed "a man named Bailey over a poker game, nor was he arrested and locked up in another hotel room." She laughed at the idea of "a 116-pound woman, standing off a deputy, ordering him to throw up his hands, disarming him, rescuing her lover and hustling him to the waiting ponies."[3]:87

Author and Earp expert Ben Traywick doubts that Holliday killed Bailey. He could find no newspaper articles or court records to support the story. He found evidence to support that Holliday was being held in his hotel room under guard, but for "illegal gambling", and that the story of Big Nose Kate starting a fire as a diversion to free him was true.[9] The story about Bailey as told in San Francisco Enquirer interview of Earp may have been fabricated by the writer. Years later, Earp wrote:

Of all the nonsensical guff which has been written around my life, there has been none more inaccurate or farfetched than that which has dealt with Doc Holliday. After Holliday died, I gave a San Francisco newspaper reporter a short sketch of his life. Apparently the reporter was not satisfied. The sketch appeared in print with a lot of things added that never existed outside the reporter’s imagination…[68]

Photos of Holliday

Three photos of unknown provenance are 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 rarely offer even a tentative identification of new or unique images of famous people based solely on similarities shared with other known images.[69]


Life-sized statues of lawman Wyatt 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 American Western culture,[70] 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.[71]

A life-sized statue of Holliday and Earp by sculptor Dan Bates was dedicated by the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum at the restored Historic 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.[72][73]

"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.[74] It was won by local resident Jason Norton.[75]

Holliday was nationally known during his life as a gambler and gunman. The shootout at the O.K. Corral is one of the most famous frontier stories in the American West, and numerous Western TV shows and movies have been made about it. Holliday is usually a prominent part of the story.


In film and television

Actors who have portrayed Holliday include:[76]

In fiction

In song


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Further reading

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