Doc Holliday

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This article is about the American historical figure. For other uses, see Doc Holliday (disambiguation).
Doc Holliday
Doc HollidayatAge20.jpg
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.
Resting place
Pioneer Cemetery, Linwood, Colorado, U.S.
39°32′21.987″N 107°19′9.02″W / 39.53944083°N 107.3191722°W / 39.53944083; -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
  • 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 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 two years later he was 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. 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 responsble. They found Frank Stilwell lying in wait as Virgil boarded a train for California and killed him. The local Sheriff issued a warrent 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.

Holiday'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.[2]:415[3]

Early life and education[edit]

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

In 1864, his family moved to Valdosta, Georgia,[6] 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,[6] where he received a strong classical secondary education in rhetoric, grammar, mathematics, history, and languages—principally Latin but also French and some Ancient Greek.[6]

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.[2]:50

Holliday moved to St. Louis, Missouri so he could work as an assistant for a classmate, A. Jameson Fuches, Jr.[2]:51 Within four months, at the end of July, he relocated again to Atlanta. He lived with his uncle and his family so he could begin to build up his dental practice.[8] 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. But Holliday's work as a dentist in private practice only lasted until December.[2]:53, 55

After moving to Dallas, Texas, Holliday and his partner Dr. John A. Seegar 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."[7]

Shortly after beginning his dental practice, Holliday was diagnosed with tuberculosis.[9] He may have contracted the disease from his mother. He was given only a few months to live, but he thought that moving to the drier and warmer Southwestern United States might slow the deterioration of his health.[4][10]

Gambler and gunman[edit]

Autographed photo of Holliday taken in 1879 in Prescott, Arizona
Big Nose Kate

Holliday was educated as a dentist, but due to tuberculosis, was unable to continue work in the field. He became a gambler and developed a reputation as a deadly man with either a knife or gun.

Fight in Georgia[edit]

One of the earliest shootings Holliday was reportedly involved in happened 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 youth. Holliday and his companions told them to leave, but they refused. Accounts of this event varied, as violence against blacks was largely undocumented at the time. Holliday left and returned carrying either a shotgun or a pistol and started shooting. Some of the African-Americans may have shot back. Accounts of the incident by some family members and friends reported that Holliday killed from one to three youth, but other members of Holliday's family later denied that he killed anyone that day.[2]:64–67

In September 1873, Holliday moved to Dallas, Texas, where he opened a dental office with fellow dentist and Georgian John A. Seegar. Their office was located between Market and Austin Streets along Elm Street, about three blocks east of the site of today's Dealey Plaza.[11] He soon began gambling and realized he could make more money gambling, since patients weren't inclined to patronize his practice due to his persistent cough. On May 12, 1874, Holliday and 12 others were indicted in Dallas for illegal gambling.[11] 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.

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.[12] 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.[8]: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 of Breckenridge, 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.[8]: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. Fully recovered, Holliday relocated to Fort Griffin, Texas, where he met Mary Katharine Horony and began a long-time relationship with her.[8]: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.[8]: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.[13] 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.[14][15] Whatever actually happened, Earp credited Holliday with saving his life that day and he and Earp became friends.[16]

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.[8]:113 He gained the nickname "Doc" during this period.[2]:74

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. One report said that he began firing into the building,[17] and when he saw Doc step outside, shot at him.[18] He missed, however, and before he could fire another shot, Holliday pulled his own weapon and shot him. Gordon died the next day, and Holliday left town.[17] Doc fled to Dodge City as authorities tried to capture him for questioning and for his gambling.

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.[2]: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".[2]:78–79

Move to Arizona[edit]

Dodge City had been a frontier cowtown for seeral 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. Accompanied by his common-law wife Mattie Blaylock, his brother Jim and his wife Bessie, they left for Arizona Territory.[20][19]:18[21]:30–31 They stopped in Las Vegas, New Mexico, where Wyatt reunited with Holliday. Holiday decided to join them and with his common-law wife Big Nose Kate travled to Prescott. Holliday remained in Prescott where the gambling opportunities were better while Wyatt, Virgil, and James Earp with their wives left for Tombstone.[19]

Holiday joined the Earps in Tombstone in September 1880. Some accounts report that the Earps sent for Holliday for assistance with dealing with the outaw 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.

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 the attempted stagecoach robbery and murders. Holliday was a good friend of Bill Leonard, a former watchmaker from New York, one of three men implicated in the robbery.[22]:181 Judge Wells Spicer issued an arrest warrant for Holliday. 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 robbed a stagecoach. 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.

Holliday was arrested for the stagecoach robbery.[23] The Earps found witnesses who could attest to Holliday's location at the time of the 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.[23]

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 a city ordinance that required them to deposit their weapons at a saloon or stable soon after arriving in town. Fearing trouble, Virgila deputized Holliday. Accompanied by Wyatt and Morgan, the men went to find the Cowboys, and Virgil retrieved a short shotugn from the Wells Fargo office.

Enroute, they ran into Cochise County Sheriff Johnny Behan, who told them 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.[24] 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.[25]

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.[26][27] 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.[28]

Big Nose Kate, his longtime companion, remembered Holliday's reaction after his role in the O.K. Corral gunfight. She reported that Holliday came back to his room, sat on the bed, wept, and said, "That was awful—awful".[8]:169 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.[29] 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.[30]

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.[31]

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.[2]

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.[32]:230 Late in the evening of May 29, Masterson needed 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." After meeting with Masterson, Pitkin was persuaded by whatever evidence he presented and refused to honor Arizona's extradition request.[32] 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.[32]

Masterson took Holliday to Pueblo, where he was released on bond two weeks after his arrest.[33] Holliday and Wyatt met briefly 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"[34] that cannot be relied upon.[35]: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 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. 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[8] 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.[8]: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.[8]:218 One of Holliday's last gunfights happened in a saloon in Leadville, Colorado. An inexperienced and arrogant gunfighter named Billy Allen allegedly challenged Holliday to a duel. When Holliday replied that he carried no weapon, Allen sent insults to him, making him leave the saloon bitter. Allen again spoke to Doc, but was said to be armed and had a pistol in his pocket. When Doc saw Allen trying to draw his pistol, Doc let out two shots from his own, one hitting Allen in the arm and disarming him. But at that time, Holliday's disease had already taken a toll on him. 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.[2]:373

Final days[edit]

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 sanatorium in Glenwood Springs was not built until many years after Holliday's death.[36]) 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.[8]: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."[6] He always figured he would be killed someday with his boots on.[2]:372 Holliday died at 10 am on November 8, 1887. He was 36.[7] 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.[2]: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.[8]: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.[2]:14, 41 Holliday himself was later to say that he had joined a Methodist church in Dallas.[2]: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."[2]: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[37] 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. And the papers reported at the time explicitly that the burial was in the Linwood Cemetery; no exhumation has been attempted.[2]: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.[2]:410 According to Tombstone, Arizona resident George 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 intially 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.[31]


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."[38]: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."[39]: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.[2]:410 Overall, Holliday was in at least five one-on-one gunfights in his lifetime.[23]

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."[40]

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.[8]

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".[8]

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.[41]

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.[8]: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.[41] 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".[2]: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.[42]


Life-size 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 culture,[43] 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.[2] Together with Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday has become a modern symbol of loyalty, brotherhood, and friendship.[44]

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.[45][46] 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.[47] It was won by local resident Jason Norton.[48]

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 of Griffin, 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 numerous westerns TV shows and movies have been made about it. Holliday is usually a prominent part of the story.

In movies and film[edit]

Actors who have portrayed Holliday include:[49]

In non-fiction[edit]

  • Lynch, Sylvia D. (1995). Aristocracy's Outlaw: The Doc Holliday Story. Tennessee Iris Press. ISBN 0-9645781-0-7. 
  • Roberts, Gary L. (2006). Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend. John Wiley and Sons, Inc. ISBN 0-471-26291-9. 
  • Tanner, Karen Holliday (1998). Doc Holliday: A Family Portrait. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-3320-1. 

In fiction[edit]

In song[edit]

  • "Linwood", written and performed by Jon Chandler on The Grand Dame of the Rockies – Songs of the Hotel Colorado and the Roaring Fork Valley; winner of the 2009 Western Writers of America Spur Award for Best Song[53]
  • Danish metal band Volbeat performs the song "Doc Holliday" on their album Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies.
  • The song "Doc Holliday" is featured on the 2010 album Suffocation by Latent Anxiety.
  • The band Doc Holliday
  • The band Doc Holliday Takes the Shotgun
  • The song "Tombstones" from the album "Larry Keel Experience" [written by Larry Keel]
  • The song "Doc Holliday" from Volbeat on the album "Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies"

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Linder, Douglas, ed. (2007). "The Earp-Holliday Trial: An Account". University of Missouri at Kansas City-School of Law. doi:10.2139/ssrn.1023000. Retrieved 14 April 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Roberts, Gary L. (2006). Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend. John Wiley and Sons, Inc. ISBN 0-471-26291-9. :407–409
  3. ^ Walter Noble Burns in Tombstone : An Illiad of the Southwest, placed the fatalities as three
  4. ^ a b c d e "John Henry Holliday Family History". Kansas Heritage Group. Retrieved March 30, 2015. 
  5. ^ Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System of the National Park Service
  6. ^ a b c d e {{cite journal|title=Valdosta's most infamous resident – John Henry "Doc" Holliday|journal=Valdosta Scene|date=January 1, 2010|first=Dean|last=Poling|volume=VI|issue=1|pages=19 – 20|id= |url= |accessdate=April 10, 2010 }
  7. ^ a b c Ballard, Susan. "Facts Any Good Doc Holliday Aficionado Should Know". Tombstone Times. Retrieved March 30, 2015. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Holliday, Karen Tanner (2001). Doc Holliday: A Family Portrait. Norman: University Of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-3320-1. 
  9. ^ "Doc Holliday". A&E Television Networks, LLC. Retrieved 21 October 2014. 
  10. ^ "John Henry "Doc" Holliday, D.D.S.". Dodge City, Kansas: Ford County Historical Society. 
  11. ^ a b Erik J. Wright (December 2001). "Looking For Doc in Dallas". True West Magazine, pp. 42–43.
  12. ^ "Legends of America: Doc Holliday". Legends of America. Retrieved November 7, 2011. 
  13. ^ Cozzone, Chris; Boggio, Jim (2013). Boxing in New Mexico, 1868-1940. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. ISBN 978-0786468287. 
  14. ^ Geringer, Joseph. "Wyatt Earp: Knight With A Six-Shooter". Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  15. ^ Erwin, Richard (March 2000). The Truth About Wyatt Earp (paperback ed.). iUniverse. p. 464. ISBN 9780595001279. Retrieved 31 March 2015. 
  16. ^ Linder, Douglas, ed. (2005). "Testimony of Wyatt S. Earp in the Preliminary Hearing in the Earp-Holliday Case". Famous Trials: The O. K. Corral Trial. Retrieved February 6, 2011.  From Turner, Alford (Ed.), The O. K. Corral Inquest (1992)
  17. ^ a b Weiser, Kathy (March 2010). "John Joshua Webb". Legends of America. 
  18. ^ "Doc Holliday kills for the first time". This Day in History. Retrieved November 7, 2011. 
  19. ^ a b c Monahan, Sherry (2013). Mrs. Earp (First ed.). TwoDot. ASIN B00I1LVKYA. 
  20. ^ Guinn, Jeff (2011-05-17). The Last Gunfight: the Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral and How It Changed the American West (1st Simon & Schuster hardcover ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4391-5424-3. 
  21. ^ Paula Mitchell Marks (1989). And Die in the West: the Story of the O.K. Corral Gunfight. New York: Morrow. ISBN 0-671-70614-4. 
  22. ^ Weir, William (2009). History's Greatest Lies: the Startling Truths Behind World Events our History Books Got Wrong. Beverly, MA: Fair Winds Press. p. 288. ISBN 1-59233-336-2. 
  23. ^ a b c "Bad Hombres: Doc Holliday". 
  24. ^ Urban, William L. (2003). "Tombstone". Wyatt Earp: The Ok Corral and the Law of the American West. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 75. ISBN 978-0-8239-5740-8. 
  25. ^ Lubet, Steven (2004). Murder in Tombstone: the Forgotten Trial of Wyatt Earp. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. p. 288. ISBN 978-0-300-11527-7. Retrieved November 29, 2011. 
  26. ^ Tombstone Nugget; October 27, 1881 article
  27. ^ "Another Chapter in the Bloody Episode". Famous Trials. Retrieved 7 February 2011. 
  28. ^ Tombstone Epitaph October 27, 1881
  29. ^ "Wyatt Earp's Vendetta Posse". January 29, 2007. Retrieved February 18, 2011. 
  30. ^ "Wyatt Earp's Vendetta Posse". Retrieved April 26, 2014. 
  31. ^ a b The Natural American: Doc Holliday
  32. ^ a b c DeArment, Robert K. Bat Masterson: The Man and the Legend. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 442. ISBN 978-0-8061-2221-2. 
  33. ^ Cristalen. "Biographical Notes Bat Masterson". Retrieved May 12, 2011. 
  34. ^ Ortega, Tony (December 24, 1998). "How the West Was Spun". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved May 29, 2011. 
  35. ^ Blaise Cronin, ed. (2006). Annual Review of Information Science and Technology. Medford, N.J.: Information Today. ISBN 978-1-57387-242-3. 
  36. ^ Glenwood History
  37. ^ The Illustrated Life and Times of Doc Holliday, Bob Boze Bell, Tri Star-Boze Publications, (1995) ISBN 1-887576-00-2.
  38. ^ Myers, John Myers (1973). Doc Holliday. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-5781-3. 
  39. ^ Metzger, Jeff (2010). The Rogue's Handbook: A Concise Guide to Conduct for the Aspiring Gentleman Rogue. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks. ISBN 978-1-4022-4365-3. 
  40. ^ "Interview with Virgil Earp Arizona Daily Star". Arizona Affairs. May 30, 1882. Archived from the original on April 28, 2009. Retrieved May 24, 2011.  Originally published in the Arizona Daily Star on May 30, 1882
  41. ^ a b Paul, Lee. "John Henry Holliday". Retrieved October 29, 2011. 
  42. ^ Rowe, Jeremy (2002). "Thoughts on Kaloma, the Purported Photograph of Josie Earp". Retrieved June 6, 2011. 
  43. ^ Top Ten Greatest Sidekicks
  44. ^ Microsoft Encarta 2009; Doc Holliday
  45. ^ Miller, Susan L. (2006). Shop Tucson!. Lulu Press. p. 97. ISBN 978-1-4303-0141-7. 
  46. ^ Roberts (2011, p. 247) Wyatt Earp later claimed that Doc and I were the only ones in Tucson at the time Frank Stillwell was killed
  47. ^ Harris, Kay (January 1, 2010). "Happy Birthday Valdosta! – City celebrates Sesquicentennial in 2010". Valdosta Scene VI (1): 8 – 9. 
  48. ^ Chick, Jonathan; Leavy, Paul (February 2, 2010). "Photo Galley – Valdosta Sesquicentennial". Valdosta Scene VI (2): 54 – 57. 
  49. ^ Doc Holliday characters at
  50. ^ "Wyatt Meets Doc Holliday". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved April 16, 2014. 
  51. ^ "Full Cast and Crew for The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved January 23, 2013. 
  52. ^ Stagecoach (1986 film) at the Internet Movie Database
  53. ^ "Best Western Song". Spur Award History. Western Writers of America. 2009. Retrieved October 4, 2011.

External links[edit]