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
Holliday's dental school graduation photo at age 20 in 1872
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
39°32′21.987″N 107°19′9.02″W / 39.53944083°N 107.3191722°W / 39.53944083; -107.3191722 (Pioneer Cemetery)
Education Graduated from Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery in 1872 at age 20
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 deputized U.S. Marshal[1] of the American Old West who is most well-known for his friendship with Wyatt Earp and his involvement in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

As a young man, Holliday earned a D.D.S. degree from the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery and set up a dental practice in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1873, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, the same disease that had claimed his mother when he was 15. He moved to the American Southwest in hopes that the climate would prolong his life, taking up gambling as a profession. He subsequently acquired a reputation as a deadly gunman. During his travels, he met and became a good friend of Wyatt Earp and his brothers. In 1880, he followed the Earps to Tombstone, Arizona and took part in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Holliday joined Deputy U.S. Marshal Wyatt Earp's posse in the Earp Vendetta Ride after Virgil Earp was maimed by hidden assailants and Morgan Earp was murdered. They killed four outlaw cowboys during the ride. The members of the federal posse were indicted by the Tucson courts for killing Frank Stilwell. No longer welcome in the state, the posse members 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 a hotel in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, at the age of 36.

Holiday's colorful life and character has 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 was present at nine shootouts.[2][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]

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, which would have been problematic since this age was needed both to hold a D.D.S. degree and to practice dentistry as anything other than a student under a preceptor in Georgia.[7]:p50

Doc won awards as a dentist during the Annual Fair of the North Texas Agricultural, Mechanical, and Blood Stock Association at the Dallas County Fair together with his Dallas, Texas dental partner, Dr. John A. Seegar. Holliday took all three awards - "best set of teeth in gold," "the best in Vulcanized rubber" and "the best set of artificial teeth and dental ware.[8]

Holliday did not go home after graduation, but worked as an assistant with a classmate, A. Jameson Fuches, Jr., in St. Louis, Missouri.[7]:p51 By the end of July, he had moved to Atlanta, where he lived with his uncle and his family while beginning his career as a dentist.[9] A few weeks before his birthday, the Atlanta papers carried an announcement by noted dentist Arthur C. Ford in Atlanta that Holliday would fill his place in the office while he was attending dental meetings. This was the beginning of Holliday's career in private practice as a dentist, but it lasted only a short time, until December.[7]:p53, 55

Holliday's cousin by marriage was Margaret Mitchell, the author of Gone With the Wind.[10]


Author Karen Holliday Tanner reported that Holliday was born with a cleft palate and partly cleft lip that was repaired by his uncle, Dr. J. S. Holliday, and a family cousin, the famous physician Crawford Long. She wrote that Holliday needed many hours of speech therapy conducted by his mother.[9]:24 Another Holliday biographer, Gary L. Roberts, argues that it is unlikely that an infant as young as two months would have undergone cleft palate surgery in that era, as most operations of this type were postponed until the child was around two years old. Roberts asserts that such an early procedure would have been sufficiently noteworthy as to merit mention in local and national media and medical journals. Thus, he considers it doubtful that Holliday had a cleft palate at all and dismisses the claim that a surgical scar is visible in the graduation photograph. In early adulthood, he stood about 5 feet 10 inches (178 cm) and weighed about 160 pounds (73 kg).

Shortly after beginning his dental practice, Holliday was diagnosed with tuberculosis.[11] 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][12]

Gambler and gunman[edit]

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

One of Holliday's earliest alleged shootings happened on the Withlacoochee River in 1873. A young Holliday, together with friends, went to their favorite bathing place, but discovered it occupied by a group of African-American youths. Holliday and his companions told them to leave, but they were defiant. Enraged, Holliday left and returned carrying either a shotgun or a pistol and started firing. Some of the African-Americans may have started firing at him as well. Accounts of this event varied, as violence against blacks was largely undocumented at the time. Some members of Holliday's family later denied that he killed anyone that day; accounts of other family members and friends said that Holliday killed from one to three of the group.[13] In any case, he moved to Dallas shortly thereafter.

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.[14] He soon began gambling and realized this was a more profitable source of income, 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.[14] 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 went to 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.[15] 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.[16]

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.[17]

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 "Big Nose Kate" (Mary Katharine Horony) and began his long-time involvement with her.[17] In Fort Griffin, Holliday was introduced to Wyatt Earp through mutual friend John Shanssey.[18] Earp had pursued an outlaw to Fort Griffin, Texas, before returning to Dodge City in 1878, where he became an assistant city marshal under Charlie Bassett.[19]:31

In the summer of 1878, Holliday assisted Earp during a barroom confrontation when Earp "was surrounded by desperadoes". In Earp's account, a man named Ed Morrison, whom Wyatt had humiliated in Wichita, rode into Dodge together with Tobe Driskill and about 50 Texas gunmen. There, they started shooting and vandalizing before entering the Long Branch Saloon in order to get Wyatt's attention. Wyatt ran through the front door, not realizing what was happening, and the men aimed their pistols and rifles at him, sneering, "Pray and jerk your gun! Your time has come, Earp!" Holliday was playing cards and saw the commotion. He retaliated by drawing his pistol at Morrison's head and saying, "No, friend, you draw or throw your hands up! Any of you bastards pulls a gun and your leader here loses what's left of his brains." The men were then apprehended. Earp credited Holliday with saving his life that day, and the two became friends as a result.[20]

Bat Masterson recalled that, when Holliday was in Jacksonboro, he had a gunfight with an unnamed colored soldier, whom Holliday eventually shot and killed. Historian Gary L. Roberts found records of one Private Jacob Smith, who was gunned down at that time by an "unknown assailant".[21]

Holliday was still practicing dentistry on the side from his rooms in Fort Griffin, Texas, and in Dodge City, Kansas, as indicated in an 1878 Dodge newspaper advertisement (he promised money back for less than complete customer satisfaction), but this is the last known time that he practiced dentistry.[18] He gained the nickname "Doc" during this period.[22]

Holliday was primarily a gambler, but he also developed a reputation as a deadly gunman. One known instance occurred on July 19, 1879, when Holliday and John Joshua Webb, former lawman and noted 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,[23] and when he saw Doc sneaking outside, Gordon shot at him.[24] He missed, however, and before he could get in another shot, Holliday pulled his own weapon and shot him. Gordon died the next day, and Holliday left town.[23] Doc fled to Dodge City as authorities tried to capture him for questioning and for his gambling. Eventually, he settled in Tombstone.

Before leaving Las Vegas, however, 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, so as to settle a score. White was serving customers at the time and took cover behind a bar, then started shooting at Holliday with his six-shooter. A duel commenced, during which Holliday shot White in the scalp. Holliday thought that he had killed White and left for Dodge City, but White actually survived the ordeal.[25]


Dodge City was not a frontier town for long. By 1879, it had become too respectable for the sort of people who had seen it through its early days. For many, it was time to move on to places not yet reached by the civilizing railroad—places where money was to be made. By this time, Holliday was as well known for his prowess as a gunfighter as for his gambling. He made his way to the silver-mining boom town of Tombstone, Arizona Territory, in September 1880 because of his friendship with Wyatt and the other Earp brothers, especially Morgan and Virgil. The Earps had been there since December 1879. Some accounts state that the Earps sent for Holliday when they realized the problems they faced in their feud with the Cochise County Cowboys faction. In Tombstone, Holliday quickly became embroiled in the local politics and violence that led up to the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in October 1881.

Prior to the gunfight, Holliday had heard that a Tombstone bar owner, Milt Joyce, was spreading rumors about him robbing a stagecoach. Joyce had recently disarmed Holliday of his revolver after Holliday's altercation with a fellow gambler named Johnny Tyler. Holliday rushed drunk over to the saloon and sent abuse to Joyce, demanding his firearm back. Joyce refused and threw him out, but Holliday came back carrying a "self cocker" and started firing. Joyce, upon seeing this, brandished a pistol at him, but Holliday shot the six gun out of Joyce's hand, putting a bullet through his palm. Seconds later, he shot Joyce's bartender Parker in the toe when the latter tried to grab his gun. Joyce, on the other hand, quickly managed to counter by picking up his pistol and knocking Holliday out. Holliday was then detained. On October 26, 1881, Doc sought out Ike Clanton when he learned that Ike was the one spreading the rumors by getting Kate drunk and pushing her into claiming that Holliday robbed the stagecoach. Doc then challenged Ike to a gunfight. Clanton pleaded to be spared and was pistol whipped by Wyatt later that day. Kate later recanted her false accusation against Holliday.[26][27]

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral[edit]

The gunfight happened in front of and next to Fly's boarding house and picture studio (where Holliday had a room) the day after a late night of hard drinking and poker playing by Ike Clanton. The Clantons and McLaurys collected in the space between the boarding house and the house west of it, when they were confronted by the Earps and Holliday. It's possible, because of the proximity to his room, that Holliday thought that they were there to kill him.[28] Holliday was credited by the Tombstone Nuggett with killing Tom McLaury and his brother Frank. Holliday may have also wounded Billy Clanton. Tom McLaury was killed by a shotgun round fired by Holliday; his brother Frank had moved across Fremont Street, then challenged Holliday. He is reported to have yelled, "I've got you now," and to have shot at Holliday, grazing him across the hip. Holliday is said to have replied, "Blaze away! You're a daisy if you have." 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.[29][30] 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.[31]

Virgil Earp gave Holliday a coach gun that they picked up from the local stage office before the fight. Holliday was wearing a long coat that would allow him to conceal it. Virgil Earp in turn took Holliday's walking stick, and by not going conspicuously armed, Virgil was seeking to avoid alarming both the citizenry of Tombstone and the Clantons and McLaurys.[32]

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".[33] 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.[34] 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.[35]

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.[36]

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.[7]

Extradition fails[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.[37]: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.[37] 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.[37]

Masterson took Holliday to Pueblo, where he was released on bond two weeks after his arrest.[38] Holliday and Wyatt met briefly after Holliday's release during June 1882 in Gunnison.

Death of Johnny Ringo[edit]

Johnny Ringo was found dead in the crotch of a large tree in West Turkey Creek Valley on July 14, 1882, near Chiricahua Peak, Arizona Territory, with a bullet hole in his right temple and a revolver hanging from a finger of his hand. The book I Married Wyatt Earp, supposedly written by Josephine Marcus Earp, reported that Wyatt Earp and Holliday returned to Arizona to find and kill Ringo. The book was actually written by Glen Boyer, and it states that Holliday killed Ringo with a rifle shot at a distance, contradicting the coroner's ruling that Ringo's death was a suicide. However, Boyer's book has been discredited as a fraud and a hoax[39] that cannot be relied upon.[40]:489 In response to criticism about the book's authenticity, Boyer said that it was not really a first-person account, that he had interpreted Wyatt Earp in Josephine's voice, and admitted that he could not produce any documents to vindicate his methods.[41]

Official records of the Pueblo County, Colorado, District Court indicate that both Holliday and his attorney appeared in court there on July 11, 14, and 18, 1882. Author Karen Holliday Tanner, in Doc Holliday, A Family Portrait, speculated that Holliday may not have been in Pueblo at the time of the court date, citing a writ of habeas corpus issued for him in court on July 11.[9] She believes that only his attorney may have appeared on his behalf that day, in spite of the wording of a court record which indicated that he may have appeared in person—in propria persona or "in his own person". She cites this as standard legal filler text which does not necessarily prove that the person was present. There is no doubt that Holliday arrived in Salida, Colorado on July 7 as reported in a town newspaper. This is 500 miles (800 km) from the site of Ringo's death, six days before the shooting.[9]:295–5

Final illness, death, and burial[edit]

Holliday spent the rest of his life 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.[9]: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.[42]

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.[43]) 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.[9]: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, "Damn, this is funny." Holliday died at 10 am on November 8, 1887. He was 36.[6] It was reported that no one ever thought that Holliday would die in bed with his boots off.[7]

Recent Holliday biographer Gary L. Roberts, however, considers it unlikely that Holliday would have been able to speak coherently, if at all, on the day that he died, as he had scarcely left his bed for two months.[7] The legend persists that Wyatt Earp was present when Holliday died, but 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.[7]:p396

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.[44] 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.[7]:p14, 41 Holliday himself was later to say that he had joined a Methodist church in Dallas.[7]:p70 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."[7]:p370, 372

He is buried in Linwood Cemetery overlooking Glenwood Springs. It was November and the ground may have been frozen, and some authors (such as Bob Boze Bell[45]) have speculated that Holliday could not have been buried in his marked grave in the Linwood Cemetery, which was only accessible via a difficult mountain road. Holliday biographer Gary Roberts, however, has 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.[7]:p403–404


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."[46]: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."[47]:189

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.[7]:p410 In Tombstone in January 1882, he told Johnny Ringo (as recorded by diarist Parsons), "All I want of you is ten paces out in the street." He and Ringo were prevented from a gunfight only by the Tombstone police (which did not include the Earps at the time), who arrested them both. During the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Holliday likely killed Tom McLaury and probably fired the second bullet that hit Frank McLaury. Frank McLaury is sometimes erroneously stated to have been hit by three bullets (based on the next-day news accounts in Tombstone papers), but the coroner's inquest found that Frank was hit only in the stomach and through the back of the head under his ear, which was probably Holliday's shot, based on their last position during the fight. Holliday was also present at the death of Frank Stilwell in Tucson, Arizona, and the other three men killed during the Earp Vendetta Ride. Overall, Holliday was arrested 17 times. Four attempts were made to hang him and he survived ambush five times.[36]

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.

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.[7]:p410 Overall, Holliday was in at least five one-on-one gunfights in his lifetime.[26]

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."[48]

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.[49]

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".[49]

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.[50]

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.[50][51]: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.[50] 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".[7]:p87

Photo issues[edit]

There are three photos most often printed of Holliday (of unknown provenance), supposedly taken by C.S. Fly in Tombstone (but sometimes said to be 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.[52]


Life-size statues of lawman Wyatt Earp and deputy Doc Holliday at the Historic Railroad Depot

Doc Holliday is one of the most recognizable gunslingers in the Old West, but he is most remembered by his enduring friendship with Wyatt Earp. Holliday's friendship with the lawman has been a staple of popular sidekicks in culture,[53] 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.[54] Together with Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday has become a modern symbol of loyalty, brotherhood, and friendship.[55]

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.[56][57] 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.[58] It was won by local resident Jason Norton.[59]

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.

Actors who have portrayed Holliday include:[60]



  • "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[64]
  • 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. ^
  2. ^ Roberts (2006) p.415
  3. ^ Walter Noble Burns in Tombstone : An Illiad of the Southwest, placed the fatalities as three
  4. ^ a b c d e Kansas Heritage genealogy.
  5. ^ Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System of the National Park Service
  6. ^ a b c d e Poling, Dean (January 1, 2010). "Valdosta's most infamous resident – John Henry "Doc" Holliday". Valdosta Scene VI (1): 19–20. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Roberts, Gary L. (2011). "A Living and Dying Legend". Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend. John Wiley and Sons. p. 372. ISBN 978-1-118-13097-1. The Denver Evening Times reported the news with the simple statement,"Doc Holliday died in Glenwood on the 8th with his boots off." 
  8. ^ Tombstone Times: Doc Holliday bio.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Tanner, Karen Holliday (1998). Doc Holliday: A Family Portrait. Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-3036-9. 
  10. ^ Fayette County History.
  11. ^ "Doc Holliday". A&E Television Networks, LLC. Retrieved 21 October 2014. 
  12. ^ "John Henry "Doc" Holliday, D.D.S.". Dodge City, Kansas: Ford County Historical Society. 
  13. ^ Roberts (2006) pp. 64–67
  14. ^ a b Erik J. Wright (December 2001). "Looking For Doc in Dallas". True West Magazine, pp. 42–43.
  15. ^ "Legends of America: Doc Holliday". Legends of America. Retrieved November 7, 2011. 
  16. ^ Tanner (2001), "From Denver to Dodge", pp. 101–103  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  17. ^ a b Tanner (2001), "From Denver to Dodge", pp. 106–109  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  18. ^ a b Tanner (2001), "From Denver to Dodge", p. 113  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  19. ^ Woog, Adam (February 28, 2010). Wyatt Earp. Chelsea House Publications. ISBN 1-60413-597-2. 
  20. ^ Geringer, Joseph. "Wyatt Earp: Knight With A Six-Shooter". Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  21. ^ Roberts (2006) pp. 78–79
  22. ^ Roberts (2006) p.74
  23. ^ a b Weiser, Kathy (March 2010). "John Joshua Webb". Legends of America. 
  24. ^ "Doc Holliday kills for the first time". This Day in History. Retrieved November 7, 2011. 
  25. ^ Roberts (2006) p. 120
  26. ^ a b Bad Hombres: Doc Holliday.
  27. ^ October 12, 1880, the Nugget article
  28. ^ 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. 
  29. ^ Tombstone Nugget; October 27, 1881 article
  30. ^ "Another Chapter in the Bloody Episode". Famous Trials. Retrieved 7 February 2011. 
  31. ^ Tombstone Epitaph October 27, 1881 article
  32. ^ 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. 
  33. ^ Tanner (2001), "Gunfight in Tombstone", p. 169  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  34. ^ "Wyatt Earp's Vendetta Posse". January 29, 2007. Retrieved February 18, 2011. 
  35. ^ "Wyatt Earp's Vendetta Posse". Retrieved April 26, 2014. 
  36. ^ a b The Natural American: Doc Holliday
  37. ^ 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. 
  38. ^ Cristalen. "Biographical Notes Bat Masterson". Retrieved May 12, 2011. 
  39. ^ Ortega, Tony (December 24, 1998). "How the West Was Spun". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved May 29, 2011. 
  40. ^ Blaise Cronin, ed. (2006). Annual Review of Information Science and Technology. Medford, N.J.: Information Today. ISBN 978-1-57387-242-3. 
  41. ^ Ortega, Tony (March 4, 1999). "I Varied Wyatt Earp". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved May 29, 2011. 
  42. ^ Roberts (2006) p.373
  43. ^ Glenwood History
  44. ^ Tanner (2001) p.300
  45. ^ The Illustrated Life and Times of Doc Holliday, Bob Boze Bell, Tri Star-Boze Publications, (1995) ISBN 1-887576-00-2.
  46. ^ Myers, John Myers (1973). Doc Holliday. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-5781-3. 
  47. ^ 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. 
  48. ^ "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
  49. ^ a b Holliday, Karen Tanner (2001). Doc Holliday: A Family Portrait. Norman: University Of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-3320-1. 
  50. ^ a b c Paul, Lee. "John Henry Holliday". Retrieved October 29, 2011. 
  51. ^ Tanner, Karen (2001). Doc Holliday: A Family Portrait. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-3320-1. 
  52. ^ Rowe, Jeremy (2002). "Thoughts on Kaloma, the Purported Photograph of Josie Earp". Retrieved June 6, 2011. 
  53. ^ Top Ten Greatest Sidekicks
  54. ^ Roberts (2006) pp. 407–409
  55. ^ Microsoft Encarta 2009; Doc Holliday
  56. ^ Miller, Susan L. (2006). Shop Tucson!. Lulu Press. p. 97. ISBN 978-1-4303-0141-7. 
  57. ^ 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
  58. ^ Harris, Kay (January 1, 2010). "Happy Birthday Valdosta! – City celebrates Sesquicentennial in 2010". Valdosta Scene VI (1): 8–9. 
  59. ^ Chick, Jonathan; Leavy, Paul (February 2, 2010). "Photo Galley – Valdosta Sesquicentennial". Valdosta Scene VI (2): 54–57. 
  60. ^ Doc Holliday characters at
  61. ^ "Wyatt Meets Doc Holliday". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved April 16, 2014. 
  62. ^ "Full Cast and Crew for The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved January 23, 2013. 
  63. ^ Stagecoach (1986 film) at the Internet Movie Database
  64. ^ "Best Western Song". Spur Award History. Western Writers of America. 2009. Retrieved October 4, 2011.

Further reading[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. 

External links[edit]