John Henry Holliday came from money. Old Southern money they used to call it.
He was born and bred on a big plantation and his family had status in Southern Society. Subsequently, his education was very good and his course was more or less laid out for him.
He choose being a Doctor, a dentist, and in 1870 he began dental school. On March 1, 1872, he received a degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery from the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery in Philadelphia. Later that year he opened a dental office with Arthur C. Ford in Atlanta.
He practiced until he discovered that he had TB, tuberculosis, what was called Consumption in those days.
Just in his early 20's, a number of doctors told him that he had only months to live. It must have been horrible to find out, after all his mother died from TB when he had just turned fifteen years old.
The doctors at the time said that he might gain a few months of life if he relocated to a dryer climate. That was the standard recommendation in those days, go to a dryer climate and see how it goes.
Consumption was a death sentence in those days. And for a dentist, coughing into your patients can surely kill your business. So he followed his doctor's advice, and yes Doc Holliday headed West.
There was a question about a plot to blow up the Valdosta courthouse and his involvement in the plot, but that seems to be sketchy at best.
His first stop was in Dallas, Texas, and the end of the railroad at that time. He found a suitable office, hung out his shingle and prepared for business. While there, he pulled teeth, coughed a lot, pulled more teeth, coughed a lot, and slowly ran out of patients.
It was also there that he dealt cards and started to hone his skills playing poker, and of course drinking whiskey which helped sooth his coughing jags. Since Doc soon had to find other means of earning money, it became fairly evident that he possessed a natural ability for gambling. Poker was a strong suit for Doc and this quickly became his sole means of support.
In those days, gamblers in the West were known to walk the shadier side of life. Subsequently, they had to be able to protect himself. Doc was well aware of this. He was known to carry a six-gun, a small pocket pistol like a derringer, and was also known to be good with a knife that he carried as a "Fifth Ace" if need be.
On January 2, 1874, Doc and a local saloon keeper had a disagreement that flared into violence. Each man went for his pistol. Several shots were fired, but not one struck its intended target.
Local citizens thought such a gunfight pretty funny, but completely changed their attitude a few days later when Doc put two large caliber holes through a very prominent citizen. This left that man very dead. And since local feelings ran high over the killing, Doc was forced to flee Dallas on a fast horse.
His next stop was in Jacksboro over in Jacks County, Texas, where he found a job dealing faro. Jacksboro was a tough cowtown situated near an U.S. Army post. This supposed man with a death wish was now carrying a gun in a shoulder holster, one on his hip, and a knife as well.
Some say that he was an expert with these weapons, and others say that he couldn't hit a cow in the tit with a tin cup. But either way, he was involved in a few gunfights in his very short life.
One of these left another dead man to Doc's credit. As this was a pretty wild part of the West, no action was taken against him.
During the summer of 1876, Holliday again became a participant in a gunfight. On this occasion he killed a soldier from Fort Richardson. As this killing brought the United States government into the investigation, Doc hit the trail again. And yes, he headed West!
This time though his back trail was cluttered with the Army, U.S. Marshals, Texas Rangers, and several local lawmen, who were all anxious to collect the reward offered for his scalp. Holliday knew that if he were captured by any one of them that his neck would be stretched with no questions asked.
A man with Consumption and maybe a death wish who doesn't really care if he's shot is one thing, but getting hung is a whole nother story all together. Because of his fear of hanging, he headed straight for Colorado all of 800 miles away.
He is known to have stopped for short periods at Pueblo, Leadville, Georgetown, and Central City. During that time, legend says that he killed three more men before he reached the city of Denver. I can't find the names of anyone who he had supposedly killed.
Once in Denver, he went by the name of Tom Mackey for a while. That is until he supposedly got into an argument with Bud Ryan while dealing faro in Babbitts' House.
During the fight Doc used that "Fifth Ace" to slash at Ryan's throat. Ryan, who was a well-known gambling tough guy, survived. But it's said that his face and neck were horribly mutilated. Although Ryan didn't die, Doc was forced to run again.
This time he drifted to Fort Griffin, Texas. It was there that Doc met the only woman who was ever to come into his life.
She was known as "Big Nose" Kate Elder. She was a dance hall girl and prostitute. Some say she was called "Big Nose" not because he was large or let's say prominent nose, but instead because she tended to be way too nosey and had a habit of getting into other people's business.
She was actually known to be fairly attractive women with a generous amount of curves in all the right places. She was tough to the point of being extremely violent. She was also stubborn, fearless, and hot-tempered almost to the point of being Doc's equal. After all, he was known for his volatile temper and stormy moods.
She worked at the business of being a prostitute because she liked it. She bragged about belonging to no man, and not working for a brothel. But don't think she was all about trying to do right, after all she plied her trade as an individual in the manner she chose. She was an independent contractor so to speak.
Doc met her while he was dealing cards in John Shanssey's Saloon. It was also at Shanssey's that he met another person who was to influence his life in a big way. It was there that he met Wyatt Earp.
Wyatt Earp rode in from Dodge City on the trail of Dave Rudabaugh who was wanted for train robbery. While Doc was helping Wyatt gain the information he needed, they became friends. Some say they were as opposite as two people can be, but maybe that's what made their friendship click.
All in all, it was an unlikely friendship where Wyatt was more even-tempered and controlled while Doc was more hot-headed and impulsive.
By this time Holliday had gained the reputation of being a cold-blooded killer. Many believed he liked to kill, and some say that the truth of the matter was that he was trying to get himself killed. As a man suffering from TB, it was said that he sought a remedy to his TB problem by constantly looking for a bullet and quick death.
There are those who believed that since Doc was already condemned to a slow painful lingering death, he subsequently had nothing what-so-ever to lose.
I read somewhere that one writer believed that it was "natural for a person like Doc to be less concerned with his own safety." The writer went on to say that anyone who is in this frame of mind would be difficult to face in a fight, especially in a fight to the death.
There might be something to that, but for me, I'm sorry but I can't totally agree with it. I've known people in tight spots who have fought against overwhelming odds. They still fought. from everything I've read - and yes, if half of it is true - then one can assume that Doc was a fighter.
He was definitely safety minded. Heck, he's said to have carried two pistols and a knife. And friends, it wasn't carried for balance!
There was that situation with Ed Bailey that proves just how committed he was to stay with the living and not go the way of the alternative. That is if it did happen.
Bailey was a bully and thug from Fort Griffin who sat in on a poker game with Doc. It was apparent that Bailey was used to having his way with no questions asked, and yes, Doc's reputation made no impression upon him what-so-ever.
During the game, in an obvious attempt to aggravate Doc, Bailey kept picking up the discards and looking through them. This was strictly against the rules of Western Poker, and anyone who broke this rule forfeited the pot. Holliday warned Bailey twice.
Bailey thought he was tough and the badman ignored Doc. Then it happened, the next time Bailey picked up the discards Doc raked in the pot without showing his hand. Bailey brought a six-shooter from under the table, but Doc was faster with that Fifth Ace.
Before the local bully could pull the trigger, Doc completely disemboweled him with one slash. Spilling blood everywhere. Bailey sprawled over the table and died almost instantly.
Since he felt that he was obviously in the right Doc stuck around and allowed the marshal to arrest him. That turned out to be a mistake because once Doc had been disarmed, Bailey's friends and the town vigilantes began a clamor for his blood.
"Big Nose" Kate knew that Doc was a goner unless someone did something and quick. Likely as not the local lawmen would turn the frail gunman over to the mob for a necktie party.
So Kate went into action by setting fire to an old barn. It burned so rapidly that the flames threatened to engulf the whole town. Everyone went to fight the fire with the exception of three people, Kate, Doc and the town Marshal who guarded him.
As soon as the Marshal and his prisoner were left alone Kate stepped in and confronted the lawman. A rock steady six-gun pointed at the Marshal, and Kate meant business. Then disarming the surprised lawman, Kate passed Doc a pistol and the pair of them lit out into the night.
They headed east for Dodge City, 400 miles away, on what they called "borrowed" horses.
Well, I guess if you're going to cheat the hangman - than it may as well be for a list! And stealing horses was a hanging offense in the Old West akin to murdering someone.
Once in Dodge City, Kansas, the couple registered at Deacon Cox's boarding house in Dodge City as Dr. and Mrs. John H. Holliday. Doc felt that he owed Kate a great deal for rescuing him from a hanging tree in Fort Griffin and was determined to do everything within his power to make her happy. He gave up gambling and hung out his shingle again. All of Doc's good intentions were totally unappreciated and did not endure for long.
Kate stood the quietness and boredom of respectable living as long as she could. Then she told Doc that she was going back to the bright lights and excitement of the dance halls and gambling dens. Consequently the two split up as they were destined to do many times during the remainder of Doc's life.
By September, Doc was dealing faro in the Long Branch Saloon. A number of Texas cowboys had just arrived in Dodge City with a herd of cattle. After many weeks on the trail they were a pretty wild bunch ready to "tree" Dodge.
Word was brought into the Long Branch that several of the trail drivers had Wyatt Earp cornered and had bragged that they would shoot him down. Doc leaped through the doors a six-gun in each hand. When he arrived two cowboys, Morrison and Driscoll, were holding cocked revolvers on Wyatt, goading him to draw before they shot him down.
About 20 of their friends also stood nearby taunting and insulting the enraged but hapless Wyatt. "Up with them, you !@#$%^&* "Doc roared, loosing a volume of profanity.
As the self-styled badmen turned to face Doc, Wyatt rapped Morrison over the head with his long barrel colt. Then he set about relieving the other cowboys of their guns.
Unnoticed by the others, one cowboy drew his gun and lined it up on Wyatt's back. Just as that no good back shooter fired, Doc pulled off a round at the same time.
The cowboy missed, but Doc didn't and the cowboy lay dead for his back shooting ways. Wyatt Earp never forgot the fact that Doc Holliday saved his life twice that night in Dodge City.
The Dodge City newspapers did not report any such incident, and there is no record of any large number of cowboys being arrested at one time.
More likely, Wyatt was arresting three cowboys when one of them was trying to pull a "hide-away gun" on Wyatt. Doc most likely jumped up from a nearby poker table and made the gunman re-evaluate the situation. Either way, if it happened one way or the other, Wyatt always said that Holliday had saved his life that day.
Kate and Doc soon had another of their frequent quarrels and Doc in a furious mood saddled up and went to Trinidad, Colorado. Shortly after he arrived in town a young gambler, "Kid" Cotton, wishing to make a reputation called Doc out.
Doc's fired twice and Cotton went down in the street. Not wishing to stick around and repeat his earlier mistake, Doc found his horse and rode into New Mexico as fast as he could.
In the summer of 1879, he tried his hand as a dentist again for the last time. It was in Las Vegas, New Mexico. It was there that he was thought to have robbed a stage, but it was never proven.
It was 1879, his attempt at dentistry ended in a short time when instead of dentistry Doc bought a saloon on Center Street. Then a few week later, a former Army Scout named Mike Gordon tried to persuade one of Holliday's saloon girls to quit her job and run away with him. When she refused, Gordon became infuriated. He went out to the street and began to fire bullets randomly into the saloon. He didn't have a chance to do much damage because after the second shot Holliday calmly stepped out of the saloon and dropped Gordon with a single bullet. Gordon was belly shot and died the next day.
Supposedly a mob quickly gathered and talk of hanging Doc was their main concern. Since he had to move on again, Doc knew the one place that he would be safe was in Dodge City. After all, Wyatt Earp was there and he was his friend.
But to Doc's surprise when he rode back into town he found that Wyatt had gone to a new silver strike in a place called Tombstone in Arizona There was nothing to hold him in Dodge City, so Doc also started West to the new silver boom town. On the way there, Doc stopped in Prescott and met up with Wyatt's brother Virgil who was leery of Doc at their first meeting.
Tombstone was a booming place where money was flowing like nobody's business and everything connected with the silver streak was getting rich.
By the end of 1879, Tombstone had about one hundred permanent residents plus at least one thousand others camped on nearby hills. A year and a half later, Tombstone was emerging as one of the largest cities in the West.
People whooped it up at Tombstone but their noise was nothing compared to the ruckus they created at nearby Charleston or far across the valley at Galeyville. While it is true that badmen flocked to Tombstone's saloons and gambling houses, it is often overlooked that Tombstone was probably the most cultivated city in the West and Southwest.
Believe it or not, one report says that at that time, Tombstone was almost as large as San Francisco. Tombstone can brag that whatever cultural opportunities were in the West, they could be found in Tombstone. With a population of 15,000 there at the time, the town build an opera house where the best of the world's musicians and actors were heard.
So yes, the Earps were all coming to Tombstone. Morgan was coming in from Montana, and Virgil who was already in Prescott working as a lawman and he met Doc Holliday there.
Virgil left for Tombstone without Doc who was having a fantastic run of luck at poker. Big Nose Kate, also enroute to Tombstone, caught up with Doc while he was still at the poker table. The two of them reached Tombstone early in 1880, some say Doc had over $40,000 of the Prescott gamblers' money in his pockets.
The outlaw gang, known as The Cowboys, in Tombstone had had things their way for quite sometime and they resented the arrival of the Earps. For one reason, the Earps had a reputation of being hard men and for taking no nonsense from the likes of them.
"Old Man" Clanton and his sons, Ike, Phin, and Billy, along with Frank and Tom McLaury, lost no time in letting the Earps know of their displeasure with having them there. Doc was quite famous as a gunman himself when he reached Tombstone.
I read where one Old West Historian had claimed that he had found "authentic records that showed that Doc Holiday had killed 30 men in all." That in itself is hard to believe, but then again I'm no Historian.
If I were to wager if he did all of these things, I really wouldn't bet on it. Many times in the Old West, individuals built their reputations up just soon people would think that they are a bigger threat than they really are.
Did Doc Holliday kill all of these men? Well, it is interesting to note that many of these supposed gunfights and killings are undocumented and subsequently believed to be only legend.
The biggest problem that Old West Historians have when it comes to Doc Holliday is that many of these supposed incidents are completely ficticious. Some folks don't realize it, but in the Old West like in many towns across the country people kept records about almost everything.
There are diaries, and yes many towns had newspaper accounts of just about everything including who came and went. And no, the people listed in those local newspapers didn't have to be famous or infamous to get a mention.
And there's the problem for those folks trying to verify incidents attributed to Doc Holliday, there are no newspaper accounts or court records that make any mention of most of these incidents. Nothing mentions him by name, except in the case of his involvement in the shootout at the OK Corral.
Fact is that Doc aligned himself with the Earp brothers and their fight with the Cowboy faction mostly out of a friendship with Wyatt. Although, he and Morgan were also known to have grown close. And yes, the significance of his relationship with the Earps was not lost on the Clantons.
After getting settled in Tombstone, Doc and "Big Nose" Kate took up where they had left off before. Doc of course was still drinking and gambling, and yes Kate went back to hanging out her shingle as a "Soiled Dove" which was another name for prostitute in those days.
Again their arguments were frequent and fiery, but fact is that they were not usually serious until Kate got drunk and abusive. At one point while in Tombstone, Doc decided that enough was enough and actually threw Kate out.
To exact her revenge on Doc, she went to the County Sheriff who was John Behan with a tale of how Doc robbed the Benson stage on March 15, 1881. Behan was a known associate with the Clantons and was the man who double crossed Wyatt when Wyatt ran against him for the position of County Sheriff.
As for the holdup of the Benson stage, supposedly four masked men attempted a holdup the Benson stage and in the process they had killed Bud Philpot, the stage driver, and Pete Roerig who was a passenger.
The cowboy faction immediately seized upon the opportunity and accused Doc Holliday of being one of the holdup men. County Sheriff John Behan and Deputy Stilwell found Kate on one of her drunken binges.
John Behan kept filling her with whiskey, while persuading her to sign a sworn affidavit that said that Doc Holliday had been one of the masked highwaymen responsible for the killings.
They had her swear that he was the killer who actually pulled the trigger and shot Bud Philpot and Pete Roerig dead.And yes, she was angry and drunk enough to swear to anything right about then.
Virgil Earp was town Marshal and a Deputy U.S. Marshal for the region by then, so he arrested Kate and jailed her. Then while she was sobering up in jail, Virgil began to round up witnesses who could verify where Doc was on the night of the holdup.He needed alibis.
If the truth be known, I believe that Virgil Earp was the real lawman in the Earp family. Virgil spent a lifetime doing the job during a tough and demanding era. By the time of the Benson stage holdup and killings, Virgil had already had multiple dealings with the outlaw faction known as the cowboys.
When Kate realized what she had done, she regretted her actions and repudiated her statements. Since witnesses and Kate's new stand exposed Behan's frame-up, Doc was released. But to say Doc was happy with Kate would have an understatement. Doc is said to have given Kate $1,000 and even tried to put her on a stage leaving town, but she won't go.
A short time later, Newman Haynes "Old Man" Clanton was ambushed and murdered in what would be called the Guadalupe Canyon Massacre. Some say they were shot dead right out of their saddles with only Harry Earnshaw escaping to tell the tale to the rest of the Cowboy faction. Others claim that the Mexican Rurales killed them while they slept.
Either way, most believe that the ambush was a retaliation shooting by Mexican pistoleros in reprisal for the Skeleton Canyon Massacre when a group of Mexican Rurales were ambushed and slaughtered by the Cowboys.
"Old Man" Clanton’s son Ike believed the killings of his father and four others was an Earp plot bent on clearing the Territory of the Clantons. They saw this as a war.
On September 8, 1881, the Bisbee stage was robbed and two of Ike Clanton's cowboy friends were arrested by Marshal Virgil Earp for the holdup. The Clantons believed the Earps were illegally persecuting the Cowboys and made repeated threats against the Earp brothers.
On October 25, Tom McLaury and Ike Clanton came to Tombstone to sell beef stock to a local butcher. Later that evening, Ike and Doc Holliday almost came to blows before Morgan Earp intervened. Ike Clanton threatened the Earps again. In the drunken argument, Ike told Doc that he and the Earps had better get ready for a fight.
On the morning of the 26th, Virgil "buffaloed" Ike which meant he pistol whipped him to disarmed him after finding Ike illegally carrying a revolver. Wyatt then buffaloed Tom McLaury for the same reason shortly afterward.
Later that afternoon, a few alarmed citizens spotted Billy Clanton, Tom McLaury and Frank McLaury armed in public near Fremont Street completely in violation of city ordinance against wearing guns in town.
Both County Sheriff Johnny Behan, and shortly afterward Marshal Virgil Earp, demanded they give up their weapons, as required by a city ordinance, they refused. Supposed they instead threatened Virgil, Wyatt, Morgan, as well as Doc if they didn't get out of Tombstone.
That afternoon Virgil Earp deputized both Wyatt and Doc Holliday. The Clanton's and McLaurys were at a vacant lot near the O.K. Corral
Five men, all known outlaws and killers, waited for the Earps. I believe they were a little surprised to see Doc there as well.
Virgil, Morgan, Wyatt Earp and Doc walked up to disarm them. That didn't happen, instead in a small vacant lot about 18 feet from each other all Hell broke loose.
Some say it was Billy Clanton who fired first, some say it was Doc Holliday. But at that point, it just didn't matter.
Wyatt allowed Ike Clanton to run from the fight scene, but Doc was more cold-blooded. He threw two shots at Ike, as he fled, missing him narrowly. A bullet from Frank McLaury cut into Doc's pistol scabbard and burned a crease across his hip. Doc's return shot smashed into Frank McLaury's brain after a first shot went into Frank's gut.
Thirty seconds after it started, it stopped. Three men lay dead and three were wounded. Only Wyatt went completely untouched that day. Doc, Virgil, and Morgan were all wounded. And yes, one of the witnesses to the shootout was Big Nose Kate.
During the time of the Earp-Clanton feud, Doc Holliday was in the forefront of everything that was taking place. Later when Wyatt set out to avenge the murder of their brother Morgan, Doc helped him kill Frank Stilwell at Tucson and Florentino "Indian Charley" Cruz at Tombstone two days later.
When everything was done, Doc and Wyatt quit Arizona and rode into Colorado. There they parted ways.
Doc was in his final shooting scrape in Leadville, Colorado, on 19 August 1884. Bartender Bill Allen threatened to beat him up if he didn't pay back five dollars he owed him. Doc supposedly put a bullet into Allen's arm for his trouble.
Arizona tried for years to extradite Wyatt and Doc for the murders of Frank Stilwell and Indian Charlie, but supposedly the Colorado governor would not agree to the extradition. Strangely enough, Doc didn't kill either of them. In reality, Wyatt killed both for killing Morgan.
His health grew worse and finally went to the sulfur springs at Glenwood Springs in May 1887. Weak and incoherent most of the time, Doc spent his last days in bed delirious most of the time.
Legend says that on November 8, 1887, Doc woke clear-eyed and asked for a glass of whiskey. Then supposedly the whiskey was provided to him and he drank it slowly. Then he is supposedly to have said, "This is funny," before closing his eyes and dieing.
Doc Holliday had come West to die an early death, but didn't. He was only given months to live, but didn't. Instead, knowing that his days were numbered, he steadfastly maintained that he would not die in bed coughing his guts out like his mother. I believe that that was what he feared.
Some say his intentions were to get killed by a fast gun, a shootist wanting another notch on his pistol, a gunman that wanted to be known as the man who killed Doc Holliday.
But I don't know if that's the truth about him, to me, he doesn't sound like a man looking for an executioner. To me, Doc Holliday has never did sound like a man wanting to die by any means - that is, other than that of his own choosing.
I have a hard time accepting that he wanted to be killed. Why, well because he had so many opportunities to allow that to happen and didn't. Bailey, Kid Colton, Mike Gordon, and so on and so on all could have given him what some say he wanted if he were indeed a man with a death wish as most have said. Fact is that he simply never let it happen.
Supposedly he was frequently heard as saying that his end would come from lead poisoning, at the end of a rope, a knife in his ribs, or that he might drink himself to death. Some say he was on borrowed time and that that was why he found it "funny" when he died peacefully in bed.
For me, I've always felt that we're all on borrowed time to one extent or another. Doc Holliday sounds like a man who played the hand that he was dealt - no different than all of us.
He sounds like a man who consistently outran the hangman, the lynch mob, the vigilantes, the law, and yes, he fought like the devil to stay alive during situations where a man with a real death wish could have been easily obliged.
I think he postponed that bed in Colorado for as long as he could, and when he finally came to the end of his string - he laughed knowing that he went out on his own terms living longer than anyone would have thought.
I don't believe he found it "funny". I believe he found it "incredible." Here he was given just a few months to live, but instead lived more in his short time than many do living three score as long. I'm willing to bet that Doc never thought that he would die with his boots off, but he did!
I find it interesting that an ornate tombstone marks his grave, but that Doc is not under it. Imagine that!
The fact that no one knows where Doc Holliday's really buried in that cemetery is pretty "funny" isn't it. To me, it's as if it were the last joke that Doc played on the world.
And yes, that's just the way I see it.