Doc Holliday

Doc Holliday

“Damn, this is funny.” – Doc Holliday

Doc Holliday Biography

His resting place is Linwood Cemetery, deep in the Western Rocky Mountain town of Glenwood Springs, Colorado.  Visitors who seek it must walk up a steep hill on an old unkempt dirt trail to find the monument that marks his grave.  The engraving on the headstone reads, “John Henry Holliday – Born Aug 14, 1851, Died Nov 8, 1887”.

The legend of Doc Holliday was manufactured, in part, by Doc himself, embellished by some of his closest friends, and supplemented by countless others.

John Henry Holliday was born in Griffin, Georgia, on 14th August, 1851, to Alice Jane McKey and Henry Burroughs Holliday.  Henry and Alice were married in 1849 and had a daughter who died in infancy.  John was their second child, although at some point during his military service in the Mexican-American war, Henry senior had adopted Francisco, a Mexican orphan. This was prior to his marriage to Alice and the birth of their own children.

The Holliday family moved to Valdosta, Georgia, in 1864 and John attended Valdosta Institute where he received a classical education in rhetoric, grammar, mathematics, history, and languages including Latin, French, and some ancient Greek.

Tuberculosis was considered to be one of the most dangerous diseases known to man in the 1800s and sadly this proved to be true for the Holliday family in particular. Sadly, both Alice and Francisco died of the disease in 1866 when John was only 15 years old.

John completed his basic studies and left home at age 19 to attend dental school in Philadelphia.  Already known as “Doc” by the time he graduated, with a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree on March 1, 1872, at the age of 20.

John was considered a successful and skilled dentist but his dental career was to be brief.  He was diagnosed with tuberculosis and had to abandon dentistry at some point shortly after beginning private practice.  It is possible that he had contracted the disease from either his mother or adopted brother, or maybe even one of his patients.

Whatever the TB source, the doctors he consulted all agreed that John should move to the more arid climate of the Southwest to extend his life.

The legend of Doc Holliday had begun even before he moved west. He was reported to have shot at and possibly killed two Negros in a Georgia riverside shooting incident. The accounts of the incident vary because there is no official record that the event ever happened.

By the time he arrived in Dallas, Texas, in 1873, Holliday was already thin and frail and experiencing wracking coughing spells.  As his dental business declined, his interest in gambling grew.  Needing a new source of income, Doc parlayed his natural talent for gambling into a new career. As a professional gambler, he also had to learn to defend himself at a moment’s notice and so Doc became skilled with both the knife and gun.

Holliday’s reputation as a gambler and gunfighter grew and he became known as the ‘Deadly Dentist’.  In Colorado, Doc was said to have shot the young gambler, Kid Colton, “graveyard dead”.  Wyatt Earp credited Doc with having saved his life during a near-ambush in a Dodge City saloon incident.

Probably the most famous incident in Doc Holliday’s life though was the legendary gunfight at the OK Corral. This though is really the Hollywood version of the shootout that took place in Tombstone, Arizona Territory.  The actual location of the gunfight wasn’t at the OK Corral: it was at a narrow lot next to Fly’s Photographic Studio, about six doors west of the back entrance to the corral.

The date was Wednesday, October 26, 1881.  For about 30 seconds the most famous lawmen in Western history, Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers – Virgil, Wyatt, and Morgan faced the lawless Cowboys Billy Claiborn, Ike and Billy Clanton, Tom and Frank McLaury.  The combatants stood approximately 6 feet apart and exchanged about 30 shots. Both McLaury brothers and Ike Clanton died of their wounds.  The Earps and Doc Holliday survived the melee and were exonerated of all blame by a local judge.

Few newspaper articles or other verifiable documentation exist to support most claims of Doc’s violent deeds.  He never served any “serious” jail time. At most, he may have shot between eight and ten people, killing only one, possibly two men.  Ironically, the Deadly Dentist would be charged on only 17 known occasions, more often for gambling-related issues than for shootings.

Doc Holliday spent the last period of his life in Colorado, and his death added a peculiar twist to a legend built on gun slinging and gambling.  Most of his friends thought he would “die with his boots on” but he was actually in bed when he died, bootless.

According to the final legend, he asked the attending nurse for a shot of whiskey.  She told him, “No.”  He then reportedly looked at his bootless feet in amusement and, according to the nurse said, “Damn, this is funny.” The date was November 8, 1887. Doc Holliday was 36 years old.


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