Doc Holliday was born John Henry Holliday in Griffin, Georgia on August 14, 1851. The town is a little South of Atlanta. His ancestral roots were Scottish and English.
His father was Henry Burroughs Holliday, who served in the military as a Major. First he was in the Mexican-American war, and then he served in the Confederate Army in the Civil War. His mother was born Alice Jane McKey. They were married on January 8, 1849. Her husband Henry was 10 years older. Doc's parents were both natives of South Carolina.
The Mexican American War ended in 1848. When Henry returned to Griffin, he brought a boy home with him. He'd been orphaned by the war. His name was Francisco Hidalgo. The family adopted him as a son.
Henry and Alice had their first-born child on December 3, 1849. A daughter, they named her Martha Eleanora. She died when just a little over 6 months old.1
Soon after John Henry came into the family, he was brought to the local First Presbyterian Church. He was baptized there on March 21, 1852. He'd had a birth defect, a cleft palate. His parents obtained the corrective surgery for him.4
He lived there in Griffin with his adopted brother, Francisco. Three of his mother's siblings also lived in the home.3 When John Henry "Doc" Holliday was old enough, his father taught him how to shoot and handle a gun. His mother spent time teaching him to play the piano, as well as working with him on his speech and manners.4
In 1864 the family moved to Valdosta, Georgia. John spent his adolescent school days there. He attended a private school, the Valdosta Institute. It's no longer there. A marker stands to note its historic interest.2 This is where he received the classical education that would stay with him through life.
He studied French and Latin, also a bit of Greek. One course he enjoyed was called Rhetoric. It involved advanced English language usage. It seems to have influenced the manner in which he spoke throughout his life!
On September 16, 1866 his mother, Alice, died from tuberculosis (then known as consumption). We don't know what young John thought, when 3 months later his father married again. He took a young woman, Rachel Martin, as his wife. She lived just down the street, and was quite a bit younger than Henry Holliday.3
But less than a year later, John was sent to North Georgia to spend a summer with relatives. Southern post-civil war reconstruction was also taking place at this time. That may have been a factor for his visit. Robert Kennedy Holliday was John's uncle who lived in Jonesboro GA. His daughter, Doc's cousin Mattie, was about a year and a half older than Doc. They hit it off well together. A "kissing cousin" kind of friendship that lasted a lifetime.3
John "Doc" Holliday was off to Philadelphia in the fall of 1870. There he enrolled in the Pennsylvania School of Dentistry. He took two years of coursework with dental labs and clinical time. His father paid for his tuition and books. But he worked summer jobs in Valdosta to help.
When he completed his education in March 1872, he was 20 years of age. The problem was he couldn't be authorized as a dentist by his school, and gain his diploma until age 21. So he wasn't yet eligible for a Georgia dentist's license.
His solution was to collaborate with fellow graduate Auguste Jameson Fuches. They went to his hometown of St. Louis, MO and practiced together there until John's birthday.3
When he reached 21 in August of 1872, John Henry returned home to Georgia. Suddenly he came into his family's inheritance, through his mother's side. And he also gained a Dentist position in Atlanta. He worked alongside Doctor Arthur C. Ford. While there, he roomed with an uncle, Doctor John Stiles Holliday.3
His adopted brother Francisco had also contracted tuberculosis (TB). He died on January 13, 1873. He'd gotten married and had six children. They lived about 17 miles East of Griffin, in Jenkinsburg Georgia. He was buried there. Doc Holliday must have gone to his funeral, as the next day he was back in his hometown completing a sale on some property.3
There's little evidence over next nine months of Doc's activities. At the end of that time he was in Dallas Texas. But during the interim, there were many rumors of what was going on:3
In Dallas, John "Doc" Holliday began a dental practice. He moved to practice here for the drier climate. His doctors advised that could possibly ease his TB symptoms. His father arranged a meeting with John A. Seeger, a dentist in town. They partnered together, opening a practice on Elm.5 Together they won dental awards at the Dallas County Fair.6
On March 2, 1874 a Dallas newspaper reported that the two dentists were going their separate ways. Doc Holliday opened his own practice in an office over a bank in town. It didn't go well. The quality of bedside manner suffered with his continuous coughing spells. That lost him patients. He began to lose interest in the practice which he couldn't maintain.
The Old West Barrooms in Dallas attracted more and more of his attention. He found he enjoyed card games and was good at gambling. The drinking also eased the pain of his illness. That was the beginning of his new lifestyle. He was able to even rely on gambling for income.
Now he began to promote and embellish tales of his own experiences with gun-play. He wanted to establish a virile reputation. He needed this standing, since his appearance was rather sickly. Doc ended up with an arrest after a "minor" gunfight with a barkeep in a Dallas saloon. It wasn't too long after this he left town, some say after shooting and killing an important local. His next stop was West Texas.5
In Fort Griffin Texas, Doc Holliday continued his gambling. In June 1875 he found himself in court there. The Grand Jury indicted him for illegal gaming in a saloon. He paid a fine and moved on.7
His next destination was Denver Colorado by winter of 1876. Along the way he stopped in Jacksboro TX. It's rumored his reputation here gave him the name: Deadly Dentist.5 In Denver more tall tales of his menacing ways developed. During the year, he also spent a little time in Cheyenne Wyoming, Dodge City, Deadwood and then Breckenridge Colorado.7
He returned to Fort Griffin in late 1877. It was a momentous trip, as he met two individuals who played a large part in his life. In John Shanssey’s saloon there is where he met Mary Katherine Harony - more well known as Big Nose Kate. Doc Holliday also first met Wyatt Earp there, beginning a life-long friendship. After leaving Texas, Doc and Kate headed for Dodge City, Kansas.
Big Nose Kate entered Dodge with Doc Holliday. It was now the beginning of June 1878. Doc decided to try an honest living at his profession again. He rented a dentistry office at the Dodge House. While in Dodge he continued this work, often putting in an entire day. But he occupied his evenings with gambling.
Wyatt Earp turned up in town, and he and Doc renewed their friendship. He introduced him to his brothers Morgan and Virgil. Wyatt found Doc useful in some of his activities. In September of that year, someone crept up behind Wyatt to shoot him in the back. Doc Holliday saw this and warned his friend, shooting Wyatt's assailant. He saved his life and Wyatt never forgot this!7 Wyatt would tell the story throughout his life.
Doc also met others there in Dodge City. Men who've made notoriety in history: Bat & Ed Masterson, Luke Short, Charlie Bassett, Dog Kelly (city mayor), Creek Johnson, Chalk Beeson (Long Branch Saloon co-owner) and entertainer Eddie Foy.7
In November of 1878, Doc Holliday left Dodge City to reach dryer climes again. His health had taken a downturn with pneumonia. He traveled to Colorado. Spent time in Trinidad, where he recovered. Then went south, ending up in Las Vegas, New Mexico.7
Doc began working with another dentist in Las Vegas NM. He was also regularly at the gaming tables as his sideline. And he partnered with former Dodge City deputy, John Joshua Webb, to open a saloon. This is when he first heard of the silver strike in Tombstone AZ.
There were many stories of Doc Holliday in gunfights and killings during those years. Especially in New Mexico.But little truth of them can be confirmed.8 Again it seems the bluster to maintain the Doc Holliday reputation.
About October of 1879 Wyatt Earp told Doc he was going to Prescott AZ. His brother Virgil was there, but was going to head to Tombstone AZ to take a lawman position. He and his brothers also had an interest in the silver mining there. They left for Prescott in November.
Doc took up gaming in Prescott. He stayed on there, since his winnings were coming in regularly and well. He met John Behan and John Clum, with whom he gambled. He'd meet up with them again later in Tombstone.
Kate was with him there in Prescott. They took a hotel room together. Some arguments arose between them. She wasn't very fond of Wyatt Earp, who was trying to convince Doc to come with him to Tombstone. Both Doc and Kate were intelligent, strong personalities which led to clashes. But they still had an attraction that kept them together. But in September of 1880, he finally decided to join Wyatt in Tombstone. Kate refused to go with him. Instead she moved to Globe, Arizona.
Doc Holliday arrived in Tombstone Arizona in September of 1880. He took a room at Fly's Boarding House. Big Nose Kate would join him, and stay awhile from time to time. Probably she came to live with him at Fly's three times while he lived in Tombstone. Each time they eventually got into a bad argument. He'd throw her out or she'd leave.7
During his time in Tombstone, he got into gambling games on a consistent basis. He dealt the games and played. All along Doc was drinking, as well. It was a method of easing his illness's pain and his coughing spasms. With consistent drinking, a person gets a tolerance for the alcohol. Thus over time he could imbibe a quantity, without showing all its ill effects.
His reputation began circulating in town. Locals who frequented the saloons and gambling dens knew him. He interacted with the cow-boys who came into town from the rural ranches. The local lawmen learned his name. He was often found gambling in the Oriental Saloon at the Northeast corner of Allen and 5th Streets. The owner, Milton Joyce wasn't especially fond of him which helped lead to an incident.
On March 15, 1881, a stagecoach was robbed north of Tombstone. Someone killed the shotgun rider and a passenger. The injured stage driver managed to shoot one of the culprits. Lawmen determined one of the bandits. He was a friend of Doc Holliday's.
Sheriff John Behan and Milton Joyce saw Big Nose Kate drinking in a saloon. She was grumbling about an argument she'd just had with Doc Holliday. He told her to get out! Behan and Joyce talked to her, bought her more drinks. In her drunken, angry state, they got her to sign an affidavit that Doc had been in on the stage robbery. A warrant for Doc's arrest was executed.
Doc felt Joyce was spreading rumors of his guilt around town. Holliday had been drinking most of the day, and entered the Oriental. He got into an argument with Joyce. Milton Joyce threw Doc out. Doc got a gun, returned and entered the Oriental. He unsteadily fired at Joyce, who pulled out his own pistol. Doc relieved him of that gun by firing a shot at Joyce that went through his hand. The Oriental bartender tried to grab Doc's gun, which fired into the barkeep's foot. Joyce retrieved his own gun and clunked Doc on the head, knocking him out. A lawman entered to end the situation.5
Big Nose Kate recovered from her alcohol binge. She remembered she'd signed something that might be bad for Doc Holliday. She heard they were going to arrest Doc. She stood witness to the manipulation by John Behan and Milton Joyce. With that and Doc Holliday's alibi, he was exonerated of the stage robbery charge. Doc was quite angry about what Kate had done, and gave her money to take a stagecoach out of town.
Wyatt Earp still involved his good friend, Doc Holliday, in his law enforcement and posse efforts. Whenever he needed extra men to join in to help, he asked Doc. On August 13, 1881, Doc was probably with some Earp brothers on a Posse. One had been formed by Marshal Crawley Dake to go after Cow-boy rustlers at the Mexican border. Clanton gang leader, Old Man Clanton, was killed during the posse's raid.
There's evidence that both Warren Earp and Doc were involved in that posse. Doc seemed out of commission for awhile after that.5 More of the Earp brothers must have also been there.
Doc began appearing around town again in October, using a cane. Locals witnessed a clash between Holliday and Ike Clanton the evening of October 25th. They'd both been drinking a lot all day. They ended up at the Alhambra Saloon and started insulting each other.7 Doc finally challenged Ike to try to shoot him! Ike said he wasn't armed (as was the city law!). But Doc said he should go get a gun.5
Doc ended it by claiming he killed his father, Old Man Clanton, and it was Ike's fault. He threatened he'd look to do the same to Ike. They both left for the night. Ike went to the Grand Hotel. Doc went home to Fly's, to the comfort of Big Nose Kate.
The next day, October 26, 1881, Doc and Kate left Fly's. Ike knocked on their room door that morning looking for Doc. Mrs. Fly sent him off, since they weren't there. Later she informed Kate Ike had looked for Doc. When Doc found out, he stated "If God will let me live long enough, he will see me!"5
Doc heard rumors that Ike roamed town that morning threatening the Earps. One of Ike's stops was at Kelly's Wine House where he said "The Earps and Doc Holliday are about to be shot." Doc saw Billy Clanton on the street and told him "Glad to meet you. Hope to kill you soon."7
Doc went over to Hafford's Saloon where he met with Virgil, Wyatt and Morgan Earp to discuss the problem with Ike.7 He realized that there was more to it. The Clanton brothers were with the McLaury brothers. They'd been to Spangenberg's gun shop and then went to a vacant lot off of Fremont Street, next to the O.K. Corral.
Virgil said they needed to disarm these Cowboys. Wyatt turned to Doc and said "Doc, this isn't your fight." Doc felt kind of insulted, and somewhat hurt that his good friend would say such a thing. He replied "That's a hell of a thing to say to me." Virgil deputized Doc for this foray.7
The four of them walked up toward Fremont, turned the corner, then walked West on Fremont Street. John Behan tried to head them off, saying he had already disarmed those Cow-boys. Holliday and the Earps just brushed him aside.
When they got to the lot behind the O.K. Corral, they saw Ike & Billy Clanton, Frank & Tom McLaury, and Billy Claibourne. Claibourne ran away right then. Virgil made a request for their guns. It's unclear exactly how he said it. A few seconds later gunshots began. It's also unclear who shot first. 30 shots rang out in 30 seconds - that's how fast it went!
As the shooting started Ike ran off. Both McLaury brothers were mortally wounded, dead within minutes. Billy Clanton was dead. Doc Holliday did a lot of damage. He killed Tom McLaury, struck Frank McLaury with a slug, and probably also hit Billy Clanton with a bullet. Doc Holliday himself was barely grazed.
For the Whole Gunfight at the O.K. Corral Story - Click Here
Ike Clanton soon filed a complaint with the court. A warrant was issued for the arrest of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. The other Earps had been seriously injured, and weren't then charged. Witnesses presented testimony for most of November of 1881. Judge Spicer gave his decision that "the defendants were fully justified in committing these homicides." That it was needed in their job as deputies.5
Ike and his fellow Cow-boys didn't take the judgment well. One response came the night of December 28th at Virgil Earp. He was on Allen Street, on his way to the Crystal Palace Saloon after leaving the Oriental. Bullets struck his left arm, side and back. He survived, but was handicapped thereafter. He was able to name Frank Stilwell among the shooters, but Frank got off with an alibi.
In mid January of 1882, Johnny Ringo, friend of the Cow-boys, accosted Doc Holliday. Ringo was pretty drunk, and Doc wasn't that sober! Ringo challenged Doc to a shoot-out. Doc's good friend Wyatt was near-by. He interceded, along with Marshal James Flynn. The two were separated. That ended it for the time being.5
Another retribution that shook Wyatt Earp to his soul happened on March 18, 1882. Morgan Earp was killed while playing pool in Campbell & Hatch's on Allen Street. Doc found out and reacted with his heart and gut. He searched Tombstone, breaking down any door where he thought an offender may be.
A coroner's jury determined the murderers. Frank Stilwell, among those listed, even boasted of delivering the fatal shot.5 Wyatt Earp was determined to get justice for Morgan, in his own way. His friend Doc always supported him. Doc and Wyatt traveled by train to go with Morgan's body to Tucson AZ. That was the first leg of Morgan's return to his burial in Colton California.
Wyatt and Doc got off the train in Tucson. It was now March 20, 1882. Suddenly Frank Stilwell appeared and a chase ensued. Wyatt blasted off shots at Stillwell, killing him. Doc came up and fired twice more at the dead Stilwell. Doc and Wyatt were both named on a warrant in his death, along with others in their party that day.5
A determined Wyatt wanted to get all those behind the murder of his brother Morgan. He had his friends that stood with him, including Doc Holliday. They formed a posse. Cochise County Sheriff John Behan had his warrants. So he tried to arrest Wyatt and Doc as they were leaving town. But they refused to be detained.
Their first stop was on March 22, 1882. They rode into the Dragoon Mountains to locate Pete Spence. At his camp they found Florentino Cruz. As he ran from the posse, they shot him down.
Next they went to Iron Springs in the Whetstone Mountains. Nine Cow-boys were there and presented an ambush. Wyatt killed Curly Bill Brocius and Johnny Barnes. The others escaped. Curly Bill's body was never recovered.
Since John Behan wasn't successful in arresting Wyatt and Doc, he secured a posse to get it done. After Iron Springs, Wyatt's vendetta ride went Northwest to Henry Hooker's Sierra Bonita Ranch. That's located somewhat South of Safford, Arizona. Hooker gave them food and shelter. He protected them from Behan's posse when they followed them there.
About the end of the first week of April 1882, Doc Holliday headed out of Arizona. The member's of Wyatt Earp's posse were along. They knew it was in their best interests to leave Arizona Territory. They entered New Mexico Territory.
They spent their first night in Silver City.
Then Deming and on to stay in Albuquerque. Witnesses reported an argument between Wyatt and Doc Holliday at a restaurant in town. It concerned Wyatt's relationship with Josephine Marcus. Doc made a racial slur about her Jewish heritage.5,7
They each went their separate ways. Wyatt went to Gunnison Colorado, while Doc Holliday went to Denver.7 In late May, Arizona put an extradition effort through to Colorado. Doc Holliday was arrested.
But he wasn't released back to Arizona for technical reasons.
Doc went to Gunnison the month after, and met with Wyatt. Josie was there with Wyatt. Doc's health was starting to fail much more at this point. He was very thin, and pretty weak, lacking energy. His cough was quite bad. Here he was now, looking much older than his 31 years. Still he managed to carry on, stopping in a few Southern Colorado towns. He finally ended up in Leadville at the end of 1882.
The elevation there wasn't good for his lungs. The tuberculosis had probably damaged half his lung tissue by now. That made it useless in absorbing oxygen. The mucus from the TB gave rise to pneumonia. That clogged up his lungs even more, which blocked oxygen from getting through.
The decent lung area left was hampered in absorbing oxygen because of the elevation. The air pressure at that level is lower. Good air pressure is needed to press the oxygen molecules into the bloodstream for use by the body.
So his brain wasn't getting the oxygen it required. That would have affected his gambling skills. And it did. He was also medicated with his drinking and regular laudanum doses. His thinking was fuzzy. He wasn't winning as much anymore. In fact, his losses were so bad he started pawning the jewelry he owned. And he was borrowing small amounts of money from various friends and enemies. He wasn't quick in paying it back. That lead to another notorious incident in his life.9
His hang-out in Leadville was Hyman's Saloon. Two of his old foes were in town. On edge, he heard they'd been threatening him. Billy Allen was asking that his $5 loan be repaid - or else! As Allen entered the saloon, Doc fired his gun. He hit him with his first shot, fired again and missed. Saloon patrons disarmed him. He was arrested. In the jury trial he was found not guilty on March 28, 1885 for reasons of self defense. Part of his defense was his weak condition.5,9
Doc Holliday made his way to Glenwood Springs, Colorado in May 1887. The spring waters there were reputed to have healthful properties. Actually, they have sulfurous odors, which isn't a good inhalant for a tuberculin lung!
Doc took a room in the Hotel Glenwood. It was a place that specialized in people coming to town to visit the local springs for its health benefits. In particular they went to the Yampah Hot Springs. A man he'd known from his past days in Tombstone, Charlie Smith, was in town at the time. It's from him we fortunately have a look at Doc's last days.
Origen Charles Smith's writings surfaced. They went through a lot of narrow escapes! Descendants of one of Smith's associates preserved them through the years. A recent descendant, Clifton Brewer, collaborated with a descendant/relative of Doc Holliday. She is Karen Holliday Tanner. They presented a historical work of Smith's notes. She also authored an authoritative book on the life of John Henry Holliday.
Here are the details of Doc's experiences, as noted by Charlie Smith...10
Charlie had a room across the hall from Doc at the Hotel Glenwood. Mr. Smith kept notes, and wrote some letters that detail the events of that time. He said Doc took the narrow gauge railway from Leadville. It was a difficult trip for him. He continually coughed, bringing up bloody mucus all the time. He needed a cane to walk. His hair was silvery gray.
From the train station, he took the stagecoach, arriving at the Hotel Glenwood on May 24, 1887. At first he tried to earn some money by dealing Faro. But he couldn't do it. Big Nose Kate came to town to help take care of Doc. He had contacted her in Globe to let her know his plans when he was leaving Leadville.
By October Doc had succumbed to another bout of pneumonia. He hadn't gotten out of bed, sat up, or spoken a word in many, many days. Any sign of activity was just delirium. A doctor told Kate that he'd done all he could do.
On November 8, 1887 Charlie Smith went up to Doc's room. The bellhop let him know that Doc had sat up that morning! The maid entered the room to find him that way. Was that an improvement?
When Charlie entered, Kate was there. So were a couple of friends, and his doctor. It was obvious to Charlie that the Doctor was telling Kate the end was near. Now Doc's breathing was very shallow. The Doctor gave him a drink of whiskey. He looked at Kate, smiling. With a last breath he said "This is funny."
The Doctor recorded the time and date of his death: Nine fifty-five, November 8, 1887. He was 36 years old.
Charlie Smith continued his notes, so that we have information on the funeral arrangements:10
They planned it quickly, 2 p.m. the same day. Held in Linwood Colorado. The Reverend Rudolph performed the ceremony. Local friends donated his adorned coffin. Charlie watched the undertakers lift his body and take it to the hearse. People on the streets offered condolences to Kate, as the hearse headed off.
He was buried in Linwood Cemetery. There is some controversy about the exact grave-site. Yet there is evidence that it's probably right where the grave marker stands, or pretty close to it.
Kate sent Doc's possessions to his family back in Georgia. She returned to Globe Arizona the day after the funeral. Charlie Smith left Glenwood on November 10th.
Doc Holliday is a memorable name in the annals of the Old West. His name and his life, short though it was, will continue to be of interest to many.
1 "John Henry Holliday Family History". Kansas Heritage Group. Archived from the original on November 16, 2017. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
2 Siebert, D. (2018). Valdosta Institute. Digital Library of Georgia. Retrieved from Georgia Info, an Online Georgia Almanac on January 4, 2018.
3 Wilcox, V. (2001). Mischievous minor: From lad to Luger. True West: History of the American Frontier. Retrieved January 5, 2018 from https://truewestmagazine.com/mischievous-minor/
4 Doc Holliday Biography.com (April 27, 2017). The Biography.com website published by A&E Television Networks. Retrieved January 4, 2018 from https://www.biography.com/people/doc-holliday
5 Traywick, B. (October 1997). Doc Holliday. Wild West Magazine. Archived from the original on May 11, 2016. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
6 Ballard, S. (n.d.). Facts any good Doc Holliday aficionado should know (and probably doesn't). Tombstone Times. Retrieved January 4, 2018 from http://www.tombstonetimes.com/stories/facts.html
7 Gillen, P. (2017). I am John H. Holliday DDS: You may call me Doc. Bloomington IN: Authorhouse.
8 Traywick, B. (n.d.). The infamous Doc Holliday. The Tombstone News. Retrieved January 5, 2018 from http://thetombstonenews.com/the-infamous-doc-holliday-p1201-84.htm
9 Jay, R. (August 14, 2006). Spitting lead in Leadville: Doc Holliday's last stand. HistoryNet. Wild West Magazine. Retrieved January 6, 2018 from http://www.historynet.com/spitting-lead-in-leadville-doc-hollidays-last-stand.htm
10 Holliday Tanner, K. & Brewer, C. (November 1, 2001). Doc Holliday’s last days: The Origen Charles Smith memoir. True West Magazine. Retrieved January 6, 2018 from https://truewestmagazine.com/doc-hollidays-last-days/