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 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 war-orphan boy home with him. 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 named Martha Eleanora. She died when just over 6 months old.1
Soon after John Henry came into the family, he was brought to the local First Presbyterian Church. Baptized there on March 21, 1852. He'd had a birth defect, a cleft palate. His parents obtained corrective surgery for him.4
John lived 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 to shoot and handle a gun. His mother spent time teaching him piano, and working with him on speech and manners.4
In 1864 the family moved to Valdosta, Georgia. John spent adolescent school days there. Attending a private school, the Valdosta Institute, that's no longer there. A marker stands, noting its historic interest.2 It's where he received classical education that stayed with him through life.
He studied French and Latin, also a bit of Greek. A course he enjoyed was Rhetoric. It involved advanced English language usage. It sure influenced the way 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 three months later his father remarried. A young woman from just down the street, Rachel Martin, became his wife. She was much younger than Henry Holliday!3
Less than a year later, John was sent to North Georgia, spending a summer with relatives. Southern post-civil war reconstruction was taking place at that time. That may have factored into his visit. Robert Kennedy Holliday was John's uncle in Jonesboro GA. His daughter, Doc's cousin Mattie, was about 1-1/2 years older than Doc. They hit it off well together. A "kissing cousin" kind of friendship that lasted a lifetime.3
John "Doc" Holliday went to Philadelphia in the fall of 1870. He enrolled in the Pennsylvania School of Dentistry. For two years of coursework with dental labs and clinicals. His father paid his tuition and books. But he helped, working summer jobs in Valdosta.
He was 20 years old when he completed his education in March 1872. But he couldn't get his diploma for authorization as a dentist by his school, until age 21. So yet ineligible 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 1872, John Henry returned home to Georgia. He came into his family's inheritance, through his mother's side. He also gained a Dentist position in Atlanta, working alongside Doctor Arthur C. Ford. While there, he roomed with an uncle, Doctor John Stiles Holliday.3
His adopted brother Francisco had contracted tuberculosis (TB). He'd gotten married and had six children. They lived about 17 miles East of Griffin, in Jenkinsburg Georgia. He died on January 13, 1873. He was buried there. Doc Holliday must have gone to his funeral, as the next day he was back in his hometown completing a property sale.3
At the end of the next nine months Doc was in Dallas Texas. Before that, many buzzes circulate of his activities:3
In Dallas, John "Doc" Holliday began a dental practice. He moved 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 local dentist. 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 the two dentists went their separate ways. Doc Holliday opened his own practice in an office over a bank in town. It didn't go well. His bedside manner suffered with continuous coughing spells. That lost him patients. He was losing interest in the practice which he couldn't maintain.
The Old West Barrooms in Dallas attracted more and more of his attention. He enjoyed card games and was good at gambling. Alcohol eased the pain of his illness. That began his new lifestyle. He was able to rely on gambling for income.
He began to promote and embellish tales of his own experiences with gun-play. To establish a virile reputation. He needed this standing, since he appeared rather sickly.
Doc was arrested 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 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 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 he met Mary Katherine Harony, 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 at the beginning of June 1878. Doc tried an honest living at his profession again. He rented an office at Dodge House. He continued dentistry, often putting in an entire day. But he occupied his evenings with gambling.
Wyatt Earp turned up in town. He and Doc renewed their friendship. Wyatt introduced him to his brothers Morgan and Virgil. Wyatt found Doc useful in some of his activities.
In September that year, someone crept up behind Wyatt to shoot him in the back. Doc Holliday saw this, warning 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 historical notoriety: 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 1878, Doc Holliday left Dodge for dryer climes again. His health had taken a downturn with pneumonia. He traveled to recover in Trinidad, Colorado. Then went south, ending up in Las Vegas, New Mexico.7
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Because of his gambling "occupation" Doc wanted protection with him. As a child his father trained him well in gun handling. But he was sapped because of his disease. Doc chose weapons for practicality, with that in mind.
What he liked best were two double action Colt pistols which worked well for him. Doc Holliday carried either the nickel-plated .41 caliber Thunderer or the .38 caliber Lightening.
About October 1879 Wyatt told Doc he was heading to Prescott AZ. Wyatt's brother Virgil Earp was there, but was going to Tombstone AZ for a lawman position. He and his brothers also had interest in silver mining there.
They left for Prescott in November. Doc started gambling there. He stayed, since his winnings were good and regular. He met John Behan and John Clum, while gaming. He'd meet up with them again later in Tombstone.
Kate and Doc lived in a Prescott hotel room together. Some arguments arose between them. She wasn't fond of Wyatt Earp, who was trying to convince Doc to come to Tombstone. Both Doc and Kate were intelligent, strong personalities, leading to clashes. Still their strong attraction kept them together. Doc finally decided to join Wyatt in Tombstone. Kate refused to go with him. Instead she moved to Globe, Arizona.
Doc Holliday got to Tombstone AZ in September 1880. He took a room at Fly's Boarding House. Big Nose Kate joined him from time to time, staying awhile. Probably she was with him at Fly's three times when he lived in Tombstone. Each time they eventually got into a bad argument. He'd throw her out or she'd leave.7
While in Tombstone, Doc consistently gambled. He dealt the games and played. All along Doc was drinking (his favorite is said to be Old Overholt Whiskey). For him, to ease TB's pain and coughing spasms. With consistent drinking, one gets tolerance for alcohol. Thus over time he could imbibe a quantity, without showing all its ill effects.
His reputation began circulating in town. Locals frequenting saloons and gambling dens knew him. He interacted with ranch-hands and cow-boys coming into town. Local lawmen learned his name. He often gambled at the Oriental Saloon, at the Northeast corner of Allen and 5th Streets. The owner, Milton Joyce, wasn't fond of him, helping lead to an incident.
On March 15, 1881, a Stagecoach robbery occurred 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: a friend of Doc Holliday's.
Sheriff John Behan and Milton Joyce encountered Big Nose Kate drinking in a saloon. Grumbling about a recent argument 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 stating Doc had been in on that stage robbery. A warrant for Doc's arrest was issued.
Doc felt Joyce was spreading rumors of his guilt around town. Holliday was drinking most of the day, and entered the Oriental. He argued with Joyce, and got thrown out.
Doc got his gun, and reentered 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 grabbing Doc's gun, which fired into the barkeep's foot. Joyce retrieved his own gun, clunking Doc's head, knocking him out. A lawman entered ending the situation.5
Big Nose Kate recovered from her alcohol binge. She remembered signing something bad about Doc Holliday. She heard the plans 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 angry at Kate, what she'd done. He gave her money to take a stagecoach out of town.
Wyatt Earp still involved his good friend, Doc Holliday, in law enforcement and posse efforts. Whenever he needed extra men to help, he asked Doc. On August 13, 1881, Doc was probably with some Earp brothers on a Posse. It was formed by Marshal Crawley Dake to go after Cow-boy rustlers at the Mexican border. Clanton gang boss, 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 commission awhile after that.5 More Earp brothers conceivably were there.
Doc appeared 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 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 Ike should go get a gun.5
Doc ended it by claiming he killed Ike's father, Old Man Clanton, and blamed Ike. He threatened he'd do the same to Ike. Both left for the night. Ike to the Grand Hotel. Doc home to Fly's, to the comfort of Big Nose Kate.
The next day, October 26, 1881, Doc and Kate went out. Ike knocked at their door that morning looking for Doc. Mrs. Fly sent him off, since they weren't there. Later she informed Kate that Ike came by. When Doc found out, he stated "If God will let me live long enough, he will see me!"5
Doc heard about Ike roaming town that morning threatening the Earps. One of Ike's stops was Kelly's Wine House, spouting out: "The Earps and Doc Holliday are about to be shot." Doc saw Billy Clanton on the street, telling him "Glad to meet you. Hope to kill you soon."7
Doc went over to Hafford's Saloon, meeting with Virgil, Wyatt and Morgan Earp to discuss problems with Ike.7 He realized 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 lot off Fremont Street, next to the O.K. Corral.
Virgil said they must disarm these Cowboys. Wyatt turned to Doc, saying "Doc, this isn't your fight." Doc felt rather 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 Earp deputized Doc for this foray.7
The four of them walked up 4th, turned the corner, walking West on Fremont Street. John Behan tried heading them off, saying he'd 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 off. Virgil requested their guns. His phrasing is conjectural. A few seconds later gunshots commenced. 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 lots of damage. He killed Tom McLaury, struck Frank McLaury with a slug, and probably 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 and his fellow Cow-boys didn't take the judgment well. One response came the night of December 28th at Virgil Earp. Walking on Allen Street, near the Crystal Palace Saloon after leaving the Oriental. Bullets struck his left arm, side and back. He survived, but was handicapped thereafter. He named Frank Stilwell among the shooters, but Frank got off with an alibi.
In mid January 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 March 18, 1882. Morgan Earp was killed, playing pool in Campbell & Hatch's on Allen Street. Doc found out, reacting with his heart and gut. He searched Tombstone, breaking down doors where he thought offenders may be.
A coroner's jury determined the murderers. Frank Stilwell, among those listed, even boasted of delivering the fatal shot.5 Wyatt Earp resolved to get justice for Morgan, in his own way. His friend Doc always supported him. Doc and Wyatt traveled by train escorting Virgil and Allie Earp to Tucson AZ. The couple caught the train to the Earp family home in Colton California, for Morgan's burial.
Wyatt and Doc got off the train in Tucson, now March 20, 1882. Suddenly Frank Stilwell appeared, a chase ensued. Wyatt blasted off shots at Stillwell, killing him. Doc came up, firing twice more at the dead Stillwell. A warrant named Doc and Wyatt in his death, plus others in their party that day.5
Wyatt aimed to get everyone behind the murder of his brother Morgan. His friends stood with him, including Doc Holliday. They formed a posse. Cochise County Sheriff John Behan had his warrants. So Behan tried to arrest Wyatt and Doc as they left town. But they refused to be detained.
Their first stop was March 22, 1882. They rode into the Dragoon Mountains to locate Pete Spence. At Spence's camp was 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 waiting in ambush. Wyatt allegedly killed Curly Bill Brocius and Johnny Barnes. The others escaped. Curly Bill's body was never recovered.
Since John Behan didn't arrest 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 Southwest of Safford, Arizona. Hooker gave them food and shelter. He protected them from Behan's posse when they followed.
About the first week of April 1882, Doc Holliday headed out of Arizona. Wyatt Earp's posse was along. They knew their best interests were to leave Arizona Territory.
They entered New Mexico Territory. Spending their first night in Silver City.
Then Deming and on to Albuquerque. Witnesses reported an argument between Wyatt and Doc Holliday at a restaurant there. Concerning 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 Doc wasn't released back to Arizona for technical reasons. Therefore he wasn't extradited, and remained in Colorado.
Doc went to Gunnison the month after, meeting with Wyatt. Josie was there, too. Doc's health was failing more at this point. He was very thin, pretty weak, lacking energy. His cough was quite bad. Here he was now, looking much older than his 31 years. Still he carried 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. Tuberculosis had probably damaged half his lung tissue by now. Making it useless for absorbing oxygen. Mucus from the TB encouraged pneumonia. Plus clogged up his lungs more, blocking further oxygen absorption.
The decent lung area left was hampered in absorbing oxygen because of the elevation. The air pressure there is lower. Good air pressure is needed to press oxygen molecules into the bloodstream for body usage.
So his brain wasn't getting the oxygen it required. For all those reasons! That would affect his gambling skills. And it did.
He also self-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 jewelry he owned. And he borrowed 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 old foes were in town. On edge, Doc heard they'd threatened him. Billy Allen demanding 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. Doc was arrested. In the jury trial he was found not guilty on March 28, 1885 because 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. Spring waters there were reputed to have healthful properties. Actually, with sulfurous odors, not really a good inhalant for tuberculin lungs!
Doc took a room in Hotel Glenwood. It specialized in people visiting town for these local springs. 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 many narrow escapes! Descendants of a Smith associate preserved them through the years. A recent descendant, Clifton Brewer, collaborated with a descendant/relative of Doc Holliday. She's 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 details of Doc's experiences, based on memorandums by Charlie Smith...10
Charlie had a room across the hall from Doc at the Hotel Glenwood. Mr. Smith kept journals, and wrote letters detailing the events. He said Doc took the narrow gauge railway from Leadville. It was a difficult for him. He continually coughed, constantly bringing up bloody mucus. 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 cash by dealing Faro. But he couldn't do it. Big Nose Kate came to town to help take care of Doc. He contacted her in Globe, letting her know his plans as he left Leadville.
By October Doc had another bout of pneumonia. He hadn't gotten out of bed, sat up, or spoken a word in many days. Any activity was just delirium. A doctor told Kate he'd done all he could do.
On November 8, 1887 Charlie Smith went to Doc's room. The bellhop let him know 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 few 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 shot of whiskey. Doc smiled at Kate. With his last breath Doc said "This is funny."
The Doctor recorded the time and date of Doc's death: Nine fifty-five, November 8, 1887. He was 36 years old.
Charlie Smith continued his notes. To include information on the funeral arrangements.10
They planned it quickly, 2 p.m. the same day. Held in Linwood Colorado. Reverend Rudolph performed the ceremony. Local friends donated his adorned coffin. Undertakers lifted his body and took it to the hearse. People on the streets offered condolences to Kate, as the hearse headed out.
He was buried in Linwood Cemetery. Some controversy exists about the exact grave-site. But there's evidence that it's probably right where the grave marker stands, or pretty close to it.
Kate sent Doc's possessions to his family in Georgia. She returned to Globe Arizona the day after the funeral. Charlie Smith left Glenwood on November 10th.
Doc Holliday remains a memorable name in the annals of the Old West. His name and life, short though it was, will continue to be of interest to many. How do we know?
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/