Dr. John Henry "Doc" Holliday
1851 - 1887
"He was the most skillful
gambler, and the nerviest, fastest, deadliest man with a six-gun I ever
This was the tribute paid to Doc Holliday by Wyatt Earp, who was something of a tough character himself.
On August 14, 1851 in Griffin, Georgia, John Henry Holliday was born to
Henry Burroughs and Alice Jane Holliday. Their first child, Martha Eleanora, had
died on June 12, 1850 at six months of age. When he married Alice Jane McKay on
January 8, 1849, Henry Burroughs was a pharmacist by trade and, later, became a
wealthy planter, lawyer, and during the War between the States, a Confederate
Major. Church records state: "John Henry, infant son of Henry B. and Alice
J. Holliday, received the ordinance of baptism on Sunday, March 21, 1852, at the
First Presbyterian Church in Griffin."
Alice Jane died on September 16, 1866. This was a terrible blow to young
John Henry for he and his mother were very close. To compound this loss, his
father married Rachel Martin only three months later on December 18, 1866.
Shortly after this marriage, the Holliday family moved to Valdosta, Georgia.
Major Holliday quickly became one of the town's leading citizens, becoming
Mayor, the Secretary of the County Agricultural Society, a Member of the Masonic
Lodge, the Secretary of the Confederate Veterans Camp, and the Superintendent of
Because of his family status, John Henry had to choose some sort of
profession and he chose dentistry. He enrolled in dental school in 1870 and
attended his first lecture session in 1870-1872. Each lecture session lasted a
little over three months. John wrote his required thesis on "Disease of the
Teeth". He served his required two years apprenticeship under Dr. L.F.
Frank. On March 1, 1872, the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery in
Philadelphia, conferred the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery upon twenty-six
men, one of whom was John Henry Holliday. Upon completion of his training and
graduation, Dr. Holliday opened an office with a Dr. Arthur C. Ford in Atlanta
in 1872. The Atlanta Constitution on July 26, 1872, ran the following item:
"I hereby inform my patients that I have to attend the session of the
Southern Dental Association in Richmond, Virginia, and will be absent until
about the middle of August, during which time Dr. John H. Holliday will fill my
place in my office. Office: 26 Whitehall Street - Arthur C. Ford, D.D.A."
John was a good dentist, but shortly after starting his practice, he
discovered that he had contracted tuberculosis. Although he consulted a number
of doctors, the consensus of all was that he had only months to live. However,
they all concurred that he might add a few months to his life if he moved to a
dry climate. Following this advice, Doc packed up and headed West. His first
stop was in Dallas, Texas, the end of the railroad at the time. The date was
October 1873, and Doc soon found a suitable position as an associate of Dr. John
A. Seegar. He hung out his shingle and prepared for business, but his terrible
illness was not through with him. Coughing spells wracked his thin frame and
often occurred at the most embarrassing times, such as in the midst of filling a
tooth or making an extraction. As a result, his dental business gradually
declined. John soon had to find other means of earning a livelihood.
It became apparent that he possessed a natural ability for gambling and
this quickly became his sole means of support. In those days, a gambler in the
west had to be able to protect himself, for he stood alone. Doc was well aware
of this and faithfully practiced with six-gun and knife. On January 2, 1875, Doc
and a local saloon keeper, named Austin, had a disagreement that flared into
violence. Each man went for his pistol. Several shots were fired, but not one
struck its intended target. According to the Dallas Weekly Herald, both shooters
were arrested. Most of the local citizens thought such a gunfight highly
amusing, but changed their views a few days later when Doc put two large holes
through a prominent citizen, leaving him very dead. Feelings ran high over this
killing and Doc was forced to flee Dallas a short distance in front of a posse.
His next stop was Jacksboro over in Jack's County, where he found a job dealing
Faro. Jackson was a tough cow-town situated near an armypost.
Not to be outdone, Doc now carried a gun in a shoulder holster, one on his
hip, and a long, wicked knife as well. Reports confirm the fact that he was
becoming an expert with these weapons as he was involved in three gunfights in a
very short span of time. One of these left another dead man to Doc's credit.
Since this was a pretty wild section of the West at that time, no law action was
taken against him. During the summer of 1876, Holliday again became a
participant in a gunfight. On this occasion, he was careless enough to kill a
soldier from Fort Richardson. The killing brought the United States Government
into the investigation.
Doc hit the trail again, but this time his back trail was cluttered with
the Army, U.S. Marshals, Texas Rangers, and local lawmen and citizens, who were
anxious to collect the reward offered for him. Holliday knew that if he was
captured, his neck would be stretched with very few preliminaries, so he headed
straight into Apache country for Colorado, eight hundred miles away. Stopping
for short periods at Pueblo, Leadville, Georgetown and Central City, three more
men went down before his guns before he reached Denver. There he went by the
name of Tom Mackey and was practically unknown until he was involved in an
argument with Bud Ryan, while dealing Faro at Babbitt's House.
In the ensuing fight, Doc came very near to cutting Ryan's head off. Ryan,
who was a well-known gambling tough, survived the vicious slashing, but his face
and neck were horribly mutilated. Although his victim did not die, public
resentment forced Doc to flee again. He drifted on to Wyoming, then to New
Mexico, and from there 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, a frontier dance hall woman and prostitute. It was quite true
that Kate's nose was prominent, but her other features were quite attractive.
Her ample curves were generous and all in the right places. Tough, stubborn,
fearless, and high tempered, she worked at the business of being a Madam and a
prostitute because she liked it! She belonged to no man or no Madam's House, but
plied her trade as an individual in the manner she chose.
Doc met her while he was dealing cards in John Shanssey's saloon. It was
also at Shanssey's that he met Wyatt Earp, another person who was to have a
great deal of influence on his life. 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 fast friends.
Holliday had already gained the reputation of being a cold-blooded killer. Many
believed that he liked to kill, but that was not true. He was simply a
hot-tempered Southerner who stood aside for no man. Bat Masterson said of him:
"Doc Holliday was afraid of nothing on earth". Doc could be described
as a fatalist. He knew that he was already condemned to a slow, painful death.
If his death was quick and painless, who was he to object! Actually, he expected
a quick demise because of the violent life he lived.
A bully boy of Fort Griffin sat down in a poker game with Holliday. His
name was Ed Bailey and he had grown accustomed to having his way with no one
questioning his actions. Doc's reputation seemed to make no impression on him
whatever. In an obvious attempt to irritate 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, but the erstwhile bad man ignored his protests. The very next hand
Bailey picked up the discards again. Without saying a word Doc reached out and
raked in the pot without showing his hand, Bailey brought a six-shooter from
under the table, while a large knife materialized in Doc's hand. Before the
local bully could pull the trigger, Doc, with one slash, completely disemboweled
him. Spilling blood everywhere, Bailey sprawled across the table.
As he felt that he was obviously only protecting himself and in the right,
Doc stuck around town and allowed the Marshal to arrest him. That was certainly
a mistake, for once he had been disarmed and locked up, Bailey's friends and the
town vigilantes began a clamor for his blood. "Big Nose" Kate knew
that Doc was finished unless someone did something and quick. Likely as not, the
local lawmen would turn the slim gunman over to the mob. Kate went into action
by setting fire to an old shed. It burned so rapidly that the flames threatened
to engulf the town. Everyone went to fight the fire with the exception of three
people: Kate, Doc, and the Officer who guarded him. As soon as the lawman and
his prisoner were left alone, she stepped in and confronted them. A pistol in
each hand, she disarmed the startled guard, then passed a pistol to Doc and the
two of them vanished into the night.
All that night they hid in the brush, carefully avoiding parties of
searchers. The next morning they headed for Dodge City, four hundred miles away,
on "borrowed" horses. The couple registered at Deacon Cox's Boarding
House in Dodge City as Dr. and Mrs. J. H. Holliday. Doc felt he owed Kate a
great deal for rescuing him from a hang tree in Fort Griffin and was determined
to do anything in his power to make her happy. Kate gave up being a prostitute
and inhabiting the saloons. Doc 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 quiet 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.
September found Doc back 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 wild, salty bunch, ready to
"tree" Dodge. Word was brought into the Long Branch that several of
the trail drivers had Wyatt Earp cornered and were boasting that they intended
to shoot him down. Doc leaped through the door, gun in 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 twenty of their friends
also stood nearby, taunting and insulting the enraged, but helpless, Wyatt.
Holliday loosed a volume of profanity and, as the self-styled bad men 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. Wyatt never forgot the fact
that Doc Holliday saved his life that night in Dodge City.
Kate and Doc soon had another of their frequent, violent quarrels and Doc,
in a furious mood, saddled his horse and rode out to Trinidad, Colorado. Shortly
after he arrived in town, a young gambler, known as "Kid Colton",
wishing to make himself a reputation, badgered Doc into a fight. Doc's gun
roared twice and Colton collapsed in the dust of the street. Under such
circumstances, Doc did not wish to linger around, and rode on into New Mexico.
In the summer of 1879, Doc tried his hand as a dentist for the last time in Las
Vegas, New Mexico. It was a very weak attempt and ended in a short time when he
bought a saloon on Center Street. A few weeks later, he got into an argument
with a local gunman, named Mike Gordon, who, by all evidence, was rather popular
with the locals. Not one to mince words, Doc politely invited him to start
shooting whenever he felt like it and then shot him three times in the stomach.
A mob quickly gathered and began plans for decorating a hang tree, using Doc as
an ornament. Wisely, Doc disappeared like smoke. Since he had to move on again,
Doc knew the one place he would be safe in was Dodge City. After all, Wyatt Earp
was his friend. But when he rode back into town, he discovered that Wyatt had
gone to a new silver strike, in a place called Tombstone, Arizona.
There was nothing to hold him in Dodge City with Wyatt gone, so Doc headed
West, bound for Tombstone.
Without Doc knowing it, he would soon get to know more of the Earp family, for
all of the Earp brothers were bound for Tombstone. Morgan was coming in from
Montana, Wyatt and James from Dodge City and Virgil from Prescott, where Marshal
Crawley Dake had just made him a Deputy U.S. Marshal. Virgil left Prescott for
Tombstone without Holliday , who was having a fantastic run of luck at the poker
"Big Nose" Kate, also enroute to the new boom town of Tombstone,
caught up with Doc in Prescott while he was still winning at poker. The two of
them reached Tombstone in the early summer of 1880 and Doc, with $40,000 of the
Prescott gamblers' money in his pockets, found Kate very happy to be in his
In Tombstone, Doc found Kate's living quarters sandwiched between a
funeral parlor and the Soma Winery on the North side of Allen Street, at Sixth
Street. Kate was quick to realize opportunity and, soon after her arrival in
Tombstone, went into business and was soon making a sizable income. She
purchased a large tent, rounded up several girls, a few barrels of bad, cheap
whiskey and operated Tombstone's first "sporting house".
The outlaw gang in Tombstone had things their way for quite some time and
they resented the arrival of the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday. "Old
man" Clanton, his sons, Ike, Phin, and Billy, the McLaury brothers, Frank
and Tom, Curly Bill Brocius, John Ringo and their followers lost no time in
expressing their displeasure. Doc had become quite famous as a gunman by the
time he had reached Tombstone. Several men had died in encounters with him. At
any rate, Holliday was a welcome addition to the Earp's fight with the
Johnny Tyler and Doc had a dispute in the Oriental Saloon, early in
October, 1880. Tyler left as quickly as possible but Doc and Milt Joyce, the
saloon owner, continue to argue. The argument turned into gunplay and Doc
drunkenly fired several shots. Finally, Milt struck Doc on the head with a
pistol. When the affair ended Joyce had been shot through the hand, Parker, his
bartender, was shot through the toe on the left foot and Holliday had a lump on
his head from the pistol-whipping by Joyce. Doc was arrested and charged with
assault with a deadly weapon. He was found guilty by Justice Reilly and fined
$20 for assault and battery and $11.25 costs.
Once they were settled in town, Holliday and "Big Nose" Kate
took up where they had left off. Although they lived together , Doc went back to
drinking and gambling and Kate to her operation as a prostitute. Their arguments
were frequent, but not really serious until Kate got drunk and abusive. Doc, at
this point, decided that enough was enough and threw her out. As fate would have
it, four masked men attempted a hold up on a stagecoach near Contention on March
15, 1881. In the attempt, they killed two men: Bud Philpot, the stage driver,
and Peter Roerig, a passenger. The Cowboy faction immediately seized upon the
opportunity and accused Doc Holliday of being one of the holdup men. Sheriff
Behan and Deputy Stilwell found Kate on one of her drunken binges, still
berating Doc for throwing her out. They sympathized with her and fed her more
whiskey, then persuaded her to sign an affidavit that Doc had been one of the
masked highwaymen and had actually pulled the trigger on the shot that killed
While Kate was sobering up, the Earps began to round up witnesses who
could verify Doc's whereabouts on the night in question. When Kate realized what
she had done, she regretted her actions and repudiated her statement. Since
witnesses and Kate's new stand exposed the Cowboy frame-up, Doc was released.
The District Attorney labeled the charges as ridiculous and threw them out. Doc
gave Kate some money and put her on a stage leaving town. As far as he was
concerned, his debt to her was paid in full. "Big Nose" Kate was a far
different woman than most of the people in Tombstone realized. She had been born
Mary Katherine Horony, in Budapest, Hungary on November 7, 1850. During her long
life she was to use many last names: Elder, Melvin, Fisher, Holliday, Cummings
and Howard. She did not travel far on the stage, only to Globe. Evidently, she
made two or three trips back to Tombstone to visit Doc as she claimed to be a
witness to the gunfight. She may have been, as she and Doc were staying in a
room at Mrs. Fly's.
Most likely that is why the Cowboys were in a vacant lot next door near
the O.K. Corral. They may have been waiting for Doc to come back to the room
they shared where they would have an opportunity to kill him.
Kate was apparently in Colorado from 1882 to the early part of 1888,
although there is no information that she was living with Doc any of those
years. She married a blacksmith, named George M. Cummings in 1888 and with her
new husband moved to Bisbee, Arizona, only a few miles from Tombstone. They also
lived for a time in Pearce, Arizona. In 1889, Kate left her husband and moved to
the tiny railroad town of Cochise. (Cummings committed suicide in Courtland,
Arizona on July 7, 1915. The coroner's jury report said that he killed himself
because he had an incurable cancer of the head.) Cochise had been born in 1886
as a railroad station and post office at the junction of the Arizona Eastern and
Southern Pacific railroads. John J. Rath hired Kate to work in his Cochise Hotel
in 1899, although the customers never knew her true identity. She left the
Cochise Hotel in the summer of 1900, and moved in with a man named Howard, from
the mining town of Dos Cabezas.
She lived with him until 1930, and when he died she inherited some
property. In 1931, she wrote to the Governor of Arizona, George W.P. Hunt,
requesting admission to the "Arizona Pioneers Home". Being foreign
born, she was not eligible but she claimed that she had been born in Davenport,
Iowa. So Hunt gave her permission for admission to the home and she stayed there
until her death on November 2, 1940.
The Gunfight at
the O.K. Corral
Other gunfights and the aftermath of O.K. Corral
On January 17, 1882, came the famous confrontation between Wyatt, Doc and
Ringo. Many writers would say that Ringo challenged all the Earps and Holliday.
Not true. Virgil and Morgan were incapacitated with painful wounds. Ringo wasn't
running much risk as there was little chance that they would accept his
challenge. They knew that Ringo had been drinking heavily and that the Whiskey
was talking. In addition, they had troubles enough from the aftermath of the
gunfight at O.K. Corral. Ringo was well aware of all this.
On March 18,1882, the assassins struck again. Morgan was playing pool with
Bob Hatch at Campbell and Hatch's Saloon and Billiard Parlor, on Allen Street
between Fourth and Fifth Street. A shot was fired from the darkness of the
alley. That shot struck him in the back and snuffed out his life. Morgan's body
was dressed in one of Doc Holliday's suits and shipped to the parents in Colton,
California for burial.
The Earp party encountered Frank Stilwell and Ike Clanton at the Tucson
Station. Wyatt chased Stilwell down the track and filled him full of holes. The
date was March 20, 1882. A Tucson Coroner's Jury named Wyatt and Warren Earp,
Doc Holliday, "Texas Jack", and McMasters as the men who had killed
Stillwell. A Tucson judge issued warrants for their arrests. As far as Wyatt
Earp was concerned, the man who shot Virgil and killed Morgan were dead men,
only living until he found them. The killing of Stilwell was just the beginning
of his bloody trail of vengeance, and Doc Holliday rode beside him all the way.
Wyatt received word that Pete Spencer was at his wood camp in the Dragoons. The
"federal posse" rode there and found: not Pete Spencer, but Florentino
Cruz. Frightened, he named the men who had murdered Morgan, himself included.
The Earp posse shot him to pieces. The date was March 22, 1882. The Earp posse
was riding along a deep wash near Iron Springs when they encountered Curly Bill
Brocius and eight of his men. In the fight that followed, Curly Bill was killed
and Johnny Barnes received a wound that eventually killed him. The date was
March 24, 1882.
In a little more than a year, the list of Cowboy outlaws that had been
eliminated was astonishing: "Old Man" Clanton, Billy Clanton, Frank
McLaury, Tom McLaury, Frank Stilwell, Indian Charlie, Dixie Gray, Florentino
Cruz, Curly Bill, Johnny Barnes, Jim Crane, Harry Head, Bill Leonard, Joe Hill,
Luther King, Charley Snow, Billy Lang, Zwing Hunt, Billy Grounds and Hank
Swilling. Pete Spencer, volunteered for the penitentiary for his own safety. Doc
Holliday accounted for more than his share of the Cowboys, and when he and Wyatt
Earp left Tombstone for good, they rode their horses to Silver City, New Mexico,
sold them, rode a stage to Deming, and boarded a train for Colorado.
Doc was arrested in Denver shortly after his arrival. The arresting
officer was a man named Perry Mallan. (Some believe that he was actually a
brother to Johnny Tyler, a foe of Holliday and would-be gunman, that Doc ran out
of Tombstone). While Doc was in jail the Denver Republican of May 22, 1882, ran
the following: "Holliday has a big reputation as a fighter, and has
probably put more rustlers and cowboys under the sod than any other one man in
the west. He had been the terror of the lawless element in Arizona, and with the
Earps was the only man brave enough to face the bloodthirsty crowd which has
made the name of Arizona a stench in the nostrils of decent men."
Mallan remarked in the paper that he was standing along side when Curly
Bill Brocius was killed. Doc related his thoughts as to that: "...eight
rustlers rose up from behind the bank and poured from thirty-five to forty shots
at us. Our escape was miraculous. The shots cut our clothes and saddles and
killed one horse, but did not hit us. I think we would have been killed if God
Almighty wasn't on our side. Wyatt Earp turned loose with a shotgun and killed
Curly Bill. The eight men in the gang which attacked us were all outlaws, for
each of whom a big reward has been offered...If Mallan was along side Curly Bill
when he was killed, he was with one of the worst gangs of murderers and robbers
in the country."
Doc's troubles, concerning extradition to Arizona, ended and the following
article was in the Rocky Mountain News, May 30, 1882: "Doc Holliday's case
was finally disposed of by Governor Pitkin yesterday, his Excellency deciding
that he could not honor the requisition from Arizona. The District Attorney's
Office was represented by Honorable I.E. Barnum, Assistant District Attorney,
who was accompanied in his visit to the Governor by Deputy Sheriff Linton and
Sheriff Paul of Arizona. Among others present were Deputy Sheriff Masterson
(Bat) of Trinidad and several friends of Holliday."
Doc left Denver and went to Pueblo and from there to Leadville. It was
there that he ran into two old enemies from Tombstone, Billy Allen and Johnny
Tyler. Friends advised Doc that Allen had threatened him and was looking for him
with a pistol. Around 5 PM on August 19, 1884, Doc strolled into Hyman's Saloon,
and placed himself at the end of the bar near the cigar lighter. As Billy Allen
crossed the threshold, Doc leveled his pistol and fired creasing Allen's head.
Reaching over the tobacco counter, Doc shot him again through the left arm below
the shoulder. Holliday would have shot him again, but bystanders disarmed him.
Allen was much larger than Doc and had obviously threatened him publicly so Doc
was acquitted of the shooting charges.
Doc Holliday claimed he almost lost his life a total of nine times. Four
attempts were made to hang him and he was shot at in a gunfight or from ambush
five times. In May, 1887, Doc went to Glenwood Springs to try the sulfur vapors,
as his health was steadily growing worse, but he was too far gone. He spent his
last fifty-seven days in bed and was delirious fourteen of them. On November 8,
1887, he awoke clear-eyed and asked for a glass of whiskey. It was given to him
and he drank it down with enjoyment. Then he said, "This is funny",
Doc Holliday had come West years before, knowing his days were numbered.
Long before his death he had maintained that he would not die in bed coughing
his guts out. He always believed that he would be killed by a quicker, easier
death than that planned for him by destiny. He often said 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. That's why he considered it funny when he died
peacefully in bed. Doc was the best of the Western gamblers and he lost his
biggest bet when he died of tuberculosis. The greater part of his years had been
lived on borrowed time. His remains were buried in their final
resting place in the Glenwood Cemetery (Old Hill Cemetery), Colorado.