1851 - 1887
was the most skillful gambler, and the nerviest, fastest,
deadliest man with a six-gun I ever saw."
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 local elections.
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
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,
Bound for Tombstone
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 company.
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 "Cowboy" faction.
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 Bud Philpot.
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.
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", and died.
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.
So passed Tombstone's most deadly gun.
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