Doc Holiday By: Sue Eckhoff, Grundy County Heritage Museum
September 14, 2012
Who was the most well known doctor in the Old West? Doc Holliday. Except that he behaved more like an outlaw. He was a skilled gunfighter who preferred gambling to his profession of dentistry. Doc, born John Henry Holliday, was born in 1851 in Griffin, Georgia. He attended the finest schools for the sons of southern gentlemen, but in his free time he roamed the woods around town, learning the ways of the wilderness. He also took up pistol practice and became an expert marksman by the time he was fourteen. In 1866 his life changed drastically when his mother died of tuberculosis. She had been the stabilizing force in his life, and the melancholy following her death, he would carry to his grave. Holiday’s relations with his father were strained, even more so when his father married a twenty year old woman three months after his wife had died. It was during this time that John shot a Union soldier in a disagreement over a watering hole. In an attempt to protect his son, John’s father sent him to dental college in Pennsylvania but told all the bounty hunters looking for his son that he was going to school in Baltimore. John graduated from dental college in 1872, and returned home. His strange cough he’d had for some time was diagnosed as tuberculosis. Doctors told him he wouldn’t last 6 months in Georgia and suggested he move to Texas. Just before he left, he attended the funeral of his brother, who had died of the same ailment. Holiday, now a six foot twenty one year old left for Fort Griffith Texas, where he met a young prostitute named Kate Elder. Their on again off again romance would last fifteen years. Doc worked the Western territories at times as a dentist, but more likely playing cards. For someone to suggest Doc acquired his poker winnings by being less than honest, was quickly and violently corrected, for Doc was a proficient with a knife as he was a gun. He never shied from a fight and he shot or killed any man who challenged him. Outside Kate Elder (Big Nose Kate), Holliday’s only friends were Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp. According to Masterson, Doc idolized Earp, studied his demeanor and mannerism and made sure his gun hand was available whenever Wyatt needed help. In 1874 Doc and Kate were living in New Mexico, making a good living, Doc as a gambler, Kate as the owner of a parlor house. His tuberculosis worsened though, and he was thin and pale, his bright eyes faded. They moved to Tombstone, where his alcoholism further deteriorated his condition and personality. When the OK Corral fight occurred, Doc participated in the vendetta ride, in which the outlaws were tracked down and killed. He headed for Colorado, where by 1887 he was a patient at a Health Spa in Glenwood. He would not leave that facility alive. Doc had always said he would die with his boots on. On November 8, 1887, he asked a nurse to give him a drink of whiskey and his boots. By the time his boots were located he was taking his last breath. He didn’t get his boots on in time. He’s buried at the Pioneer Cemetery in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. His tombstone reads “Dr. Holiday, 1852-1887. He died in bed”.
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