Doc Holliday

of Spalding County

"He was the most skillful gambler, and the nerviest, fastest, deadliest man with a six-gun I ever saw."

~ A tribute paid to Doc Holliday by Wyatt Earp

John Henry 'Doc' Holliday Biography

Doc Holliday lived in Lowndes County and in the city of Valdosta, Georgia, approximately during the years of 1864 -1872. It is assumed that he was born in the latter part of 1851 or early part of 1852. The earliest known authentic document concerning Doc is the infant baptismal record on March 21, 1852, which is on file at the First Presbyterian Church in Griffin, Georgia.

Doc's father was Major Henry Burroughs Holliday and his mother was Alice Jane McKey. After a short tour in the Confederate Army, Major Henry Holliday moved his family from Griffin, Georgia to Valdosta, Georgia near to a section which is known as Bemiss south of Moody Air Force Base. Doc finished grade school at the Valdosta Institute where he had some Greek, much Latin, and considerable French. During his first two years, his favorite study was advanced English called rhetoric.

Major Holliday served as mayor of Valdosta, Georgia for two terms, and he also served in the Cherokee Indian War, Mexican War, and Civil War. After the Mexican War, he brought back a Mexican boy who had been orphaned by the war. He married Alice Jane McKey January 8, 1849. The Mexican boy's name was Francisco Hidalgo. Major Holliday and his wife had a little girl that died in infancy, and later they had a second child who was a boy - John Henry Holliday. Mrs. Holliday died of tuberculosis (called consumption at that time) in 1866. Doc was only 12 years old when his mother died.

Doc's adopted brother, the Mexican boy, also died of tuberculosis. Doc must have caught tuberculosis from his mother or his brother, or both.

For many years it was believed that he went to school in Baltimore, Maryland to learn Dentistry. However, the three main dental schools in Baltimore had no record of a J. H. Holliday ever attending school there. Through the efforts of Dr. L.C. Holtzendorff (Valdosta, Georgia), Dr. Donald Washburn (American Dental Association Librarian Services, Chicago, Illinois), and Mr. John Whittock (Librarian, School of Dental Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), it has been verified that John H. Holliday graduated from the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery in 1872.

There have been many rumors as to why Doc left Georgia and went out west. One persistent rumor is that he killed some Negroes that were swimming in the white's favorite swimming hole. But according to Susan McKey's uncle, who was with Doc at the time, no such thing happened. He says they were swimming in the hole and Doc was outraged. He went and got his pistol and started shooting in the air over their heads. One of the Negroes got a gun and shot back but no one was killed. The probable reason for his move to the west is that the dry climate was better suited for his health.

Out west Doc was a most unusual character of his time. He was an extremely educated man in a place where education was not that important. He was fluent in Latin and played the piano (his mother taught piano for many years). He loved being a dentist and desperately tried to make a living out of it, but because his patients didn't like their dentist coughing in their face, it was hard for him to keep customers.

That's when he discovered that he had a real talent for playing cards; it was a lot more fun too. Doc established himself as quite a good gambler and was well respected around town. But he was a miserable man dying from an awful disease. He was moody, drank a lot, and always wanted to die.

Preferring to die in a gun battle rather than having his body slowly 'consumed' by his disease made him a very dangerous man. He was fearless. He was quick to get involved in the battles with the Earps. Doc dressed fancy and behaved in a sophisticated manner. It has been said about him he was quite a funny gentleman with a good sense of humor.

Wyatt Earp came to like Holliday's style, and after they met in Shanessy's saloon in Fort Griffin, they became instant friends. Wyatt has said that Holliday was, "the nerviest, speediest man with a six-shooter he ever knew" and was, "probably the most dangerous man in Tombstone, [Arizona]." When they made their way to the OK Corral, it is said by witnesses that the three Earp brothers were all dressed in black with firm, mean grimaces on their faces while Doc was nattily clad in grey and was whistling.

Doc went to Dodge City in 1877 and this is how he got there: He became involved in a gambling episode with Ed Bailey in Fort Griffin. Texas, which resulted in Doc's leaving there. Bailey drew a gun and Doc let him have it with a knife. Bailey collapsed and died. (if you have ever seen the movie Tombstone this is the opening scene with Doc in it). Even though according to law Doc was in the right, he was arrested and incarcerated in a local hotel room, there being no jail in the city. It was evident that Bailey was a popular man among the townspeople, and it seemed that Doc's fate was doomed in spite of the circumstances. Kate Elder came to Doc's rescue by setting fire to the back of the hotel, thereby creating a diversionary action in attracting the citizens' attention to the fire. Kate, armed with a pistol, proceeded to the hotel room, "got the drop" on the deputy town Marshall who had been left in charge of the prisoner, and set Doc free. Kate and Doc hid out during the night. When morning came, they mounted their horses and headed to Dodge City. Once in Dodge, Doc renewed his friendship with Wyatt. This was around 1877.

Doc had a falling out with another terminus outlaw named Mike Gordon in late August 1879. Inviting Gordon out into the street, Doc then shot him dead. Doc had to skip town real fast because of a plan to arrest him. This led Doc to return to Dodge City. He arrived back in Dodge to find that Wyatt had resigned his job on Dodge City's force of marshals and had headed toward Tombstone. Doc then headed toward Tombstone to meet up with his friend. According to Doc Holliday by John Myers, "Doc had traveled in haste - would have entailed driving the wagons up some awkward grades. Leaving Trail City in the number two rig of the Earp caravan, Wyatt heard hoof-beats in pursuit. 'where are you going, Wyatt?' the rider who caught up with him asked. 'Tombstone' Earp said. 'That's what they told me in Dodge,' Doc replied. 'Guess I'll go with you.'"

May 1887 "Doc Holliday," by John Myers: "By then the consumption so racked him that he could hardly keep on his feet. As a realist, Doc was not one to believe in miraculous cures, but as a man of action he refused to stop in his tracks while there was a chance of going on. The sulphur vapors at Glenwood Springs, Colorado were ballyhooed as being medicine's final answer to the evil challenge of tuberculosis. On the off-chance that this was true, Doc went out to the health resort to play his last chip.

It is important to understand that tuberculosis killed Doc and not so much the alcohol. In fact, he didn't drink as much as everyone says he did. He did however have remarkable stamina with drinking. He could out drink some of the biggest, toughest, burliest men there were without the slightest hint of intoxication.

Doc Holliday died on November 8, 1887 in Glenwood Springs, Colorado at a Sanatorium for the sick. He is buried in Linwood Cemetery.

It is said that the last couple of months of his life that he got out of bed maybe twice. Witnesses by his bedside say that just before he died he asked for a glass of whiskey, sipped it down and smiled, then he looked at his bare feet and said, "this is funny." He always figured he would be killed someday with his boots on.

~ from The Kansas Heritage Server - Source: "Doc Holliday" by John Myers

Doc Holliday Links

Doc Holliday: A Family Portrait   by: Karen Holliday Tanner Doc Holliday Days - Griffin, Georgia Doc Holliday's Immortals - Griffin Gun Club
Doc Holliday    
OK Corral Gunfight at Tombstone, Arizona Other gunfights and the aftermath of O.K. Corral New York Times article on Doc Holliday
The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral Wyatt Earp Dodge City
Tombstone    

Doc Holliday Books

Doc Holliday, by John Myers
 
The Frontier World of Doc Holliday, by Bob Boze Bell
An early biography and a classic in Doc Holliday literature.
Doc Holliday - A Family Portrait, by Karen Holliday Tanner
New information provided from Holliday relatives. Some sources are questionable, but interesting reading and provides new insights.
Doc Holliday - main page
More about Doc Holliday
Doc Holliday Gravesite
Doc Holliday Obituary
Doc Holliday - Family  Group Sheet
Doc Holliday Photos
Doc Holliday Books
Doc Holliday Links
Martha Eleanora Holliday Tombstone

 

 

 

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Compilation Copyright 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 [Beth Shaw ]. All rights reserved.