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                                     Biography



The majority of the following biography, was taken from : Doc Holliday: A Family Portrait, Karen Holliday Tanner, Oklahoma Press, 1998
                                                         John Henry Holliday
                                                                                   1851-1887


                                                                             John Henry "Doc" Holliday

John Henry Holliday was born in 1851 to parents, Henry B. Holliday and Alice Jane McKey.

Henry's brother, Dr. John Stiles Holliday, would deliver the little boy destined to become one of the most notable figures in Old Western history.

The young Holliday would be named after his father and the uncle who delivered him.

Six weeks prior to John's baptism in the Presbyterian church of his family, his father was commissioned as the first clerk of the Superior Court for Spalding County on Feb. 5, 1852. Spalding County had been created three months earlier in 1851. This position would offer the family financial and political security. Little John would be very sheltered by his mother due to being born in poor health.

The Holliday men were like most well-bred southern gentlemen of the era.The ability to handle a weapon with both skill and ease was a part of their education. It was important not just for protection, but also for sporting purposes among the well-to-do families such as the Holliday's. It was simply part of their social status.

In 1866, John Henry's mother, Alice Jane, passed away after struggling for two years with an illness. The illness is presumed to have been tuberculosis. Prior to her death, Alice Jane abandoned the Presbyterian Church. On her deathbed, she returned to the Methodist beliefs she had been taught as a child. She specifically rejected the Presbyterian doctrine of predestined salvation and did not want John Henry to grow up thinking that she accepted it. She saw to it that her beliefs were put in writing so that he would know specifically what she did believe. She had only become a Presbyterian to satisfy John Henry's father. Following his mother's death, John Henry Holliday promptly became a Methodist. 

Sophie Walton, the former slave of the Holliday family, remained with them after the war and was the nanny for John Henry. She was an expert card player and taught John Henry all about cards. She taught him a method known as "skinning". This method made it possible for a skillful player to determine the outcome of the game. John Henry would become very skillful with this method and with cards in general. John Henry learned from Sophie how to "skin" cards from the deck to influence the outcome of the game. He devoted much time to perfecting this so he could trick his cousins.

In the late 1860's, John Henry was involved in a shooting incident. It occured at a swimming hole that was used by whites and a number of  blacks had gathered. John Henery's uncle, Thomas McKey, was the only witness when John Henry fired over the heads of the young black children in order to scare them off. This incident was repeatedly exaggerated in the retelling until some began going so far as to call it a massacre, instead of the minor event it really was. Following this incident, John Henry was sent to live with his Uncle John and Aunt Permelia. During this stay, Dr. Holliday convinced John Henry of the need for continued education. Dr. Holliday told young John Henry that the field of denistry was the up and coming field and advised him to pursue that field and not family medicine as he had.

In 1870, John Henry enrolled in the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery in Philadelphia. During his first year of instruction he operated on thirty-nine patients. One, a six year old girl, was brought to the school because it performed dental services at no cost. This was done to give the students "hands on" experience. For this six year old little girl, John Henry created a crown of pure swaged gold and attached it to the child's diseased molar with red copper cement. This crown remained intact until the little girl died at the age of 102 in 1967.

On Friday, March 1, 1872, John Henry graduated with the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery. John Henry would return to Atlanta were his Uncle resided to begin his new career in Denistry. On Sunday's, John Henry regularly attended the First Methodist Episcopal Church. John Henry would join the practice of Arthur C. Ford, one of the most esteemed dentists in Georgia.

In 1872, around Christmas time, John Henry began losing weight. The loss was barely noticable to begin with. Six months later, in the summer of 1873, he developed a nagging cough that forced him to take some time off. When the cough did not subside, he sought his uncle's assistance in diagnosing a possible ailment. His uncle confirmed John Henry's fears. Pulmonary tuberculosis. The elder Dr. Holliday advised John to seek out a climate of warm, dry air combined with a nutritious diet, a moderate amount of wine, and prolonged rest.

John Henry would depart for Dallas, Texas in an effort to relieve the symptoms and hope for a recovery. Through help from Dr. Ford, John Henry was offered a partnership in Dallas with Dr. John A. Seegar. In September of 1873, John Henry would arrive in Dallas. John Henry, still mindful of his mother's wishes, would join the Methodist Episcopal Church, on the corner of Lamar Street.

Due to poor economic times, John Henry had spare time on his hands. It did not take long for him to discover the St. Charles Saloon on Main Street, with it's popular gaming tables. He was also a regular at the Alhambra Saloon. John Henry soon learned of how similar the game of Faro was with the "skinning" game he learned from Sophie. He soon became a player that was respected due to his skills he had mastered with cards. The more success John had with cards, combined with his ailment getting worse set John Henry on the fast track to becoming a professional gambler. On March 2, 1874, John Henry and Dr. Seegar disolved their partnership as a mutual consent. Dr. Seegar did not approve of John's new lifestyle and trade.

Even though John Henry was ending his partnership as a dentist, he continued to take great pride in his appearance. Dressing in the finest made imported clothing. His manners matched his attire. He began to carry the revolver his Uncle John Stiles Holliday had given him. he drank bourbon and gambled. This was still within the code of his upbringing. His religious instruction did not consider these things as bad or evil.

In the fall of 1874, John Henry had left Dallas for Denison, Texas. January 1, 1875, found John Henry back in Dallas ushering in the New Year at the St. Charles Saloon. Though the exact circumstances are not recorded, John Henry and saloon keeper Charlie Austin were both arrested for shooting at each other. One week later, John Henry was found not guily after the evidence was presented. He returned to Denison. Poor economic times there made him decide to move again. He would head to Colorado hoping for better control of his disease and better economic times. He would arrive in the summer of 1875, in Denver.

In an attempt to get a fresh start, he would use the alias Tom Mackey. He was hired to work as a dealer in the Theatre Comique. Here he managed to to live peacefully with no significant events recorded. On Christmas day in 1887, shortly after John Henry's death, a journalist would fabricate a story in the Denver Republican in which he claimed John Henry "electrified the town by nearly cutting the head off of a Budd Ryan, a well known Denver gambler. Even Bat Masterson would later perpetuate the story as being true. The event never happened, but many writers continue to state it as fact.

In 1877, John Henry pulled up stakes and headed to Kansas City. By June of 1877, he had returned to Denison and elsewhere in Texas. John Henry wound up in Ft. Griffin. Here, John Henry settled into a daily routine of cards at the Cattle Exchange Saloon. Here he encountered Kate Elder, an educated twenty-six-year-old of Hungarian descent. In 1874, Kate had been arrested and fined in Wichita, Kansas, for working in a "sporting house" run by Sallie and Bessie (Mrs. James) Earp. Here it is thought she also met Wyatt Earp. John Henry found Kate to be his equal in an intellectual sense. The two became a pair and they lived together off and on the rest of Doc's life.

In the fall of 1877, Wyatt Earp and Celia Ann "Mattie" Blaylock arrived in Ft. Griffin. Wyatt would spend some time talking with the well dressed faro dealer, John Henry Holliday, during his time in Ft. Griffin. By the time Wyatt left town, a friendship had begun to emerge between himself and the man that would come to be known as Doc Holliday. This was the beginning of a relationship that would bind the well-bred southern dentist to the rough and tough Earp brothers. He and Wyatt would become as devoted to each other as blood brothers. The family bond that Doc had grew up with, was now missing and he must have craved that again. He found it with the Earps and after the events in Dodge City, it would last for the rest of Doc's life.

According to Wyatt Earp, Doc and Kate left Ft. Griffin after an event in the Cattle Exchange Saloon. Doc was playing poker with Ed Bailey, a local resident. Bailey was sitting to Doc's right "monkeying" with the discarded pile of cards. Doc warned him a couple of times to "play poker". The next time Bailey looked at the discarded pile, Doc claimed the pot without showing his hand, an act well within the gamblers' code. Bailey started to "throw his gun" on Doc, who jerked out his knife and "caught Bailey just below the brisket." The Marshal placed Doc under "house arrest", confining him to his room, until he could determine if it was truly self defense on the part of Doc. Some of towns people, however, had a hanging in mind. Kate set a nearby shed on fire to divert attention and she and Doc quickly left Ft. Griffin.

In early 1878 Doc and Kate headed north toward Dodge City. As they made their way north, Doc wrote to his cousin Martha Anne Holliday from Texas, "I enjoyed about as much of this place as I could stand." He would maintain close ties to his cousin. Prior to leaving Ft. Griffin, Wyatt had informed Doc of Dodge City and the excitement it offered. Doc would now follow Wyatt's earlier destination to the same place. In the spring of 1878, Doc and Kate arrived in Dodge City, Kansas.

In Dodge, true to form, John Henry kept up his image. He continued to dress immaculately, each day wearing a freshly laundered, starched, and ironed shirt, usually pastel in color.  He customarily finished off his attire with a cravat held in place by his diamond stickpin and a gray coat. Once again, Doc established a dental practice that, as always, helped him maintain his sense of professionalism, which remained an important part of his self image. The town was very much in need of his services.

Though there was a strong Methodist movement in Dodge, by this point Doc had left his religious convictions behind him. There is no record he was involved in the church while in Dodge City. That would mark the first time in his life he wasn't attending a church on a regular basis.

John Henry and the only real Doctor of family medicine in town, Dr. Tom McCarty, estabilshed a friendship. They were close in age and both educated in Philadelphia. Dr. McCarty would refer his patients in need of dental work to John Henry. Dr. McCarty was an important figure in town. Dr. McCarty at 29 years old, two older than John Henry, had done a lot. He was one of the original founders of Dodge City, as well as one of the founders of the Catholic Church in town.

Here in Dodge City, John Henry would become acquainted with the sheriff and the marshals of the area-including the Masterson brothers, Ed, Bat, and Jim. The post of City Marshal was held by Ed Masterson. After he was gunned down on April 9, 1878, By Jack Wagner and Alf Walker, the job was given to Charles E. Bassett. Ed's brother, Bat, was sheriff of Ford County, having been elected five months earlier on Nov. 5, 1877. Soon after the killing of Ed Masterson, Wyatt and Mattie arrived back in town.

On May 12, 1878, Wyatt was appointed to be Bassett's assistant. Doc would develop lasting relationships with many of the peace officers in Dodge.

John Henry appears to have avoided any scrapes with the law while in Dodge City. In fact, his close friendships garnered for something of an identification as a shirt-tail lawman. Andy Adams, a trail cowboy from Texas, wrote that "the roster of peace officials in Dodge City...during the brief span of the trail days, were the brothers, Ed, Jim, and Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, Jack Bridges, 'Doc' Holliday, Charles Bassett, William Tillman, 'Shotgun' Collins, Mayor A.B. Webster, and 'Mysterious' Dave Mather."

On September 24, 1878, Wyatt Earp found himself in a situation that would become one of the most told events of his adventerous life. Though the versions differ, the main theme of the event has never changed. As Wyatt later told the story, while under oath testifying in Tombstone, "I am a friend of Doc Holliday because when I was marshal of Dodge City, Kansas, he came to my rescue and saved my life when I was surrounded by desperadoes." Following an interview in 1896, a reporter related Wyatt's words: Doc saw a man draw on me from behind my back. 'Lookout Wyatt!' he shouted, but while the words were coming out of his mouth he had jerked his pistol out of his pocket and shot the other fellow before the latter could fire." Wyatt always credited Doc with saving his life in Dodge City. This would seal the friendship and Wyatt and Doc would be extremely devoted to each other.

In the fall of 1878, Doc's health became more of a concern and Doc and Kate headed out of Dodge City to Las Vegas, New Mexico Territory, on the Santa Fe trail, well known as a haven for people with tuberculosis. Doc would establish a dental practice on arrival. He rented a room in a building shared by a jewler named William Leonard. Leonard and Holliday formed a friendship that Doc would have no way of knowing would cause him problems later on. The Territory passed a law banning gambling and on March 8, 1879, Doc was indicted under this new statute for "Keeping a gaming table". Doc plead guilty and paid a 25.00 fine and court costs. All things considered, Doc decided to leave las Vegas and head back to Dodge City. There is no record that Kate went with him at this time.

In 1879, Doc returned to Vegas and opened a saloon. Kate would again be with him. He called it the Holliday Saloon and Gaming Concession. Doc and Kate were happy in Vegas and had planned to stay awhile. That changed when on Oct. 18, 1879, Wyatt Earp arrived in Vegas and told Doc about a new strike in Arizona and invited him to join the Earp brothers and their families in trying out the boom town. Doc would go as far as Prescott, Arizona where Virgil Earp lived. But he found a run of luck at cards in Prescott and did not leave with the Earps. After things dried up in Prescott, Doc and Kate returned to their saloon in Vegas.

Back in Vegas, Doc would re-encounter Charlie White employed as a bar- tender. In 1878, the two had a confrontation and Doc had run White out town. White had not forgotten about the incident because when Doc came in the saloon, White drew his gun and started shooting. Doc returned fire and dropped White to the floor. Thinking he had killed White, Doc decided it was time to get out of town. Meanwhile, White had only been grazed by the bullet and headed out of town for Boston not wanting to chance another encounter with Doc.

Doc returned to Prescott, Arizona. After a short time, Doc received a letter from Wyatt Earp stating Tombstone was in need of a dentist and that Doc would do well there with the dry climate and at the gaming tables. A few days later Doc would leave for Tombstone. On the trip Kate and Doc had another fight and Kate went on to Globe, in Pinal County. Kate claims to have bought a hotel in Globe. She also stated she would visit Doc off and on in Tombstone while they were apart. Doc would arrive in Tombstone in Sept. of 1880.

On Oct. 11, 1880, Johnny Tyler would enter the Oriental Saloon, and when he began to cause problems, was promptly ejected by Wyatt. Doc stood nearby and loudly berated Tyler. Angry over his public humiliation and Doc's words, Tyler went and armed himself and returned. As he came in the saloon, he confronted Doc, who issued a challenge, and both men drew their guns. They were both quickly relieved of their arms. Milt Joyce, the saloon keeper who was leasing the building, took the guns and placed them behind his counter. Doc demanded his weapon back. Joyce refused. Doc left and returned with a double-action revolver. When Joyce spotted Doc with a weapon, he struck Doc over the head with a pistol, knocking him to the floor. Joyce jumped upon Doc, and, as the argument continued, shots were fired. Joyce was shot in the left hand and William C. Parker Jr., a partner of Joyce's, who was behind the bar, incurred a gunshot wound in the left foot. Doc was arrested and paid court costs and fines. Joyce nearly lost his hand and would take some time to heal.

In Tombstone, Doc met up with another old friend, William Leonard, the jewler from Las Vegas. In Vegas, Leonard was considered a respectable citizen. He had come to Tombstone with Harry Head, Jim Crane and Bill King went to a batching housetwo miles north from town, which was known as the Wells. All three remained there for several months.

Wyatt would recount the following story:
"On Tuesday, March 15, 1881, Holliday rode into Tombstone from the Wells, with 'Old' man Fuller. Holliday ate dinner then went to playing faro. He was still playing faro when word came to Tombstone from Bob Paul that there was a hold up." 

The stage in question was carrying 9 passengers and eighty thousand dollars in bullion. Bud Philpot, the usual driver, was killed. Bob Paul the Wells, Fargo shotgun messanger survived and managed to bring the horses under control and drove on to Benson where he reported the hold up attempt and the killing of Bud Philpot. It would become known that Leonard, Head and Crane were involved. King was arrested and and admitted he held the reigns to the horses. He named the robbers as Harry "the kid" Head, Jim Crane and William Leonard. Undersheriff Harry Woods, crony to Johnny Behan, would show the same inept ability as Behan. Luther walked out the unlocked backdoor while Woods had turned away. Of Course, Woods, Sheriff Johnny Behan, and Deputy William Breakenridge would become friends and allies with the worst criminals in town.

A rumor rapidly circulated that Doc had been implicated even though he was never named by Luther. Holliday and the Earps tried to catch the ones involved to clear Holliday's name. Kate would come to town drunken and mad at Doc and would agree to sign papers for Behan stating Doc was involved in the stage robbery. On July 5, 1881, based on Kate's testimony, Behan finally arrested Doc for murder. After Kate had sobered up she regretted her words and repudiated her statement. On July 9, 1881, citing no evidence and the repudiated words of a drunken woman, Judge Wells Spicer dismissed the charge.

In October, Doc headed out of Tombstone for Tucson. After four days there Morgan came to Doc saying Wyatt needed him in Tombstone. Doc returned right away. On Tuesday, October 25, 1881, the same day Doc returned to Tombstone, Ike Clanton returned from helping his outlaw friendsFrank Stilwell and Pete Spencer in Tucson where they were on trial.

Ike had become more and more distrustful of the Earps because Wyatt had offered Ike a deal that if he would hand over Leonard, Head, and Crane for the robbery, Wyatt would give Ike the reward money and Wyatt could clear Doc and get the "glory" of the capture. Ike though backed out of the deal in fears of being killed by Leonard, Head and Crane. Ike became convinced that Wyatt had told Doc of the agreement. Ike feared if it got out that he was giving up other outlaw/cowboys, that he would be killed by his cowboy friends. The likes of Curley Bill Brocius, Johnny Ringo, and others.

These events and the growing struggle for power between the outlaw cowboys and the strict law enforcement of the Earps led to one of the most storied gunfights in history. The shootout at the O.K. Corral. (For a complete breakdown on the gunfight, visit:  http://www.angelfire.com/co4/earpgang/ok.html   )

Doc was armed with the shotgun when the fight broke out. Many claim Doc started the fight because that is the allegation made by the likes of Johnny Behan and Ike Clanton, Who talked more than he should have then ran when the fighting broke out leaving his brother, Billy Clanton, to be killed.

With Doc’s health declining, his frail stature, the idea he fired his revolver first while also holding the shotgun as most people saw him with, is nothing but total ignorance of the facts. Wyatt admitted in court that He and Billy Clanton shot at about the exact same time.


After the fighting had become general, Doc fired his shotgun striking Tom McLaury, who ran down Freemont Street and fell dead. Doc then tossed his shotgun and began firing at the  wounded Frank McLaury. About 10 to 12 feet from Doc, Frank McLaury yelled, "I got you this time." Doc responded, "Blaze away! Your a daisy if you have." Both Doc and Morgan returned Frank McLaury's fire. Doc was hit on the holster and yelled, "I am shot right through!" Doc ran toward McLaury, but the final shots from Morgan and Doc had done him in. He was quickly dying.

A coroner's inquest was held three days later on Oct. 29. John Henry Holliday and the three Earp brothers were charged with murder. The charges were eventually dismissed by Judge Spicer and this enraged the cowboys. The cowboys would threaten to kill Doc and the Earps.

On Jan. 17, 1882, Johnny Ringo, called the "King of the Cowboys", challenged Doc Holliday and the Earps. James Flynn, police officer, disarmed the men before Doc and Johnny could fight it out. This encounter has been retold a million different ways. Basically, Johnny challenged, Doc was always ready to fight, but they were disarmed.

On March 18, 1882, the cowboy revenge continued, as Morgan Earp was fatally shot. This would begin what has become known as the Tombstone vendetta. Wyatt's brother Warren, Doc Holliday, Turkey Creek Jack Johnson, Texas Jack Vermillion,  and Sherman McMasters would ride in a posse with U.S. Marshal Wyatt Earp and hunt down those Wyatt believed responsible and kill them. Including Curley Bill Brocius, who Wyatt shot at Iron Springs and Frank Stilwell the friend of Ike Clanton .

After the blood trail of vengence was over, the group left town and headed to Colorado. They would arrive April 7, 1882. The next few years would see Doc's health decline rapidly. By 1887, he was in Glenwood Springs and was bedridden. Kate stayed with him and tried to comfort him. During the third week of October, 1887, Doc became delirious. By Monday, November 7, he was unable to speak. About ten o'clock on the morning of Nov. 8, 1887, Doctor John Henry Holliday died at the Hotel Glenwood, in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, of miliary tuberculosis.

After a brief funeral service arranged by Kate, she returned to the hotel and sent the rest of Doc's belongings to Atlanta in care of Sister Mary Melanie, of the Order of the Sisters of Mercy. Sister Mary had her uncle Dr. John Stiles Holliday to collect the belongings for her. Sister Mary was Doc's cousin he remained in close contact with, Mattie Holliday. She had become a Roman Catholic and entered the convent. Sister Mary would maintain that shortly before his death, John Henry Holliday converted to Catholicism just as she had.

Kate would go on to marry and used her full name of Mary Katherine. She would become Mary Katherine Cummings. She always stated she considered herself married to Doc. Even half a century later, she still told of how much she loved him.

The truth is Doc Holliday's career, while blood  stained, was principally isolated to some eighteen months in Tombstone. He was actually charged with murder only once in his life and that charge was dismissed. He was a complex man with a simple code of what he believed to be right and wrong.

In reference to Doc, many years after Doc passed, Wyatt Earp would describe the legend as, "The most skillful gambler and the nerviest, speediest, deadliest man with a six-gun,".

Doc would often say Wyatt was his only friend. Despite claims to the contrary, that friendship remained intact the rest of Doc's life.

Sources Used:
Books and Articles:

1). Doc Holliday: A Family Portrait, Karen Holliday Tanner, Oklahoma Press, 1998

2). The Log Of A Cowboy, Andy Adams, University of Nebraska Press, 1964

3). Wyatt Earp: The Man And The Myth, Ed Bartholomew, Frontier Book Co., 1964

4). The O.K. Corral Gunfight, Mary K. Cummings, Ed. by Glen G. Boyer, Arizona and
      the West 19 (Spring 1977): p.65-84

5). Bat Masterson: The Man And The Legend, Robert K. DeArment, Univeristy of Oklahoma
     Press, 1979

Newspapers:

1). Arizona Weekly Citizen
2). Tombstone Nugget
3). Tombstone Epitaph
4). San Diego Union
5). San Francisco Examiner
6). Denver Tribune
7). Denver Republican
8). Atlanta Constitution
9). Atlanta Journal
10). Ford County Globe
11). Dodge City Times
12). Las Vegas Daily Optic
13). Texas Albany Star
14). Fort Griffin Echo

Family Records as written and compiled by Karen Holliday Tanner

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