Dr. John Henry "Doc"
"He 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 druggist 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 was very close. To compound this loss, his father married Rachel Martin only three
months later on December 18,1886. 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
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 hid pistol. Several shots were fired, but not one struck its
intended target. According to 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 ran
high over this killing and Doc was forced to flee Dallas a short distance in front of a posse. His
next 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, Kate stepped in and
confronted them. Kate grasped a pistol in each hand. Disarming the startled guard, Kate 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 Beach 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 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
circumstance, 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
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 tables.
"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 gambler's money in his pockets, found
Kate very happy to be in his company.
In Tombstone, Doc found Kate 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 Brochus, 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 of the stage 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.
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, Gorge 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
After the Cowboys had threatened to kill Wyatt, Morgan,
Virgil, and Doc if they didn't get out of Tombstone, the whole
town watched to see the outcome. They knew that the
Earps and Doc would not run. On October 26, 1881, Virgil
received word that the Cowboys were gathering at the O.K.
Corral, and that they were armed, which was against City law. Doc
met the Earps on Fourth Street on their way to the O.K. Corral and
demanded that he be allowed to join them in their little walk. Five
men, potential killers, lay in wait. When Wyatt Earp and Billy
Clanton opened the battle, Doc shot Billy in the chest, then cut
Tom McLaury down with a double charge of buckshot. The
life was basted from McLaury before he struck the ground.
Although, Wyatt allowed Ike Clanton to run from the fight
scene, Holliday was not so generous. He threw two shots at
Ike as he fled, missing him narrowly. A bullet from Frank
McLaury cut into Doc's pistol holster and burned a painful
crease across his hip. Doc's return shot smashed into McLaury's brain.
Less than thirty seconds after the opening shot, three men lay dead and three were wounded. Doc
had shot each of the dead cowboys at least once. Virgil had been shot in the leg and Morgan
through both shoulders. Only Wyatt Earp has survived the fight untouched.
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
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
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.