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Genealogy and education
John Henry Holliday was born in Griffin, Georgia to Henry Burroughs Holliday and Alice Jane Holliday nee McKey. His family was respected and his father had served in both the Mexican-American War and the Civil War.
John's mother died of tuberculosis on September 16, 1866, when John was 15 years old. Three months later, his father remarried Rachel Martin. Shortly after the marriage, the family moved to Valdosta, Georgia, where John attended the Valdosta Institute. There he received a strong classical secondary education in rhetoric, grammar, mathematics, history and languages ? principally Latin, but also French and some ancient Greek
In 1870, 19 year-old John Henry left home to begin dental school in Philadelphia. On March 1, 1872, he received the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery from the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery (now the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine0. Later that year, he opened a dental office with Arthur C. Ford in Atlanta.

At birth he had a cleft palate and partly cleft lip. At two months of age, this defect was repaired surgically by John's uncle J.S. Holliday, M.D., and a family cousin, the famous physician Crawford Long. The repair left no speech impediment, though speech therapy was needed. However, the repair is visible in John's upper lip-line, in the one authentic adult portrait-photograph which survives, taken on the occasion of his graduation from dental school.
This graduation portrait (see above), taken at the age of 20, supports contemporary accounts that John had ash-blond hair and blue eyes. In early adulthood he stood about 5 feet 10 inches tall, and weighed about 160 pounds.
Not long after beginning his dental practice, Doc was diagnosed with tuberculosis. It is possible he contracted the disease from his mother. He was given only a few months to live, although it was thought that moving to the drier and warmer southwestern part of the United States might help to reduce the deterioration of his health.
Early travels

His first stop west (September, 1873) was Dallas, Texas, where he opened a dental office at 56 Elm Street, about three blocks east of the site of today's Dealey Plaza. He soon began gambling, and realized this was a more beneficial source of income. He was arrested in Dallas (January, 1875) after trading gunfire with a saloon-keeper, but no one was injured and he was found not guilty. He had already moved his offices to Denison, Texas. After being found guilty of "gaming" in Dallas, Texas, and fined, he had had enough, and decided to leave the state.
In the years that followed, Holliday had many more such disagreements, fueled by a hot temper and an attitude that death by gun or knife was better than that by tuberculosis. The alcohol which Holliday used to control his cough may also have contributed. There was also the practical matter that a professional gambler, working on his own at the edge of the law, had to be able to back up disputed points of play with at least a threat of force. Over time, Holliday continued traveling on the western mining frontier where gambling was most likely to be lucrative and legal. In coming years Doc was found in Denver, Cheyenne and Deadwood, site of the gold rush in the Dakota Territory in the fall of 1876. It was possibly in Deadwood that winter that Doc first heard of Wyatt Earp, who was also there at the same time.
By 1877 Doc was back in Fort Griffin, Texas, where Wyatt Earp remembered first meeting him. The two of them began to form an unlikely friendship (Wyatt more even-tempered and controlled, Doc more hot-headed and impulsive). This friendship was cemented in 1878 in Dodge City, Kansas, where both Earp and Doc had traveled to make money from the gambling of the cowboys driving cattle up from Texas. Doc was still practicing dentistry on the side from his rooms in Dodge City, as we know from an 1878 Dodge newspaper advertisement (he promised money back for less than complete customer satisfaction), but this is the last known time he attempted practice. In an interview printed in a newspaper later in his life, he said that he only practiced dentistry "for about 5 years."
The dedicated gambler, gunman reputation

In September, 1878 an incident occurred in which Wyatt, a deputy city Marshal, was surrounded by men who had "the drop" on him. Doc, coming up from another angle to cover the group with a gun, either shot one of these men or threatened to, and Wyatt afterwards always credited Doc with saving his life that day. Accounts of Holliday's involvement in gunfights, however, are exaggerated. He has several documented saloon altercations in which he was involved in small shootings, but in most cases he was drunk, and missed his target completely.
Professional comic Eddie Foy was a friend of Doc in Dodge City, and remembered Doc trying in 1879 to get him to join the "Royal Gorge War", a railroad right-of-way dispute into which the Santa Fe Railroad sent a private posse led by Bat Masterson. Foy said that he couldn't hit anything with a gun, and from his comedian's ear, we get the only known rendition of Doc's Georgia-accented speaking voice:
"Oh, that's all right. The Santy Fee won't know the difference. You kin use a shot-gun if you want to. Dodge wants a good showin' in this business. You'll help swell the crowd and you'll get your pay anyhow."
One documented instance happened when Holliday was employed during that railroad dispute. On July 19th, 1879, Holliday and noted gunman John Joshua Webb were seated in a saloon in Las Vegas, New Mexico, when a former Army scout named Mike Gordon began yelling loudly at one of the saloon girls. When the man stormed from the saloon, Holliday followed him. Gordon produced his pistol and fired one shot, missing. Holliday immediately drew and fired, killing Gordon. Holliday was placed on trial for the shooting, but was acquitted, much based on the testimony of Webb.
Tombstone, Arizona Territory

Dodge was not a frontier town for long, and by 1879 became too respectable for the kinds of people who had seen it through its early days. For many, it was time to move on to places where money was being made and hadn't yet been reached by the civilizing railroad. Holliday by this time was as well known for his gunfighter reputation as he was for being a gambler, although the latter was his trade, and the former simply a reputation. Through his friendship with Wyatt, Doc eventually made his way to the silver-mining boom town of Tombstone, Arizona Territory, in September, 1880 (Wyatt had been there since December, 1879). There, Doc quickly became embroiled in the local politics and violence that led up to the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in October, 1881. Doc was certainly a key element in this.
The gunfight happened the next day following a late-night argument between Holliday and Ike Clanton, and it happened in the vacant lot and street immediately next to Fly's boarding house where Holliday had a room. The Clantons and McLaurys had collected in the lot before being confronted by the Earps, and Holliday must have thought they were there specifically to assassinate him. See O.K. Corral for details of this conflict.
Testimony from an eyewitness who saw the fight begin with a "nickle plated pistol" and a blast of unusual smoke, suggests that Doc could have started the gunfight, despite town marshal Virgil Earp's attempts to calmly disarm the cowboys. Ike Clanton was never hit. It is known that Holliday carried Virgil Earp's double-barreled short (messenger-type) shotgun into the fight, having been given the weapon just before the fight by Virgil, because Doc was wearing a long coat which could conceal it. Virgil took Doc's walking stick. By not going conspicuously armed Virgil Earp was seeking to avoid panic in the citizenry of Tombstone, and in Clantons and McLaurys.
The strategy failed, for while Virgil held up the cane, one witness saw a man who was almost certainly Doc poke a cowboy in the chest with the shotgun, then step back. Shortly thereafter, Doc certainly used this weapon to kill Tom McLaury, the only man to sustain shotgun wounds ? a fatal buckshot charge to the chest. This probably happened quite early in the fight, and for reasons of handling familiar to any shotgun user, before Holliday fired a pistol. Scenarios in which the slight and tubercular Doc held a pistol with one hand and a double-barreled shotgun in the other during a gunfight (using the pistol first, then the shotgun, then the pistol again) do not seem likely.
Despite Doc Holliday's reputation for deadliness over the years, which has grown in the telling, Tom McLaury remains the only man that there is contemporary historical evidence that Holliday killed up to that point. There is little doubt that there were later victims of Holliday during the Earp Vendetta Ride, but evidence is sketchy.
Following an inquest and arraignment hearing that determined the gunfight was not a criminal act on the part of the Earps and Holliday, the situation in Tombstone grew worse when Virgil Earp was ambushed and permanently injured in December, and Morgan Earp ambushed by assassins and killed in March, 1882. After Morgan's murder, the Earps, their families, and Holliday fled town. In Tucson, while Wyatt, Warren Earp, and Doc Holliday were escorting the wounded Virgil Earp and his wife Allie back to California, they prevented another ambush and began the Earp Vendetta against the cowboys they believed were responsible for Morgan's death.
Earp vendetta ride

The lawless killing started with Frank Stilwell, a former deputy of Johnny Behan's, who was in Tucson to answer a stage-robbery charge, but who wound up dead on the tracks in the train yard near the Earps' train. What Stillwell was doing in the train yard has never been explained (he may have been waiting to pick up another man who was supposed to testify in his favor), but Wyatt Earp certainly thought Stillwell was there to do the Earps harm. In his biographies, Wyatt admitted shooting Stillwell with a shotgun, but along with Earp's two shotgun wounds, Stilwell was also found with three bullet wounds. Doc Holliday, who was with Wyatt that night, and said that Stilwell and Ike Clanton were waiting in the train yard to assassinate Virgil Earp, is a prime candidate for the second shooter. Doc never directly acknowledged his role in Stillwell's killing, or those that followed.
After the Earp families had left for California and safety, Doc and Wyatt, along with Wyatt's younger brother Warren Earp and Wyatt's friends Sherman McMasters, Turkey Creek Jack Johnson and Texas Jack Vermillion, rode on a vendetta for three weeks, during which Curly Bill Brocius and at least two other men thought to be responsible for Morgan's death, were killed. Eventually, with warrants on six of the vendetta posse (including Wyatt and Doc) in the Arizona Territory for the killing of Stillwell, the posse moved to New Mexico, then Colorado, in mid-April, 1882. Along that journey, while in New Mexico, Wyatt and Doc had a minor argument, and parted ways before going separately to different parts of Colorado.
After the vendetta ride, neither Doc nor the rest of the vendetta party ever went back to Arizona to live. In Doc's case, Colorado refused to extradite him (due to lack of evidence) when he was arrested for the Stilwell killing in Denver in May, 1882 (Doc spent the last two weeks of that month in jail while that issue was decided). Doc and Wyatt would meet again in June of 1882 in Gunnison, after Doc was released. There is controversy about whether or not any of the Earp vendetta posse slipped briefly back to the Tombstone area to kill Johnny Ringo on July 12-13, 1882. Biographers of Ringo do not believe it is very likely.
Final illness

Holliday spent the rest of his brief life in Colorado. After a stay in Leadville, Colorado, he suffered from the effects of the high altitude, and his health and evidently his gambling skills began to deteriorate badly. In August, 1884, he shot Billy Allen, a man who was threatening him with a beating in the collection of a loan to Doc of just five dollars, which Doc didn't have the money to repay. (Holliday and Allen were not strangers, since the same Billy Allen in 1881 had testified unfavorably in the Spicer Hearing regarding the Earp's role in the O.K. Corral gunfight
According to his own court testimony, given while pleading self-defense, Doc was then down to just 122 pounds in weight. Allen recovered from his bullet wound, which was to the arm (Doc had been tackled and prevented from doing worse), and the jury ultimately found Doc not guilty.
According to Wyatt's wife Josie/Sadie, Doc and Wyatt met for the last time in late 1885, in Denver, Colorado. Holliday by then was very ill, but still able to walk and gamble.
In 1887, now prematurely gray and ailing badly, Doc made his way to a hotel (the Hotel Glenwood) near the hot springs of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, hoping to take advantage of the reputed curative power of the waters. However, the sulfurous fumes from the spring may have done his lungs more harm than good, and Holliday eventually died in his hotel room, after being bedridden for two months.
In the end, it was tuberculosis that got Doc Holliday, at the age of 36. Fifteen years after the doctors gave him only months to live, he died peacefully in his hotel bed. There is controversy about whether he formally converted to Catholicism first. He is known to have seen a priest in his final illness, but it is known that his funeral services were conducted by a Presbyterian minister (Holliday's father was Presbyterian), which makes it less likely that Doc received sacraments as a Catholic. Doc had been raised as a Methodist by his mother, and attended Methodist services as an adult, but his friend and first cousin Martha Anne "Mattie" Holliday, with whom he regularly corresponded throughout his life, had years earlier become a Catholic nun, and this may have been an influence. Doc's long-time companion Big Nose Kate had also attended a convent school, and was probably Catholic. Kate helped care for Doc in the last months of his life, and was with him at the end.
Dying, Holliday asked for a drink of whiskey, and his reputed last words were "This is funny." Perhaps he was looking at his bootless feet. No one ever thought that he would die with his boots off, or in bed. Doc's dying words, however, are also a matter of speculation, and they are not reported by Kate or any contemporary account of his death.
Doc Holliday's grave is in Glenwood Springs cemetery. There is dispute about whether he is actually buried in his marked grave, or even in the cemetery itself. He died in deep winter when the ground was frozen and was buried the same day in what was probably a temporary grave. This grave may not have been in the old cemetery, which was up a difficult road on the mountain. It is thus possible his body was never later relocated, but the truth is not known, since no exhumation has been attempted. If Doc is not in Glenwood Cemetery, he may be in somebody's back yard in modern Glenwood Springs city, at a lower altitude.
What those who knew him said of his character

Doc was known to be literate, but due to loss and destruction of his personal letters by his family, no authenticated specimen of his writing survives. A few newspaper interviews survive, but must be viewed judiciously due to the journalistic license sometimes taken in the period. Various people who knew Holliday well have also left commentary:
In a (probably ghost-edited) article in 1896, Wyatt Earp had this to say about Doc Holliday: "Doc was a dentist whom necessity had made a gambler; a gentleman whom disease had made a frontier vagabond; a philosopher whom life had made a caustic wit; a long lean ash-blond fellow nearly dead with consumption, and at the same time the most skillful gambler and the nerviest, speediest, deadliest man with a gun that I ever knew."
In a newspaper interview, Doc was once asked if his killings had ever gotten on his conscience. Holliday is reported to have said "I coughed that out with my lungs, years ago."
Big Nose Kate, however, remembered Doc's reaction after his role in the O.K. Corral gunfight. She reported that Doc came back to his room, sat on the bed, and wept. "That was awful-- awful," said Doc.
Life-long lawman Virgil Earp, interviewed May, 30 1882, in The Arizona Daily Star (two months after Virgil had fled Tombstone after Morgan Earp's death), summed up Holliday:
"There was something very peculiar about Doc. He was gentlemanly, a good dentist, a friendly man and yet, outside of us boys, I don't think he had a friend in the Territory. Tales were told that he had murdered men in different parts of the country; that he had robbed and committed all manner of crimes, and yet, when persons were asked how they knew it, they could only admit it was hearsay, and that nothing of the kind could really be traced to Doc's account. He was a slender, sickly fellow, but whenever a stage was robbed or a row started, and help was needed, Doc was one of the first to saddle his horse and report for duty."
Doc's "record" of violence

The real Holliday was more complex than Wyatt's summary. Wide ranging historical accounts have usually supported the belief that Holliday was extremely fast with a pistol, but his accuracy was not perfect. In his four known pistol uses in single combat, he shot one opponent in the arm (Billy Allen), one across the scalp (Charles White), and missed one man (a saloon keeper named Charles Austin) entirely. In an early incident in Tombstone in 1880 shortly after he arrived in town, a drunken Holliday managed to shoot Oriental Saloon owner Milt Joyce in the hand, and his bartender Parker in the toe (neither was the original man Doc quarreled with). For this, Doc was fined for assault and battery (apparently a plea-bargain). With the exception of his having killed Mike Gordon in 1879, there are no contemporary newspaper or legal records to match the many and always unnamed men who Doc is "credited" with shooting to death in popular folklore, and the same is true for the several tales of knifings credited to Holliday by early biographers. All these colorful stories may be viewed with skepticism.
Publicly Doc Holliday could be as fierce as was needed for a gambling man to earn respect. In January, 1882 he told Tombstone's Johnny Ringo (as recorded by diarist Parsons) "All I want of you is ten paces out in the street," and he and Ringo were prevented from having that kind of gunfight only by the Tombstone police (which did not include the Earps by this time), who arrested them both. Doc's exact role in the deaths of Frank Stilwell and the other three men killed on the Earp vendetta ride remains uncertain, but he was present at the events. As noted, Doc is another probable shooter of Stilwell (not much of a feat, however, since Stillwell had already taken two shotgun blasts from Wyatt). Doc certainly killed Tom McLaury, and either Doc or Morgan Earp fired the second bullet that ended the life of Frank McLaury. Although Frank McLaury was sometimes erroneously stated to have been hit by three bullets (this is based on the next-day news accounts in Tombstone papers), at the coroner's inquest Frank was found to actually have been hit only in the stomach (this happened early in the fight, therefore not from Doc) and in the neck under the ear; therefore either Doc or Morgan missed Frank completely at the end of the fight.
Biographer Karen Holliday Tanner states that of Holliday's 17 known and recorded arrests, only one (1879, Mike Gordon in New Mexico) was for murder. Actually, Tanner is incorrect, as Holliday was arrested and jailed for murder in connection with both the O.K. Corral fight, and later for the murder of Frank Stillwell. However, in neither case was Doc successfully charged (the Spicer hearing was an indictment hearing, but it did not recommend indictment; any Stilwell indictment was quashed by Colorado's refusal to extradite). Of the other arrests, Doc pled guilty to two gambling charges, one charge of carrying a deadly weapon in the city (in connection with the argument with Ringo), and one misdemeanor assault and battery charge (his shooting of Joyce and Parker). The others were all dismissed or returned as "not guilty."
Whatever the facts, it seems that Holliday gained a deadly reputation and was a feared man during his lifetime.
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