John Henry "Doc" Holliday
When he died in bed on Tuesday, 8 November 1887, John Henry "Doc" Holliday laughed. He had always expected to go out in a blaze of glory with his boots on in some hotly contested gun battle, not on a comfortable bed in a spiffy health resort in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Throughout his short life, he had lived one hell-raising adventure after another, adventures which wrote him into western legend. The irony of the situation tickled him. With a monumental last effort, he raised himself up on his elbows, gazed wonderingly at his bare feet, and said, "Well, I’ll be damned. This is funny." Then he laid back and quietly died, leaving behind one of the strangest legends in American history.
It is not known exactly when the Henry Burroughs Holliday family moved to Georgia. Henry was born on 11 March 1819 in Laurens County, South Carolina to Robert Alexander and Rebecca (Burroughs) Holliday. It is known that he enlisted in the 1st Georgia Volunteers on 12 May 1838 under Captain John D. Stills to fight the Cherokee Indian War. He was still living in Georgia when the Mexican War broke out, and he promptly enlisted in "The Fannin Avengers" under Harrison J. Sargent, which became part of a regiment commanded by Colonel Henry R. Jackson of Savannah. This group took its name in honor of the Georgia farm boys who died with Colonel James Fannin at the Goliad Massacre in 1836 during the Texas Revolution. The Fannin Avengers were sent to Monterrey, Mexico under General Zachary Taylor and to Vera Cruz and Jalapa under General Winfield Scott, where Henry was discharged on 30 June 1847. Though still a bachelor at this point, he returned home to Georgia with a ten-year-old orphan named Francisco Hidalgo, whom he raised as his son.
Henry Holliday courted and won the hand of Alice Jane McKey, who was also born in South Carolina on 21 April 1829. The couple married on 8 January 1849. Their first child, Martha Eleanora was born on 3 December 1849, but she became sick during the wet Spring of 1850 and died on 12 June, leaving both parents completely heartbroken. The following year, on 14 August 1851 in the tiny town of Griffin, Spalding County, Georgia, their only other natural child was born. They named their new son John Henry, after his uncle John Stiles Holliday and his own father Henry, baptizing him on Sunday, 21 March 1852, at the First Presbyterian Church. Although his parents made elaborate plans for young John’s future, little could they know just how notorious that future would turn out to be.
Alice Holliday was a genteel, refined Southern lady who took great pleasure in her new son. She spent most of her time helping young John with his school work, teaching him to play the piano, or schooling him in manners and other refinements as befitting a southern gentleman. Henry Holliday was at various times a farmer, land speculator, store owner, and lawyer, somewhat high-strung and hot tempered, but still a good man. He had become the first clerk of the Superior Court of Spalding County in December 1850, and he took his court duties seriously. It was his plan that his son be endowed with all the natural inheritance of a true "Son of the South." All his great plans for young John came to a screeching halt with the outbreak of the Civil War.
On 20 December 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union, followed by Mississippi on 9 January 1861, followed by Florida, Alabama and Georgia a few days later, and by Texas on 1 February. By September, Henry Holliday was serving under General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard in the Quartermaster Corps of the 27th Regiment of Georgia at Camp Pickens, Manassas, Virginia. Two months later, Henry was promoted to Major. Before the following year was out, he was discharged due to ill health from "chronic diarrhea and general disability." When he was finally able to return to Griffin in 1864, he was horrified to find all of northern Georgia had suffered heavily from the war. He packed up his small family and moved to a 2,450 acre farm seven miles northwest of Valdosta in Loundes County. This is where John Henry grew up.
Young John had a classical upbringing in the new Valdosta Institute for educating the sons of southern gentlemen. Besides math and science, he also learned Greek, Latin, and French as a matter of course. In his free time, he roamed the woods around town, learning the ways of the wilderness, quite unafraid of anything or anyone. He also took up pistol practice and became somewhat of an expert shot. On 30 August 1864, his father’s brother, Robert Kennedy Holliday, sent his wife and two daughters to seek refuge at the farm, affording John Henry the opportunity to put the southern manners and charm learned from his mother into practice. He was a huge success at charming the ladies.
At the close of the Civil War, when he was fourteen, John Holliday took off by himself with two of his father’s best horses and a brace of pistols to find his Uncle Thomas McKey, his mother’s brother, who hadn’t returned from the war. Although he was accosted time and again along the way by ruffians who wanted his horses and money, he coolly showed his pistols and continued north. Weeks later, he miraculously found his uncle and returned with him to Valdosta.
Young Holliday’s life changed drastically on 16 September 1866. That day, his beloved mother died from consumption, a lung disease known today as tuberculosis. She had contracted it when the War had forced a poor diet upon her while they were still living in Griffin. She had been the stabilizing force in John Henry’s life, and with her death came a melancholy he would carry with him to his grave. Relations between him and his father strained, and he bitterly resented it when his father remarried to twenty-three-year-old Rachel Martin on 18 December 1866, jut three months after his mother’s funeral. It’s interesting to note that this new marriage for the Major enabled him to become a prominent figure on the Valdosta social and political register, being elected mayor several times, having a street named after him, and becoming a charter member of the Valdosta chapter of the Royal Arch Masons. For son John, however, the new marriage meant betrayal, a sin he could never forgive.
By the time he was eighteen, John Holliday stood five feet, ten inches tall. He was slim for his height, having ash blond hair combed over a high forehead and flashing blue eyes. He took a great liking to his first cousin Martha Ann Melanie "Mattie" Holliday, whose father William had also served as quartermaster in the Civil War. Mattie was two years older than John, but they fell deeply in love. Things may have turned out romantically if trouble had not sent John packing for the North.
The exact date is not known, but sometime around 1870, John and his Uncle Thomas McKey decided to swim in a private water hole in an area John had cleared in the Withlacoochee River, which bordered alongside land Thomas and his brother William McKey were leasing and would purchase three years later. Already in the watering hole were several black troopers stationed in Valdosta. John was furious and demanded that the soldiers leave immediately. When they refused, John pulled his pistol, a Colt 1851 Navy revolver, and shot over their heads. Scholars differ on what happened next. Some claim he killed two of the soldiers and wounded one more. Others say he only killed one, that the others scattered. In any event, the incident was blown out of proportion to become a small massacre. It forced John to leave town.
Father Henry was furious when he learned what John had done. The days of the Southern gentlemen were over and almost all of the South was in the pockets of the Carpetbaggers and Scalawags. Opting for prudence, Henry Holliday sent his son to Philadelphia and The Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery. To throw hunters off the track, Henry let it be known around Valdosta that John had gone to the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, which was closer to Georgia. A hundred years would pass before John’s real alma mater would be uncovered.
Dentistry school was not all that challenging to the already well-educated John. Each session lasted a little over three months, and with time on his hands, his pastime quickly became his passion. He took to the gambling halls which lined the city’s red-light district and became an expert at cards. It’s a minor miracle that he found the time to write his required thesis on "Disease of the Teeth" by the time he graduated in 1872.
Doctor John Holliday returned to Georgia to set up practice, but he returned with a strange cough that came upon him at odd times. The only way he could calm the racking fits was with laudanum or a healthy dose of whiskey. He disliked the narcotic effects of laudanum and took to sipping whiskey on a regular basis.
His first office was in Valdosta, but with the old charges still pending against him, it was deemed too dangerous to remain there. He moved to Atlanta, where he shared an office with Dr. Arthur C. Ford on the corner of Alabama and Whitehall streets. The Atlanta Constitution of 26 July 1872 printed this notice: "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, D.D.S."
By the end of 1872, John’s illness was worse, and he found himself waking from sound slumber in the dead of night, covered in sweat, shivering, and racked with a dry, hacking cough. Unable to continue his practice in Atlanta, he moved to Griffin where he tried to work as a dentist. Again, his health got in the way. In sheer desperation, he sought out his Uncle John Stiles Holliday, a physician in Griffin, who gave him the dreaded news that he suffered from tuberculosis. Uncle John told him that if he stayed in Georgia with its steamy summers and wet winters, he would have only six months to live, but if he were to go to Texas with the drier climate, he might have as long as two years.
Reluctantly, John Holliday closed his dental practice and made plans to leave. On 14 January 1873, he attended the funeral of his adopted brother Francisco, who had just died of tuberculosis, giving rise to the theory that both boys contracted the disease from their mother. John then bade farewell to his beloved Mattie, turned his horse west toward Dallas, and rode into legend. He was just twenty-one-years-old.
After John left, Mattie Holliday became inconsolable. She stayed in touch with her cousin through sporadic letters over the years, and she was the only member of his family notified of his death, although his father was still living at the time. Mattie never married, and in 1883, she entered the Sisters of Mercy Convent at Savannah, where she was an elementary school teacher. She later became Mother Superior in the Sacred Heart Convent of Augusta, finally serving as Mother Superior of the Immaculate Conception Convent in Atlanta. She died in 1939, fifty-two years after her famous cousin.
When Dr. John Holliday reached Dallas, Texas in March 1873, he formed a brief partnership practice with Dr. John A. Seegar, who was also from Georgia. Patients, however, seldom found John in the office. Coughing spells wracked his thin frame and often occurred at the most embarrassing times, so the good doctor took to spending his waking hours at a nearby saloon, where he could earn a living playing poker.
Like all men who believe they live under a death sentence, he was absolutely fearless in everything he did. John was out to seek his fortune pulling teeth and dealing cards, and he thought he had only a short time in which to succeed. His illness eventually got better, but only because he spent a great deal of his time drowning his troubles in drink. It was in Julian Bogel’s Saloon in Dallas, that Dr. John Holliday became "Doc" Holliday, a moniker he carried until his dying day.
Doc Holliday remained in the Dallas area for two years, during which time he pulled teeth when asked and practiced gambling by profession. He also honed his skills with a six-gun and knife, knowing that the life of a gambler tended to be dangerous. On New Year’s Day 1875, he and another gambler took pot shots at each other, and both were arrested. Since neither man harmed the other, they were both released after paying a fine. Twelve days later, he put two large holes through a prominent citizen in another gambling dispute, leaving the man dead. Indicted by the Grand Jury for "gaming in a saloon," he left Dallas a few short steps before the posse.
With a growing reputation as a gunslinger, Doc’s favorite choice of weapon became a ten-gauge, double-barrel, sawed-off shotgun, which was considered the most fearsome weapon in the Old West, especially at close range. He also wore a gun in a shoulder holster, one on his hip, and a knife in his pocket. From Dallas, he headed northwest to Jacksboro, a thriving town for gamblers because of the proximity of the Fort Richardson Military Reservation. It wasn’t long before he was in another hotly contested card game in which he killed a soldier with his knife and promptly disposed of two other men with his guns. With the United States Government now part of the equation, as well as the local law and the Texas Rangers, Doc headed through the forbidding panhandle to Denver, killing three more men before he finally reached town. In Denver, he killed another in a gun fight and sent yet another to the Pearly Gates with his knife. By the time he reached Cheyenne, Wyoming, he had killed two more men in gambling fights.
According to some scholars, it was October 1877 that "Big Nose" Kate Elder entered his life, but she most assuredly knew him before then. She is the only woman to remain close to him for the rest of his life, although they came to a parting of the ways in Tombstone, Arizona for several months. The same Grand Jury of January 1875, which indicted Doc for "gaming in a saloon," had also indicted Hurricane Bill, Liz, Etta, and Kate, charged with keeping a "disorderly house." Kate herself claimed that she and Doc traveled everywhere together.
Kate Elder was born Mary Katherine Harony on 7 November 1850 in Budapest, Hungary, the oldest of seven children of Michael and Katherine (Baldizar) Harony. When Maximilian began his empire-building adventure in Mexico, Michael Harony went along as a surgeon, taking his family with him. When that regime crumbled in 1863, the family fled to Davenport, Iowa. Two years later, both of Kate’s parents would be dead, and she ended up with a pawing guardian. When she was not yet seventeen, she stowed away on a Mississippi River steamboat. The boat’s Captain Fisher, whose name she would later assume, caught her and placed her in an Ursuline convent in St. Louis. She told him that her name was Kate Elder.
Sometime later, Kate married a Silas Melvin and had a child. When her husband and child both died of fever, she was again cast adrift. According to the 1875 Kansas census, she was in the Wichita brothel of Bessie Earp, wife of James Earp, Wyatt’s brother. Kate claimed that she was Wyatt’s favorite, until he dumped her. After that, she carried a first class hated for Wyatt for over half a century.
In November 1877, Doc Holliday and Kate Elder were together in Fort Griffin, where Doc is supposed to have met Wyatt Earp for the first time. Ironically, September 1877 is also when twenty-two-year-old gold prospector Ed Schieffelin wandered down from Oregon to the rugged Huachuca Mountains and recorded his first claim in the Pima County Courthouse in Tucson, Arizona. He stayed in the vicinity of a camp of soldiers. When one of them asked what he was seeking, he answered, "Oh, just stones." "The only stone you’ll ever get in this country will be a tombstone," the soldier replied. Schieffelin promptly named his first claim "Tombstone," and from it, the town took its name. This claim did not prove to be very rich, nor did the next one which he named The Graveyard, but the Tough Nut made him rich in silver and gold. It drew miners and prospectors by the hordes, and along with them came the gamblers and outlaws. Tombstone would be Doc and Wyatt’s date with destiny.
Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp was an unusual man from the day he was born. He was the third of five sons and one daughter born to Nicholas Earp and his wife, Virginia Ann Cooksley, and one of six brothers, his oldest brother Newton having a different mother named Abigail Storm, who died in 1839.
It was raining the morning of 19 March 1848 in Monmouth, Illinois when Wyatt was born, and his father chose to honor his neighbor and good friend, Wyatt Berry Stapp, a hero of the Mexican War, by naming his fourth son after him. By the time Wyatt was seventeen, he was driving a freight wagon between San Pedro, California and Prescott, the new capital of Arizona. He moved the next year to run the circuit between Julesberg, Colorado and Salt Lake City.
When he was barely twenty, Wyatt became fascinated with the whiskey peddlers, whores, and gamblers who followed the railroad tracks, and he even tried the newest "gaming" sport of boxing. Fisticuffs, wagering and cards would become his lifetime passion. Over the next couple of years, he would be a saloonkeeper, gambler, bunco artist, and sportsman before becoming a lawman and gunfighter.
He married Urilla Southerland in Lamar, Missouri in 1870, and defeated his brother Newton to become the town constable there, but his wife died just three months after his marriage, and her family blamed him. After her death, Wyatt and three of his brothers, James, Virgil, and Morgan, had a twenty-minute street fight with her two brothers, Fred and Bert Sutherland, and three other Southerland friends. The outcome, and whether or not this fight involved guns, is not known, but it’s right after this that the Earps drifted into Kansas.
Wyatt was then arrested for stealing two horses in the Indian Territory, an offense punishable by death. Someone posted his bail, and there’s been all sorts of speculation on who that person was. When released on bond, Wyatt promptly left and headed north, where he tried buffalo hunting for one season, meeting William Barclay "Bat" Masterson. The two men would become lifelong friends. On 21 April 1875, Wyatt was officially hired as a lawman in Wichita, Kansas, although he had been working in that capacity for over a year.
By 1876, Wyatt and his friend Bat Masterson were deputy sheriffs in Dodge City, Kansas. A year later, the sheriff would become Masterson, and Wyatt would be on his way to Fort Griffin, Texas. He usually went south for the winters. He liked to follow the gaming circuit, hoping to track some desperadoes with prices on their heads. That November, he rode into Fort Griffin on the trail of killer Dave Rudabaugh.
Wyatt and Doc hit it off from the start, and a friendship quickly grew. Wyatt may have met Doc earlier, but it’s known for certain that he got to know Doc in Fort Griffin. According to Wyatt’s own testimony, "Doc Holliday was spending the evening in a poker game, which was his custom whenever the faro bank did not present superior claims on his attention. On his right sat Ed Bailey, who needs no description because he is soon to drop out of this narrative. The trouble began by Ed Bailey monkeying with the deadwood, or what people who live in cities call discards. Doc Holliday admonished him once or twice to ‘play poker’---which is your seasoned gambler’s method of cautioning a friend to stop cheating---but the misguided Bailey persisted in his furtive attentions to the deadwood.
Finally, having detected him again, Holliday pulled down a pot without showing his hand, which he had a perfect right to do. Thereupon, Bailey started to throw his gun around on Holliday, as might have been expected. But before he could pull the trigger, Doc Holliday had jerked a knife out of his breast pocket, and with one sideways sweep, had caught Bailey just below the brisket.
Well, that broke up the game, and pretty soon Doc Holliday was sitting cheerfully in the front room of the hotel, guarded while the gamblers clamored for his blood. You see, he had not lived in Fort Griffin very long, while Ed Bailey was well liked. It wasn’t long before Big Nose Kate, who had a room downtown, heard about the trouble and went up to take a look at her Doc through a back window. What she saw and heard led her to think that his life wasn’t worth ten minutes purchase, and I don’t believe it was. There was a shed at the back of the lot, and a horse was stabled in it. She was a kindhearted girl was Kate, for she went to the trouble of leading the horse into the alley and tethering it there before she set fire to the shed. She also got a six-shooter from a friend down the street, which, with the one she always carried, made two.
It all happened just as she had planned it. The shed blazed up, and she hammered at the door, yelling, "Fire!" Everybody rushed out, except the marshal and the constables and their prisoner. Kate walked in as bold as a lion, threw one of her six-shooters on the marshal and handed the other to Doc Holliday.
"Come on, Doc," she said with a laugh.
He didn’t need any second invitation, and the two of them backed out of the hotel, keeping the officers covered. All that night they hid in the willows down by the creek, and early next morning, a friend of Kate’s brought them two horses and some of Doc Holliday’s clothes from his room. Kate dressed up in a pair of pants, a pair of boots, a shirt and a hat, and the pair of them got away safely and rode the four hundred miles to Dodge City, where they were installed in great style when I got back home."
It wasn’t long after Wyatt Earp had returned to Dodge City in 1878 that his friendship with Doc Holliday was sealed. Wyatt’s old friend Bat Masterson was Sheriff, and Bat’s older brother Ed Masterson was the Marshal. The Masterson brothers were another unique group of gunfighters. Ed, Bat, and younger brother James were all lawmen in Kansas. Born in Canada to Thomas and Catherine Masterson, the brothers were the oldest of the seven children. Like the clannish Earp family, the Masterson family had moved a great deal, finally settling on an eighty acre farm near Wichita, Kansas about 1867. When Ed Masterson was shot dead by a drunk outside the Lady Gay Dance Hall on 9 April 1878, Wyatt became the new Assistant Marshal under Marshal Charlie Bassett.
In August of that year, Wyatt, along with Deputy Jim Masterson, attempted to calm an intoxicated and troublesome Texas cowboy. The bystanders, all Texas cattlemen, came to the cowboy’s aid and joined in the fight. Doc, hearing the ruckus, discovered that the cowboys had Wyatt in a tight spot in the Long Branch Saloon. Stealing in the back door, he saw a man draw on the marshal. Doc promptly drew on the cowboys, killing two and covering the rest, whom Wyatt promptly tossed into jail. In the words of Bat Masterson, Doc was "unafraid of nothing on earth."
By July 1879, Doc had migrated from Kansas to Trinidad, Colorado where, within a week of arriving, he shot and seriously wounded a man named Kid Colton. On the move once again, he arrived in Las Vegas, New Mexico where he formed a partnership in a saloon with John Joshua Webb, a former peace officer in Dodge City. One of their saloon girls was the mistress of a former army scout named Mike Gordon, and Gordon did not like her working in the saloon. He ordered her to quit; she refused; and he promptly proceeded to shoot up the place. Standing in the street, he fired two shots at the building. It was a colossal mistake on Gordon’s part. Doc calmly walked outside, drew a bead with his pistol, and drilled Gordon on the spot with one shot. He then calmly turned and walked back inside. Gordon died the next day, and Doc once again left town, but he was back in plenty of time to shoot and wound bartender Charley White in June.
It was October 1879 before Doc would become a more permanent part of Wyatt Earp’s life. Doc had shot another man in a gambling disagreement, and while on his way out of town, he met Wyatt and James Earp bound for Tombstone, Arizona where Wyatt’s brother Virgil had said there was a mining strike at Goose Flats. He and Kate Elder promptly joined the group, but at Prescott, he hit a winning streak at cards and decided to stay there for awhile.
At Prescott, the group was joined by Virgil Earp, who was working as the deputy sheriff. Wyatt’s brothers didn’t much care for the gambler-gunslinger, but they tolerated Doc because he was Wyatt’s friend. Doc, on the other hand, was one hundred percent loyal to Wyatt. Although he was known to consume as much as four quarts of whiskey in a day when his coughing spells were upon him, usually putting away a pint before breakfast, he was never drunk. Once, when John Ringo had bad-mouthed Wyatt, Doc went through the streets of Tombstone with the sawed-off shotgun Virgil Earp had given him, shouting for Ringo to "come out a’smokin’." Doc would rejoin Wyatt and his brothers in Tombstone in February 1880, after winning $40,000 at cards.
Tombstone, Arizona in May 1879 was just a stop in the road with a whopping population of 250. By the end of the year, it had more than 1,000 and by June 1880, it would leap past 3,000, surpassing 5,000 by Christmas. It was absolutely the toughest town on Earth. Reports are that Doc, the living dead man, and Tombstone, the spider web from hell, were meant for each other. He got into one altercation after another with charges running the gamut of "carrying a concealed weapon" to "assault with intent to kill," even though he often assisted in the maintenance of law and order. Doc was "the most dangerous man alive," according to Wyatt Earp.
In March 1880, Doc shot Charley White in the Plaza Hotel Saloon. Charley White was the same man whom Doc had shot in Las Vegas. In fact, Doc had once bullied White into leaving Dodge City, and the two men seemed to carry a continuous quarrel for each other. White became so terrified of Doc that he promptly left Tombstone, never to be seen again.
In October, Doc and Johnny Tyler got into a fracas in the Oriental Saloon, where Wyatt had a partnership. When owner Milt Joyce finally broke it up and ordered Doc out, Doc refused to go. Joyce forcibly threw Doc out, and Doc promptly returned with his pistols and shot Joyce in the thumb and bartender William Parker in the big toe. Arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon, he paid his fine and went back to gambling.
Eight months later, Doc and Kate got into one of their frequent quarrels, only this time she succeeded in getting Doc into trouble. In all the years that the two lived together, they continually bickered with each other, always having an on-again, off-again relationship. That July 1881, when she became drunk and abusive, Doc threw her out. She promptly went around town, totally snockered, telling everyone who would listen that Doc had been the mastermind behind a foiled stage robbery in March in Contention City, which had left stage driver Budd Philpot shot through the heart and passenger Peter Roerig dead. A warrant was duly issued on the strength of an affidavit signed by Kate.
This wore completely through Doc’s patience, and he was a terror when he got mad. While the Earps began to round up witnesses who could verify Doc’s whereabouts on the night in question, Doc slapped Kate down and pointed out that ‘if I had pulled that job, I’d have got the eighty thousand.’ He then issued a general threat that he would kill the next person to utter such slander. Kate meekly told the judge she had lied, claiming that Milt Joyce and Sheriff John Behan had gotten her drunk and put her up to signing the affidavit. The charges ended up being dropped, but the damage was done to her friendship with Doc, at least temporarily. He gave her some money, put her on the stage, and told her that if she ever came back to Tombstone, he would kill her. She traveled as far away as Globe, but she returned several times to visit Doc. She even claimed to be a witness to the gunfight which brought Doc and the Earp brothers fame.
The next month, local cattlemen led by Newman Haynes "Old Man" Clanton were ambushed and murdered in Guadalupe Canyon. They were shot dead out of their saddles with only Harry Earnshaw escaping. Although this was a retaliation shooting by Mexican pistoleers in reprise for a previous Skeleton Canyon holdup, which netted the Clanton gang more than $80,000 in loot, loot which has never been recovered and which is today a famous lost gold legend in Arizona, Clanton’s sons believed the massacre was an Earp-led posse intent on clearing the Territory of the Clanton name. Hostilities between the two factions began to escalate. By 25 October, Clanton’s son, Joseph "Ike" Clanton, and Doc were just about into fisticuffs. In a drunken argument, Ike told Doc that he and the Earps had better get ready for a fight.
The next day would become a day of infamy for Tombstone. In the "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral," Virgil Earp handed Doc a Wells Fargo shotgun and said, "Come along." "Let’s do it," Doc replied. Out in the street, meeting up with Wyatt and Morgan Earp, Wyatt said, "This isn’t your fight, Doc," to which Doc replied, "That’s a hell of a thing for you to say to me." The four men walked two by two down the sidewalk. Some onlookers thought Doc was whistling under his mustaches, but he was probably seething. He and Kate had a room in Fry’s boarding house next door to the corral, and the fight was in his front yard.
Technically a deputy city marshal, Doc stood with his Earp friends and emptied his sawed-off shotgun into Tom McLaury, hitting the enemy with twelve buckshot under his right arm, killing Tom instantly. He then tossed his weapon to the ground, drew his pistol and fired on Billy Clanton. He shot at Ike Clanton, who was bolting from the scene, missing both shots. He finally confronted Frank McLaury in the middle of the street and fired. Conflicting reports indicate that he may, or may not, have hit Frank in the chest.
When the smoke cleared away, Tom and Frank McLaury would be dead, and Billy Clanton would be dying. Frank was probably already dying from the first bullet from Wyatt Earp’s gun, which had hit him in the belly, regardless of whether or not Doc hit him in the chest. Frank McLaury was also hit by a bullet from Morgan Earp, who shot the outlaw under the right ear.
Virgil and Morgan Earp would both be seriously wounded, and Doc and Wyatt would have bullet holes in their coattails. Some accounts claim Doc was also wounded in the right hip, but Wyatt himself claims this isn’t so, that Doc was only shot through the coattail, the bullet missing him. Ike Clanton would run for Fry’s studio, unscathed, to hide with Sheriff Johnny Behan and Billy Claiborne, who never fired a shot. It was over in thirty seconds. The only legal action taken against the Earp faction resulted in Virgil being dismissed as Tombstone town marshal and Wyatt and Doc being arrested for murder by John Behan. Judge Wells Spicer heard the case and ruled that the defendants were guilty of bad judgment, but not of criminal acts. Doc and Wyatt went free.
On Wednesday evening, 28 December 1881, just eight weeks after the infamous gunfight, Virgil Earp was bushwhacked while crossing Fifth Street at the Allen Street intersection. Although hit with two bullets, he managed to remain on his feet and walk to the Oriental Saloon where he told his brother Wyatt that he had been shot. His left arm was permanently damaged between the shoulder and elbow, rendering it useless for the remainder of his life. The next day, Wyatt was authorized to deputize a posse.
Three months later, on 18 March 1882, Morgan Earp was murdered while playing pool in the Campbell and Hatch’s Saloon. When Doc heard the news, he went totally berserk. He believed that Frank Stilwell and John Behan were responsible, and he set out to locate and kill the two men. He began his hunt by kicking in doors all over Tombstone. Two days later, the Earp posse, consisting of Wyatt and his younger brother Warren, Sherman McMasters, Jack "Turkey Creek" Johnson, Texas Jack Vermillion, and Doc Holliday headed out. As far as Wyatt Earp was concerned, the men who had shot Virgil and killed Morgan were walking dead men, living only until he found them.
The posse found Frank Stilwell holed up in a Tucson rail yard. Although Wyatt killed Stilwell, Doc plugged him two more times "because he felt like it." Two days later, the posse riddled Florentino "Indian Charlie" Cruz with bullet holes at Pete Spencer’s camp at South Pass in the Dragoon Mountains. They then pushed on to Iron Springs where they drilled Curly Bill Brosius and Johnny Barnes.
One year later, in April 1882, unable to find Johnny Ringo, the posse finally disbanded. The list of outlaws killed in that year was astonishing: Old Man Clanton, Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury, Tom McLaury, Frank Silwell, Indian Charlie Cruz, Dixie Gray, Curly Bill Brosius, 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 and Wyatt and Warren Earp headed to Silverton, Colorado, where Doc took leave of his friends and continued on to Denver. Shortly after arriving, Perry Mallan, whom many believed was the brother to the same Johnny Tyler that Doc had run out of town in Tombstone, succeeded in having Doc arrested. While in jail, the Denver Republican on 22 May 1882 reported, "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 men." When Bat Masterson learned Doc was in jail, he used his influence to intervene, and Doc was promptly released. Masterson would always say that Doc "was known as an enemy of the lawless element."
According to Wyatt Earp, he and Doc returned one last time to Arizona in the heat of July 1882. They met with Fred Dodge, Oregin Smith, Johnny Green, John Meagher and Lon Cooley to track and kill Johnny Ringo, the last man Wyatt believed was responsible for Morgan Earp’s death. Ringo had deemed it safe enough to return to Arizona from Mexico, where he had been hiding under an assumed name. His body was found on the Galeyville trail, sitting in the center of five large black oaks growing up in a semi-circle from one root. His watch was still running, and his revolver was caught in the chain with only one shot discharged from it. He had a bullet hole in the head with a piece of scalp missing. His boots were gone, and he had taken off his undershirt, torn it in two, and had wrapped it around his feet. Although Wyatt claimed he killed the outlaw, Ringo’s death was officially listed a suicide. Wyatt and Doc returned to Silverton.
By now, Doc’s illness haunted him continually. In May 1887, he retreated to the Glenwood Spring’s health spa, hoping to find relief in the hot sulphur vapors, but the cure only hastened his death. The clouds of sulphur ate into his lungs, and by early September he was completely bedridden. No longer able to gamble for the house to pay his way, employers took up collections on his behalf. History claims Kate, who was running a "hotel" in Globe, Arizona, learned he was dying and joined him, staying by his side throughout his final days. Doc was bedfast for fifty-seven days, negating his earlier predictions that he would die a violent death.
Kate Elder married briefly to a blacksmith named George M. Cummings in Globe, Arizona. In 1888, they moved to Bisbee. Ironically, in 1899, she left Cummings because "he drank too much." However, she kept his name, and this was the name she used when she applied for admission to the Pioneers’ Home. George Cummings would commit suicide in Courtland, Arizona, on 7 July 1915. The coroner’s jury said he killed himself because he had an incurable cancer of the head.
In 1900, Kate went to work for John J. Howard of Dos Cabezas, Arizona, as his housekeeper. She lived quietly with him for thirty years and was executrix of his Will, still on file in the Cochise County courthouse. She entered the Pioneers’ Home in Prescott in 1931 as Mary K. Cummings, declaring, "I am a county ward…I am past eighty years old. My health is not best…I was advised not to live alone, but I have no income to pay any one to stay with me." She died there of old age on 2 November 1940.
Kate always claimed that she and Doc were married in St. Louis, Missouri, but no paperwork to this effect has ever been found. She totally resented Wyatt Earp’s hold on Doc, but she always said Doc was a good man. She claimed his last words were, "Well, I’m going just as I told them---the bugs would get me before the worms did." Her grave marker is at the Arizona Pioneers’ Home in Prescott.
On 8 November 1887, Doc awoke clear-eyed and asked for a drink of whiskey, which he drank with enjoyment. He looked at this bare feet and said, "This is funny." He then drew his last breath from the disease his uncle fourteen years earlier had said would kill him within two years. He had died in the winter, and the ground was frozen solid and covered in ice, preventing the hearse from making it up the steep narrow road to the graveyard on the mountaintop overlooking the town. The well-intentioned citizens of Glenwood Springs laid Doc to rest in an unmarked grave at the foot of the mesa until he could be transferred to the cemetery after the Spring thaws. According to the townsfolk, he never was.
As the years went by, Glenwood Springs grew outward, and today, Doc most likely lies buried in someone’s back yard. Although his grave has been lost, his tombstone rests in the Linwood Cemetery for all to see. It doesn’t even have his full name on it. It says simply "Doc Holliday." He was thirty-five-years-old.
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