The name Doc Holliday is one of the most recognizable outlaw names in old west history.
Thanks to numerous film releases on the subject of the wild west, Doc Holliday is one outlaw who has avoided obscurity. Movies and other historically based stories told of the man tend to focus on his life as the famous outlaw, but the gunslinger image belies a surprising past.
John Henry “Doc” Holliday was born August 14, 1851 to father Henry B. Holliday and mother Alice. Henry Holliday was a valued member of society, and served two terms as Mayor, was a member of the Masonic Brotherhood, served on committees for veterans, and dabbled in agriculture. Doc Holliday was educated at a local institute of learning in Georgia, where he learned Greek, Latin, and French among a variety of other subjects.
Doctor to Outlaw Holliday
When it came time to choose a career, Doc settled on dentistry, and made a name for himself as a competent dental surgeon in Atlanta, which presumably is how he picked up the name “Doc”. It wasn’t long after becoming a dentist that Doc discovered he had tuberculosis. Doc’s mother had died of tuberculosis in 1866, and some believe this is where he may have contracted the affliction. As Atlanta tends to be rather humid, Doc made the move to Dallas, Texas, in hopes of living a bit longer thanks to the dry air out west. Unfortunately, the tuberculosis made it impossible for Doc to continue with his career as a dental surgeon. The frequent coughing was a nuisance, and quite unsafe for his patients.
Doc did not exactly fit in with the other occupants of Dallas at the time. He was very intelligent and his manners were impeccable, aside from his affinity for the gun. Despite his upbringing and respectable nature, Holliday had a quick temper, and got himself into trouble many times during his life outside the law. His love of drink, gambling, and danger contributed to his reputation as a fearless gunslinger.
After leaving dentistry and moving west, Doc was in need of income, and quickly discovered that his education would pay off, literally, in the world of gambling. Gambling in the old west was a dangerous undertaking, and it soon became necessary for Doc to protect himself, and his winnings. After engaging in several gunfights, one in which a man was killed, Doc fled to Jacksboro, Texas. But his would not be his last stop. Gunfights would cause him to flee from punishment to Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico and Wyoming to name a few, all the way using his skills as a gambler and dealing cards in saloons to earn his money. Holliday moved constantly to avoid the repercussions of his violent actions, killed countless men along the way, and managed to save the lives of many.
During his time in Fort Griffin, Texas, around 1875, Doc met a woman by the named of Mary Catherine Haroney, later known as Big Nose Kate. The two engaged in a passionate love/hate relationship, and broke up and reunited many times during the short period Doc remained alive.
During one of his periods in Texas, Doc met Wyatt Earp, the famous lawman, and the two struck up a friendship that was considered odd by many, especially since it was said that Holliday was not a fan of men in law enforcement. While in Dodge City Kansas, Holliday saved Wyatt Earp from an irate gunman, and Earp never forgot it. The two remained good friends until Holliday’s death.
Holliday was sentenced to hang four times, and he was nearly shot too many times to count. A heavy drinker, an avid gambler, and an outlaw, Holliday lived a dangerous life, but never feared death. It is said that men of the old west always wished to die with their boots on, but Holliday would die in bed, on November 8, 1887, in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. He was remembered as a fearless outlaw, having killed countless men, but a fierce friend and gentleman.
- Traywick, Ben T. “The Chronicles of Tombstone.” 1996. americanwest.com.
- “Old West Legends: Doc Holliday–Deadly Doctor of the West.” legendsofamerica.com.