Birthday: August 14, 1851
Died At Age: 36
Sun Sign: Leo
Also Known As: John Henry Holliday
Born in: Griffin, Georgia
Famous as: Gambler, Gunfighter
Spouse/Ex-: Big Nose Kate (m. 1877–1882)
father: Henry Burroughs Holliday
mother: Alice Jane McKey
Died on: November 8, 1887
U.S. State: Georgia
education: Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery
John Henry Holliday, better known as Doc Holliday, was a legendary gambler and gunfighter famous for the gunfight at OK Corral, where he fought alongside his good friend, Wyatt Earp. He was a dentist but gained the reputation of being skilled with cards and quick on the trigger. He suffered from tuberculosis. He was also a heavy drinker, which had badly affected his health. He spent most of his life on the gambling trail that led to the Wild West, where he met Wyatt Earp and got deputed as a deputy marshal to fight a band of cowboys who were becoming a nuisance in Tombstone. He was arrested multiple times on various charges, ranging from unlawful possession of gambling material to murder. Mary Katherine Horony-Cummings, better known as ‘Big Nose Kate,’ was the only woman with whom Holliday was known to have had a relationship. However, there is no record of them having got married or having had any children. He spent the last days of his life at Colorado in the hope that he would be cured by the hot springs, but succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of 36. Many movies, folk songs, and novels depicting his legendary life in the Wild West have been released and are popular to date.
Childhood & Early Life
John Henry Holliday was born on August 14, 1851, in Griffin, Georgia, to Henry and Alice Holliday. His father fought the Mexican–American War and the American Civil War as a ‘Confederate.’ He was of Scottish and English descent. He had an adopted brother named Francisco.
In 1864, his family moved to Valdosta, Georgia, where his mother died of tuberculosis two years later. His brother too succumbed to the same disease. Following this, his father got married to Rachel Martin.
He studied mathematics, history, and grammar in Latin and French at the ‘Valdosta Institute.’ Later, he went to Philadelphia and completed his ‘Doctor of Dental Surgery’ degree from the ‘Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery,’ at the age of 20. He had to wait till he reached the age of 21 before he could practice.
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Early Practice as a Dentist
He moved to St Louis, Missouri, to work as an assistant. Soon, he relocated to Atlanta to live with his uncle. He joined Arthur C. Ford and started practicing and substituting for him in his absence.
At the age of 22, he got involved in a confrontation with a group of black youth over the use of a swimming site in the Withlacoochee River and is believed to have shot at them with a shotgun. Some reports claim that he killed one of the blacks, but there is no evidence of the incident.
He was diagnosed with tuberculosis, which had earlier killed his mother and adopted brother. On the advice to move to a warmer place, he moved to Dallas, Texas, beyond which was the Wild West.
At Dallas, he teamed up with Dr. John A. Seegar, and they started gaining recognition as a dental team. They won various awards, including one for the best set of artificial teeth and dental ware. Their joint practice ended in 1874, and Holliday started his independent practice in Dallas.
His practice suffered due to his frequent coughing spells caused by tuberculosis, and he started resorting to gambling as an easier way of earning money. He was once indicted for illegal gambling and was arrested for being involved in a gunfight.
Following the Gambling Trail
In 1875, he decided to leave Dallas and followed the stage route to Denver, where he took up the alias “Tom Mackey” and worked as a faro dealer. Soon, he got involved in an argument with a well-known gambler, Bud Ryan, and left him seriously injured with a knife wound.
After a year at Denver, he moved further west. He found work as a card dealer in a saloon in Cheyenne. He followed the gold rush to Deadwood and later re-traced his path to Denver, gambling on the way. He went on to Kansas and then to Breckenridge, Texas, where he was seriously injured due to a gunshot wound. After recovering, he moved to Fort Griffin, where he met Mary Katherine Horony.
In 1878, Holliday and Horony moved to Dodge City, where they lived as Dr. and Mrs. John H. Holliday. He began his dental practice, but spent most of his time gambling. Soon, he got Wyatt Earp out of a tight situation. It is said that when Wyatt was outnumbered by some cowboys in a saloon, Doc Holliday drew his pistol on one of the cowboys and forced them to disarm. Since that incident, Doc and Wyatt became close friends.
Holliday gained a reputation of being a wizard with cards and with the gun too. He moved to Las Vegas with Horony and continued gambling and practicing as a dentist. The hot springs in the area were said to be therapeutic for tuberculosis patients, but the cold winters and the ban on gambling prompted him to return to Dodge City.
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On the Side of the Law
While in Dodge City, he joined a team formed by the deputy US marshal, Bat Masterson, to prevent a war between the ‘Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway’ (ATSF) and the ‘Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad,’ (D&RGW) who were both claiming a right-of-way across the Royal Gorge that was the only natural route through the Rockies. The conflict was resolved by the treaty of Boston and Holliday returned to Las Vegas to rejoin Horony.
The railroad reached Las Vegas and the town bustled with business. Holliday built a saloon and started a gambling business with his partner John Joshua Webb. In 1879, he accompanied the Earps to Prescott. While the Earps continued to Tombstone, he stayed back at Prescott with Horony, as he found the place to be suitable for gambling. A year later, he went to Tombstone and got embroiled in the violence and politics of the place.
In October 1881, Virgil Earp was the deputy US marshal and police chief of Tombstone. He deputed Holliday for backup when he was repeatedly confronted by a group of cowboys who continued challenging the law. In the gunfight that followed, Holliday was instrumental in killing the leaders of the gang and was found to be acting within the law.
The situation in Tombstone worsened after the killing. Virgil Earp was badly injured in an attack in 1881. Morgan Earp was killed in a fatal ambush in 1882. Holliday continued as a deputy marshal and assisted the Earps in their battle against the cowboys in various gun battles, including the famous gunfight at Iron Springs.
He later had differences with Earp and left Tombstone for Pueblo, Colorado, in 1882. He was arrested in Denver for the murder of Frank Stilwell. When Earp heard of the arrest, he used his connections to get Holliday released.
Holliday spent his remaining days in Colorado, in the hope that his tuberculosis would get cured by the spring waters. However, his condition worsened and he was soon addicted to alcohol. He was involved in a couple of more gunfights before he breathed his last on November 8, 1887, in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. As per Horony, she was by his side during his final days.
Mary Katherine Horony-Cummings, better known as ‘Big Nose Kate,’ was the only woman with whom Holliday was said to have had a relationship. She was a dance hall woman and an occasional prostitute, whom Holliday found to be as intelligent as he was. According to Kate, they were married and lived in Las Vegas, New Mexico, where Holliday worked as a dentist by day and gambled by night. They had frequent quarrels that sometimes turned violent. They often parted ways but resolved their issues from time to time.
During his stay in Tombstone, he had a nasty fight with Horony, who was later exploited by his enemies to sign an affidavit that implicated him in a robbery and murder. She later revealed that she was influenced to sign the document. Following this, the judge dropped the charges. Holliday and Horony parted ways after the incident and she left the town.
A life-size sculpture of Holliday and Earp was dedicated to the ‘Southern Arizona Transportation Museum’ at the historic railroad depot in Tucson, Arizona, by Dan Bates, in March 2005.
‘Doc Holliday Day’ is celebrated in Griffin, his birthplace, In January 2010, Valdosta, in Georgia, organized a Doc Holliday look-alike contest.
Over the years, several movies and books about the life of Doc Holliday have been released. Such works include ‘Legends and Lies: The Real West’ on ‘Fox News Channel’ and the novel ‘Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral’ by Mary Doria Russell.