It would be a rare think for a man to say he had never heard of Doc Holliday – Dr. John H. Holliday. For this man was schooled to become a dentist, and did practice at times, but gravitated to the gambling table and the thrilling excitement of a knife or gunfight. Wyatt Earp said of him: “The most dangerous man alive”. Doc had tuberculosis, and this may account for his philosophy of dangerous living. He knew he was a dying man with little to lose.
He was born the son of a fiery-tempered Confederate Army major in Daldosa, Georgia, about 1862, and educated in the medical college in Baltimore, but after the family doctor gave him but four years to live, he packed up and started to wander down through Texas.
For a while he practiced in Dallas, but after killing a couple of angry gamblers Doc moved on. Working on teeth along the way, drinking continually, and gambling, he became very proficient with a pair of pistols. He practiced the fast draw at every opportunity. Another man died over a card game as Doc flew across the table and knifed him and two more died of gunshot in Jacksborough. His guns flashed again in Denver, and his knife sent another man under. In Wyoming he killed still another gambling man. Doc was a chronic killer.
While in Fort Griffin on the trail of Dave Rudabaugh, the killer, Wyatt Earp met Doc Holliday and liked the renown gunfighter from the start. A friendship grew and was cemented after Doc saved Wyatt’s life.
There was a “Mrs.Doc Holliday,” better known as Big Nosed Kate. She was a heller, but her big heart went out to Doc on many occasions when he had his coughing fits. She is known to have saved his life more than once. For instance, Doc shot down a man in Fort Griffin and Kate liberated her lover by setting fire to a building and having horses ready for his escape.
Doc went on to Dodge City where Wyatt was marshal. He arrived just when a bunch of Texas cowboys had the lawman in a tight spot in the Long Branch Saloon. Doc stole in the back door and threw down on the cowboys, killing two and covering the rest, whom Wyatt threw in the calaboose.
In Santa Fe Doc shot three more men who questioned his honesty at cards, and met Wyatt Earp and his brother’s family heading for Arizona. He joined the caravan, September of 1879.
One strange thing about Doc was his loyalty to Wyatt. The Earp brothers did not particularly like him, only tolerated this gambler-killer. Doc was never drunk although he consumed as high as four quarts of whiskey in a day and would put away a pint before breakfast.
Big Nosed Kate came to Tombstone where she and Doc had a falling out. So she went about town, screaming drunk, telling all she met that Doc had robbed the stage. Doc slapped her down and told her had he robbed the damned thing he would have taken all the gold instead of bungling the job. When Kate sobered she told the judge she had lied, and Doc gave her some money and told he if she ever came back to Tombstone he would kill her. She knew he meant it and never returned.
Doc was a terror when he got mad. Once, when John Ringo had showered imprecations on Wyatt Earp, he went through the streets of Tombstone with the sawed-off shotgun Virgil Earp had given him, shouting for Ringo to come out a ‘smokin’.
The gun battle at the OK Corral was the political showdown of two factions in Tombstone – the Earps and the Clantons. Out of 17 shots fired by the Clantons and McLowerys there were only three hits at the stable, while out of 17 shots fired by Doc and the Earps there were 13 hits. Tom, Frank McLowery and Billy Clanton were killed, but Virgil, Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday were only wounded. Morgan was killed a little later. Wyatt blasted curly Bill at Iron Springs.
Doc finally went on to Denver where he died at 35 years of age in the high country of Glenwood Springs, pale and thin – too weak to lift a playing card.