Doc Holliday

I recently asked my son, Daniel Stephen Hadley, to help with this site and add some information on his favourite Old West Stories character.  I actually asked him to choose his favourite Old West Lawman but he ended up choosing Doc Holliday and then set about trying to convince me he was a lawman.

At first I thought that might be a stretch for Doc Holliday but he was a Deputy Sheriff at one time and was on the side of the law more than once.  So after pondering on  this for a while I decided that I would write this page by posing the question:-

Doc Holliday – Badman or Lawman – You Decide?


During the days of Old West Stories the men who brought law and order to the West weren’t paid well and rarely earned more than $100 per month for constantly putting their lives on the line to protect the community.  The Old West was immense and it contained every kind of man, the good, the bad and the wavering – and every kind in between.  There were many that crossed the line between good and bad, sometimes crossing it many times.  Doc seems to have been one of those men or perhaps he was one of those men with a code of their own. 

Daniel Stephen Hadley

Doc Holliday

John Henry “Doc” Holliday

Born in Griffin, Georgia, 14 August 1851 – Died 8 November 8, 1887 (Son of Henry Burroughs Holliday – Born 11 March 1819)

Henry Holiday outlived Doc by several years and I have often wondered how he felt about this and whether he was proud of his son or not, in light of the controversy surrounding his last years.

Doc Holiday is known as gambler, a gunfighter, a dentist and a Deputy U.S. Marshal.  He is best remembered for his role in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.  You can check out details  his friend, Wyatt Earp, on the link above.

In 1871 Holliday got his qualifications as a dentist at the Pennysylvania College of Dental Surgery.  He worked as a dentist in Atlanta but there is not much remembered about that part of his life other than the notable probability that this his where is nick name “Doc” came from.

Frontier Gambling - By G. R. Williamson

Frontier Gambling – By G. R. Williamson

Tuberculosis killed his mother (Alice Jane Holiday, born Alice Jane McKey on 21 April 1829) and it was this disease that he was diagnosed with soon after his graduation.  Possibly hoping the climate in the Southwest would make managing the disease easier he moved to that area and became a gambler.

You can learn more about the gambling part of his character in a great book that I have to recommend called Frontier Gambling by G R WilliamsonClick the book name above for a review of the book or his name if you would like to buy the book.  It is a great read and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Old West Stories that would like to get a unique perspective on those days.  If you click on the picture of the book itself, you will be taken to a page with a commentary from Ron on the gambling “Doc” Holliday.

Victoria Wilcox - Award winning author of the "Southern Son" trilogy.

Victoria Wilcox – Award winning author of the “Southern Son” trilogy.  She states “Many sources state unequivocally that John Henry moved West for his health.  This is just not true”.  Click on Victoria’s picture to read her fascinating reasons for this.

I used the word Possibly above, advisedly; because there has been much debate on the reasons for Doc moving to the Southwest.  Many articles, books, movies and documentaries assert it was to aid his health due to his Tuberculosis.  Victoria Wilcox, Author of the “Southern Son” trilogy of historical novels based on Doc’s life asserts that this is not the case.  Clicking on her picture at left will take you to a page with some extremely interesting comment on this topic and you can learn why Victoria is convinced that this was not the case.  She is an expert on “John Henry” (as she refers to him in her books), this Georgia Author of the Year (year to be checked) knows her subject well.  Clicking on her name will take you to a link where you can buy her books and they are worth the read.

Doc had several armed disputes and he became feared as a deadly effective gunfighter.

A red letter moment in his life in Texas was when he saved the life of Wyatt Earp and they became life long friends, albeit that his life would be a bit longer than Wyatt’s.

Daniel Stephen Hadley's favourite movie.

Daniel Stephen Hadley’s favourite movie.

In 1880 he spent time with the Earp brothers in Prescott, Arizona and later in Tombstone.  This set the scene for that most remembered gunfight in all of Old West Stories on 26 October 1881, the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

After the Tombstone incident, Virgil Earp was injured and permanently incapacitated by a hidden shooter.  Another brother, Morgan, was killed.  After efforts to obtain justice through the courts failed, Wyatt Earp took matters into his own hands.  Acting as a Deputy U.S. Marshal, Wyatt Earp deputized Doc Holliday and others.  Working as a federal posse, they chased down the outlaws they believed were responsible for the shootings of the Earp brothers.  In the style of many a western movie or novel, they hunted and killed the guilty parties without attempting to bring them to justice or to face a court.  After Frank Stilwell was found waiting to ambush Virgil Earp as he boarded a train the posse killed him.  A local Sheriff issued a warrant for the arrest of five members of the posse, including Doc.  The line between the outlaw and the law enforcer blurred in a manner that continues to spark debate abate about the legalities of the actions taken by Wyatt and Doc.

Powerful forces came into play when Wyatt Earp learned of an extradition request for Holliday and arranged for Colorado Governor Frederick Pitkin to the deny the extradition warrant.  Holliday spent the remaining few years of life in Colorado and died in his bed at the Glenwood Springs Hotel of tuberculosis at age 36.

The totality of Doc’s life remains clouded in mystery and the full history of his exploits will never be fully understood.  He is credited with up seven killings and as being an active participant in nine shootouts.  Whether or not these are all true and accurate, his participation at the O.K. Corral is not in doubt and will live forever in the annals of Old West Stories.


1851 – August 14 – Doc Holliday was born in Griffin, Georgia, USA.

Griffin is over 1, 700 miles from Tombstone, Arizona where Doc’s most famous encounter occurred.  Doc covered a lot of country in his  26 years.  He was born with an English background.

His father served in the Mexican-American war and the Civil war, fighting for the South.  Although I have found nothing specific about his father’s fighting capacity, it is safe to say that anyone who fought in both of those engagements and lived learned to handle guns  with some proficiency.  He taught Doc how to use guns and it seems that he taught him well.

1864 –  Doc moved with his family to Valdosta, Geogia but his mother died there from Tuberculosis in 16 September 1866.  He was just 15 years old.  It only took his father three months to find a new wife and he married Rachel Martin at that time.

Daniel Stephen Hadley

The Valdosta Institute – 1866

Doc got his education at the Valdosta Institute (founded 1825, now Valdosta State University).

He studied grammar, Greek, history, Latin, mathematics and French. 

In 1866, education was sporadic and many people still received no education at all.  In a time when a large portion of the community could not read and write, Doc would have been considered a highly educated man.  Daniel Stephen Hadley

1870 – Doc was now 19 years old.  He left home to start his dentistry studies in Philadelphia.

1872 – March 1 – Doc became a real doc when he got his degree to become a “Doctor of Dental Surgery” .  The college where he studied is now the University of Pennyslvania School of Dental medicine”.  He had to wait until he was 21 years old to practice as that was the legal minimum age at the time to do so.

1873 – Doc worked for a friend in St. Louis for a short time but moved then to Atlanta and joined a dental practice, that of Arthur C Ford.  Doc did well to work there as Ford was well known.  He had fought in the Civil War and became a dentist when it ended.  He was a founding member of the Southern Dental Association and later became president of the Georgia State Dental Association.  I have read that Doc’s father knew Ford during the war however, I can find nothing to confirm this but it would have explained why he would have gone nearly 800 miles to work there.  If you know of any information confirming this about his father, please let me know through the comment section below.

1873 – First Fight? – The first mention of Doc being involved in a killing revolves around an incident involving, allegedly, the death of three negro men in a dispute of a swimming trip to the Withlacoochee River in Georgia.  It is said that Doc went with friends to a favoured swimming location and found a group of negroes there who refused to leave when told.  The story goes that Doc left and returned with a gun.  In a fight that followed three negro men were killed at Doc’s hands.  There is no written confirmation that I could find but this is not completely surprising.  Violence against black people in 1873 was widely ignored by the community at large and law enforcement.  In any event, as I make a count of the possible deaths caused by Doc, I include these three as possibilities.

1873 – It was also around this time Doc was diagnosed with tuberculosis.  He had only been in dental practice a short time but I could not locate any details of exactly when it happened.  It was an absolutely critical moment in his life and a key to his decision to head out West (Maybe – Read More).  It could be said that this was the key moment that led to the creation of one of Old West Stories greatest stories.  It has been suggested often that he caught the disease from his mother but this is just not known.  He may have contracted the disease from his mother.  He was given a bleak diagnosis with death as a certainty in a short period of time.  His boss (Dr Ford) left him charge of the dental practice whilst he was travelling and when he returned, Doc left and travelled to Dallas.

1873 – September – When Doc moved to Texas he joined a friend of his father, a Dr. John A. Seegar and together they won three awards for dental work from North Texas Agricultural, Mechanical, and Blood Stock Association at the Dallas County Fair. 

1874 – March 2 – The partnership was ended and Doc opened his own practice in the Dallas County Bank building at the corner of Main and Lamar Street.  When my son was last in Dallas he went past that location with no idea of Doc’s history there.  I bet he would not have recognised much there other than a few trees, certainly not the apartment towers and ultra modern fountain.  Coughing when treating patients became an issue and the practice suffered.  When Doc discovered he had some skills at gambling his main source of money started heading in that direction.

1874 – May 12 – Doc and and dozen others were arrested for gambling offenses.  It seems the authorities missed this chance to scare him into a straight and narrow life style.

1875 – January – Doc was arrested again and this time guns were involved.  Apparently there were no injuries and saloon keeper Charles Austin left the incident with his life.  He may have thought about this piece of luck later in his life when he no doubt heard of Doc’s prowess with the gun.  It was shortly after that Doc packed up and left.

1875 – The Traveling Gambler – Doc started a part of his life during the summer of ’75 that formed the foundation of the legend he created.  Old West Stories contains uncounted tellings of stories about traveling gamblers who made their living going from town to town, leaving before the trouble they created got them hurt or killed.  Doc was a little different in that he rarely left for those reasons.  Many thought he had a death wish and MAYBE, JUST MAYBE, he did.  Personally, I do not think so.  In the West of 1875, any man wanting to die by the gun could do so without too much trouble.  He started off following well worn trails through to Denver, gambling in towns and at army outposts along the way.  His lifestyle could be pretty dangerous in the towns if someone decided he was cheating and seems, this happened often.  In the army bases, with drunken, gambling soldiers on meager wages, all armed and trained, it could make the towns seems  tame.

As well as being a gambler he also worked in the casinos and saloons dealing Faro and other games.  Why he became “Tom Mackey” I do not know but it may well have been a way to separate his gambling and work.  He worked for  John A. Babb at the Theatre Comique, 357 Blake street, Denver.  It was during this time he got into an argument with a well known gambler with a reputation for toughness.  Bud Ryan walked away from this one alive but with a serious wound,.  Both men had drawn knives and went hard for each other.

1876 – February 5 – Doc arrived in Cheyenne as he heard about gold being found in Wyoming.  John Babb from the theatre had a long standing business partner, Mr. Thomas Miller and he owned the Bella Union saloon.  Doc worked there for a short time until Miller moved the saloon to Deadwood some time around October 1876.  Doc moved with him.  Deadwood was the heart of Dakota Territory Gold Rush and Doc would find a lot of rough men there.  Again, his stay was short.

1877 – Doc Holliday went back to Cheyenne and then back to Denver before making his way to Kansas (apparently to visit an aunt).  He kept traveling and ended up back in Texas and spent some time gambling in Breckenridge.

1877 – July 4 – Doc got involved in a fight.  By this time he was usually seen with a walking cane and may have seemed, to the uninitiated, to be a fairly easy target.  We don’t know whether Henry Kahn thought this before his fight with Doc or who started the altercation.  Any bystanders who may have thought Doc looked helpless had their opinions straightened out considerably as Doc beat Kahn with his walking stick.  Both men were arrested.  They were fined and released.

Later in the day Doc was unarmed (except for the cane) and got shot.  It was Kahn and the wound was serious.  Newspapers reported three days later that Doc had been killed.

Mary Katharine Harony

Well we know he didn’t die on that occasion but I don,t know how long the recovery process took.  George Holliday, a cousin, traveled to be able to help get better and when this was achieved, Doc traveled again, moving on to Fort Griffin.

Doc stayed a while and met Mary Katharine Harony, more famously known as Big Nose Kate.  He met her whilst working the cards a the John Shanassey Saloon.  She was a dance hall girl and prostitute.  Doc and Kate formed a close and lasting relationship.

1877 – October – A red letter day for Doc and Wyatt Earp.  If you don’t know who Wyatt Earp is I can’t imagine how you have found you way to this website or this page .  If you want to know more though, go to the link embedded in his name (above).  Wyatt Earp had been given the job of chasing down Dave Rudabough after he had robbed the Sante Fe railroad construction camp.  Wyatt was a Deputy U.S. Marshal and it is believed he chased Dave for more than 400 miles, following the Brazos River to Fort Griffin.  At the Beehive Saloon which was owned by John Shanssey, a long time associate of Earp, the elements were coming together for Doc and Earp to meet.  They got together for a chat and Earp learned from Doc that his target was returning to Kansas.

1878 – Wyatt Earp headed for Dodge City and became Assistant City Marshal under the leadership of Charlie Bassett.  In the summer of that year Doc also arrived.  Along the way Doc had a run in with Ed Morrison, a troublesome cowboy of ill repute.  It is said that Doc sent him and Ed Morrison packing when they were in Wichita.  With Doc and Wyatt now in town, these two rode into Dodge City with a group of cowboys and shot up the town.  This group may have exceeded 25 men.

They ended up in the Long Branch Saloon, smashed the place up and caused problems for everyone else there.  Wyatt Earp became aware of the situation and headed for the saloon.  They got the drop on him and with twenty plus men pointing guns at you, you are in trouble even if you are Wyatt Earp.  (The extensive research I conducted in preparing to write this article revealed that there has been only one man ever that could have handled this situation on his own.  That man was Lucky Luke and at the time of this incident he was over 400 miles away in Daisy Town).

Tales told of the incident say the Doc was busy playing cards in a back room when he heard the commotion.  He came out and put his gun to Morrison’s head and managed to get all of the cowboys to drop their guns.  In one version, Holliday was playing cards in the back and hearing the noise, quietly came out and put his pistol at Morrison’s head, forcing him and his men to disarm.

Other story tellers reckon he burst in with two guns drawn and Earp then had the chance to get a gun into action and face down the cowboy bunch.  From what I have learned about Doc, this doesn’t sound like his style, he was more of a cool and collected fellow who frightened others into compliance with his cold, emotionless attitude.  What ever happened, it was one hell of a thing for two men to do and it was the red letter moment that led to a life long friendship between them. 

It was during his time in Dodge around 1878 that “Doc” became the name he is so well remembered by. 

1878 – Sometime – maybe – Bat Masterson also recounted a gunfight between Doc and a negro soldier who was apparently unarmed.  The story says that Doc killed him and there is some indications that this poor fellow may have been Jacob Smith.  Bat Masterson’s later job as a sports reporter includes some shady dealing surrounding the sale of fake gunfighter weapons and these dealings might just peg Bat as a less than noteworthy witness.

D0c got himself into a gunfight with Charles White, a bartender.  He apparently burst into a saloon with a gun ready for action and told White he had to settle a debt on the spot.  According to an eye witness White took cover behind the bar and started shooting at Doc.  Doc shot him in the head but he was mistaken – White lived.

1878 –  Tombstone was founded in 1879 by Ed Schieffelin.  It has been told and retold many times that he described the country as desolate and the only stone you will find here is your own Tombstone and this is how the place got its name.  Whether that is true or not, it makes for a good story.  The area prospered and it has been estimated that up $85, 000, 000 came out of the ground in this region of Arizona.  The ongoing earnings based on the shootout involving Doc and Wyatt Earp may well be greater than this.  Population grew to around 14, 000 in about seven years.  That doesn’t sound much these days when a suburb of 20, 000 can go up in a year but in the 1870s, that was a boom of magnificent proportions.

The town was first set up near the Tough Nut Mine.  Within a couple of years it is said to have created over 110 saloons, over a dozen gambling halls and had numerous brothels.  It also had some of the less popular establishments like banks, newspapers, churches and even a bowling alley.  The place even had operas in its own Opera House at one extreme with bawdy shows at the Bird Cage Theatre at the other extreme.  Into this environment came Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp.

Doc by now was extremely well known for his extraordinary skills with the gun, cards and teeth.  Around December 1878 Wyatt Earp, Jim Earp, their wives, Doc and Big Nosed Kate were all in Las Vegas, New Mexico.  The Hot Springs in the area were famous for tuberculosis treatment and this may have formed a art of Doc’s decision to go there (or maybe not).  He set about making the best use of his key skills.  He opened a dental practice, started playing cards and sought opportunties to use his gun.  He succeeded well in all three areas.

1879 – March 8 – Doc was charged with “keeping a gaming table” and was fined $25.  A ban on gambling and the weather encourage Doc to return to Dodge.

1879 – Royal Gorge War – The infamous railway wars raged on and off for many years.  In 1879 the Royal Gorge Railway War was in progress between competing railroad companies.  While the legal teams spent their time combating each other in court, the Santa Fe group hired Sheriff Bat Masterson (Ford County, Kansas) to get a group together to defend their interests.  Among others, Bat enlisted Doc to help him.  The wild bunch that were recruited included a few names that would play later parts in Doc’s life nd included:-

  • Dave Rudaboaugh
  • Dave Mather
  • Ben Thompson

This group took control of defense at the Sante Fe Round House in Pueblo.  They were up against the forces recruited by Denver and Rio Grande Western Railway.  Each claimed the right of way across Royal Gorge to give prime access to Leadville.  Doc remained there in this engagement for near on three months.

It is said that Bat Masterson got $10, 000 to give in to the opposition and that Doc got his share of the money.  Maybe that is where Doc got the funds to build a saloon in Las Vegas.

The Santa Fe Railroad built tracks to Las Vegas but bypassed the city by about a mile.  Another town was built.  Prostitution and gambling flourished.

1879 – July 19 – Holliday and John Joshua Webb were seated in a saloon in Las Vegas, New Mexico.  (Webb was a former lawman, former gunman and one of those characters who seemed to move back and forth between good and bad).  A former Army scout (Mike Gordon) made overtures to persuade a saloon girl, a former girlfriend possibly, to leave the town with him.  She apparently refused and Gordon stormed outside.  He began firing his pistol into the air and into the building.  Some hours after he was found mortally wounded outside.  Holliday was given the credit for the shooting but nothing conclusive is known.  What is known is that Doc had the skills required.

The following day Doc paid $372.50 to have a man build a place that was to become “Doc Holliday’s Saloon” with John Webb as his partner.  Around this time Doc was fined twice for keeping a gambling device and again for carrying a deadly weapon.

Move to Arizona Territory

Autographed photo of Holliday taken in 1879 in Prescott, Arizona

 1879 – October 18 – Wyatt Earp arrived in Las Vegas and met up with Doc.  He brought with him news about a mining boom in Arizona and Tombstone.  Doc and Kate left soon after and travelled to Tombstone.  This in itself is a strong indication of the depth of the friendship that existed between Doc and Wyatt.

After a couple of weeks of travelling they arrived in Tombstone.  They caught up with Constable Virgil Earp who was working there in law enforcement and had set up house with wife Allie.

Stagecoach Robbery Case

1881 – March 15 – Holliday and Kate lived in a dramatic relationship and many disagreements ensued.  After what has been described as a very loud, very drunken fight, Holliday kicked Kate out.  Johnny Behan (County Sheriff) saw an opportunity and with the aid of Milt Joyce the liquored up Kate and told her to even up the score with Doc.  She signed a statement laying the blame for a robbery and the murder of passengers right at Doc’s door step.  A stage coach was stopped by three three men.  $26, 000 was stolen and passengers were killed.

Bob Paul was driving.  Eli Philpot was riding shotgun.  Peter Roerig was travelling on the dickey seat at the rear of the coach.  During an exchange of shots Philpott and Roerig were killed.  One of the three men was shot in the groin and later identified as Bob Leonard.

Doc and Leonard were know to be friends.  Judge Wells Spicer issued a warrant for Doc’s arrest based on this fact and Kate’s information. 

Tombstone saloon owner Milt Joyce decided to take Doc’s gun away after a drunken disagreement.  later in the day Doc returned with another weapon and two men were shot including Joyce.  The story included a description of Doc using the greatest skill a gun man can show and he shot the gun out of Joyce’s hand.  Whether or not Doc did this, if it was an accident or intended, we don’t really know.  But the legend of Doc grew that day and the skill of a gunman who can shoot the gun out of another’s hand has been the basis of many a tall tale.

Doc’s mate Wyatt came to the rescue by finding witnesses who testified that Doc was elsewhere when the robbery happened.  Kate, maybe feeling regret or just sober, told the story of Behan’s treachery and the charges were withdrawn.  Doc gave Kate money (paid her off, no way) and she left town by stage coach.

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

In 1881, October 26, what may have been an inevitable confrontation between Wyatt Earp, his family and Doc on one side and members of the Curly Bill’s gang, referred to as the “Cowboys”, came to a head.

The section below is an account of the events of that day, based on records from that time, recollections of witnesses and newspaper reports.  The truth of the situation will probably never be known with certainty because of the widely varying accounts and the apparent political interests affecting these events.  The account below, is one of I have put together to show what I have come to believe, represents what likely went down that day.  I make no representation that this is entirely accurate and I don’t believe anybody could make such a claim.

The following excerpt is taken directly from my Wyatt Earp Page.

Wyatt Earp had made a deal with Ike Clanton, he would pay the whole of the reward due for the arrest of the stage coach bandits offered by Wells Fargo to him, if he revealed the location of Curly Bills men responsible for the robbery.  Nobody would ever know about the deal.  Ike was greedy for the cash but was scared from the outset that Curly Bill would find out about it and set his henchman on him.  After the suspects were killed in a bank robbery over the border, he came to town to try to make sure the deal the didn’t get out.

Too late, the rumour was rife in the saloons and Ike found himself in a tight spot.  If he went back to the ranch, he knew Curly Bill would never believe him and his life was forfeit.  If he stayed in town, very likely Doc Holliday would kill him on sight.  He located Wyatt Earp and confronted him with the accusation that he had told people about their deal.  Wyatt denied it but Ike Clanton wasn’t ready to accept that and continued to rant his accusations.

Pushed now, Wyatt struck him and warned him to leave town.  Then he threatened the Earps, telling them his brother Billy and the McLaury’s would be in town tomorrow and it would be the Earp’s that saw trouble, not him.

Just about then, Wyatt regretted involving Ike in the reward scheme, he was never a man to be trusted.

The following morning Virgil, Morgan and Wyatt Earp gathered together, sensing the day may have arrived when the cowboys would push them into a corner.  The brothers determined that if they arrested Ike, that might settle the matter somewhat and give them the chance to handle matters without bloodshed.  They set about finding him.

They found Ike Clanton carrying a Winchester Carbine and a revolver on his hip.  Virgil and Morgan went to arrest him but he turned on them with the rifle.  Virgil was an experienced lawman soon disarmed him, dealing out some rough justice along the way.  He was arrested and taken to a hearing almost straight away.  The law in Tombstone did not allow the  carriage of guns in the street but everybody did  it.  It was a stretch to suddenly enforce this law against their sworn enemy.

A hasty municipal hearing was commenced and the judge heard the evidence from the arresting officers and the accused.  Virgil Earp recommended a short stay in the county jail for his own good but the judge fined him and released him.  He paid the fine but was not given back his weapons.

As Ike left the court room with the Earp’s on his heel, Tom McLaury was outside waiting.  He had heard that Ike had been arrested and came looking.  He stood there facing them down, feet firmly planted and his hands behind his back.  Another argument ensued and this time it was McLaury abusing the lawmen.

“What’s that behind your back” accused Virgil who stepped up and struck him hard across the temple.  He grabbed him and retrieved a colt that Tom had hidden behind his back, a common ploy in these days to make weapons a little less obvious around the law.  McLaury recovered somewhat and Ike Clanton helped him up and dragged him away before there was any more trouble with the Earp’s while they were both unarmed.

They soon found Bill Clanton and the other McLaury.  With them was Will Claiborne, a sometime member of the gang.  They discussed affairs and headed of directly to the gun shop to reacquaint Tom and Ike with a weapon or two.  In short order they had bought new weapons and went looking for the Earps, ready to force a confrontation.  There was disagreement among them, it was not necessarily a clever ploy to take on Wyatt Earp without Curly Bill knowing about it but they had their dander up and nothing was going to get in their way this day.  They headed up the street past the O.K. Corral and onto a vacant block next to the photographic studio.

Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan followed them at a discreet distance and stood in the shade of a board walk to discuss the situation.  Wyatt, as always, was keen to get things dealt with and avoid blood shed.  He asked if Virgil thought the men were going to force a fight today.  Virgil said they would, certainly.  Just then Doc Holliday came down the street and approached them saying, “Looks like the day has arrived, you weren’t going to leave me out were you”.

Of course Wyatt had planned not to deal him in because with his reputation, he didn’t need his friend involved in trouble with them.  If shooting went down and Doc Holliday was involved it would only go badly for Wyatt’s election chances in the upcoming run for Sheriff.  He denied this of course and in short order a shotgun was collected from a nearby hotel and they had Doc Holliday place it under the long coat he was wearing, to keep it hidden so as not to hasten a gun fight but have it ready if real action started.

The four men started walking toward the corral, strung out across the street in line.  Sheriff Behan raced up trying to talk them out of a confrontation.  There was no luck there, if the cowboys did not surrender their weapons, Wyatt had determined he would take those weapons by force.  He gave the Sheriff the chance to talk the cowboys into surrender and watched him scurry off to try just that.

No luck there though, Ike Clanton was wound up and working hard to make sure his brother and the McLaury’s did not back down.  As the Sheriff continued his arguments the four men rounded the corner and John Behan, not wanting to be in the middle of this, scurried off to find cover.

The Clanton’s and the McLaury’s spread out along the wall of the Harwood home on the far side of the vacant lot.  Wyatt and the boys approached directly until not more than ten feet separated them from the cowboys.  The gang remained in their places.

Virgil Earp was the official lawman of the group and barked out his official command to the cowboys, “Throw up your hands and surrender your weapons”.

Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury both reached for their guns and Wyatt Earp responded by grabbing his colt from his overcoat pocket.  A fraction slower, Virgil and Doc Holiday also drew their guns

Frank fired the first shot at Virgil but missed.  Wyatt raised his weapon and shot Frank in the stomach, the impact threw him against the wall.  Will Claiborne began running and disappeared behind the photograph gallery in a blur of speed.

Ike Clanton jumped forward to Wyatt, screaming to him not to shoot and that he was not armed.  Wyatt Earp grabbed him, shoved him aside and let him pass.  Ike ran for cover.

Holliday turned and fired two shots over his head as he ran.  Billy Clanton fired at Wyatt but also missed.  Morgan returned fire at Billy but was unsuccessful in that endeavour.  Billy fired back and Morgan went down with a savage wound to his left shoulder.  Tom McLaury jumped behind a horse and fired wildly over the top of the saddle.  Doc Holliday holstered his gun and pulled out the shotgun, triggering both barrels into Tom McLaury who now lay dead from the double impact.

Virgil got into the action and fired a shot that winged Billy Clanton.  Morgan was still on the ground and fired from that position, his bullet hit Clanton smack in the middle of the chest.  Frank McLaury, fatally wounded already from Wyatt’s first shot, staggered forward and fired at Virgil, hitting him the leg and bringing him down.  Doc Holliday, Wyatt and Morgan replied and the three shots, sounding almost as one, that tore him apart and the shoot out at the O.K. Corral had ended.

Three dead outlaws lay on the ground and two law men had received serious blows.  Not until now did anyone notice that Doc Holliday had also taken a shot to the hip.  Luckily, it hit only in the fleshy part of him just above the hip bone, a lot of pain but he would be alright.

Ike Clanton filed charges against the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday of October 30.  Wyatt and Holliday were arrested whilst his brothers remained in recovery from their wounds and the hearing began on Tuesday November 1.

Witnesses for the prosecution included Sheriff Behan.  The  prosecution built a strong case that indicated the Doc Hooliday party fired the first several shots whilst the deceased were either throwing down their weapons or had demonstrated they were unarmed.  Several witnesses called supported this view of events which was very different from Doc’s version and that which had been published in a local paper.  A writ was issued and the defendant’s appeared before Judge John Henry Lucas.

After nearly seven days of evidence a strong case had been built.  Then Ike Clanton was called to the dock.  His version of events threw the prosecution case into chaos.  By the time cross examination had been completed, Clanton’s evidence had thrown suspicion on the entire prosecution case.

Wyatt Earp and Doc testified in their defense.  Two witnesses that were viewed as independent and unbiased testified, including Addie Bourland, who claimed she saw the entire incident from a boarding house across the street.  Her evidence completed refuted Behan’s version of events and cast him in the light of a liar.  Another witness  was one with some clout in the community, Judge Lucas of the Probate Court of Cochise County.  His version confirmed Ms Bourland’s and asserted that Billy Clanton was firing at the Doc and the Earp’s throughout the exchange although apparently, without significant effect.

Justice Spicer ruled that Doc Holliday acted within the law.  The Justice roundly criticized Virgil Earp’s actions in many areas including his choice of deputies but concluded by indicating, that aside, no laws had been contravened by Virgil Earp and his deputies at the time of the shootings at the O.K. Corral.

A Grand Jury reviewed the decision and upheld the not guilty verdict on December 16 that year.

Ike Clanton was not satisfied with the decision and tried to win his case in Contention City. Another trial proceeded but Judge Lucas eventually dismissed all charges.

On December 28 Virgil Earp was badly wounded by a shotgun blast to his left shoulder.  Suspicion fell to Ike Clanton when his hat was found nearby.  Virgil was shortly thereafter re-appointed as Deputy Marshall with authority to select his own deputies.

Tensions continued to escalate but events seem to indicate that Wyatt had just about had enough of the allegations and ongoing tensions and had determined to leave Tombstone.  He began to divest himself of gambling and other business interests in the town.

In 1882, February 2, Virgil and Wyatt resigned their commissions as lawmen with the U.S. Marshall service.  Their boss refused to accept.

In 1882, March 18, Morgan Earp was killed.  The killer or killers escaped into the darkness.

The day after Morgan’s  murder, his body was taken by James Earp to the family home in Colton, California.

On the very next day it was Virgil’s turn to need a safe exit out of Tombstone.  He was still incapacitated from his own wounds.  Warren Earp escorted him with the help of Doc Holliday, Turkey Creek Jack Johnson and Sherman McMasters.  Gunfire was exchanged as the train departed after dark and Frank Stillwell was found dead beside the tracks at day break.  In later years, Wyatt claimed he had shot Stilwell and Ike Clanton because they had come to the railway armed.

Warrants were issued for Wyatt Earp and four of the party travelling with him for Stillwell’s murder.  The group was joined by Texas Jack Vermillion and the Earp Posse was formed and rode out of Tombstone the next evening, completely ignoring Sheriff Behan

In 1882, March 22 the Earp party found Florentino “Indian Charlie” Cruz in the Dragoon Mountains, a notorious area of the Cowboys operations.  The area is often referred to as “The Stronghold” and used by many outlaws during the old west era.

The party shot and killed Cruz.  This was essentially the start of what became known as the “Vengeance Ride”.  There is much confusion about exactly what happened over the following days and different accounts claim differing names and numbers of men killed during that ride.  What is important to know in relation to this article is that Doc was there and I can’t imagine he was along just for a nice country ride.

What is accepted as a certainty is that Curly Bill Brocius and a group for the cowboys were involved in a gunfight and Wyatt Earp killed him during that exchange.  Earp and his men spent something in the order of two weeks riding through that country exacting vengeance on the cowboys everywhere they could find them.

During that time a posse led by Sheriff Behan was in pursuit but it appears the two groups never crossed paths.  Many have speculated this was because Behan was scared of Wyatt and was not willing to risk a deadly encounter.  Whether or not this is true, movies and stories seem to always take this to be historical fact.

Some time in April 1882, Wyatt Earp left the Territory and never returned.

The assets of Wyatt and his brothers in Tombstone were sold to pay taxes and was completely erased.

In late 1882 Wyatt arrived in San Franciso to join Wyatt and Warren.  In 1883 he left San Francisco with Josie and she lived as his common law wife for the next 46 years.

Johnny Ringo “Dead”.

1882 – July 14 – Johnny Ringo was found dead near West Turkey Creek Valley near Chiricahua Peak in Arizona Territory.  It has been said he was left up in the bough of a tree, indicating he was killed (and of course, it followed that many believed it was Doc that killed him).  He had a bullet hole in his right temple and a gun in his hand.  It is also reported that Josephine Earp made statements to the effect that Wyatt and Doc returned to Arizona with a plan to kill Ringo.  She said that Doc shot him with a rifle.

That is not what a coroner thought at a later inquest.  The coroner said he committed suicide and many have concluded that the version above was a hoax, written for a book only for the purpose of selling the book.  Given the general uncertainty though, surrounding everything about Doc, nobody can be truly certain.

There are court records to show that Doc was in court, appearing personally, 500 miles away in Pueblo County, Colorado, when Ringo died.  Court records though, are just one more thing in era that can’t always be relied upon and in the book “Doc Holliday – A Family Portrait”, Karen Holliday Tanner explores that in more depth.

Death and burial

Doc spent his last living days in Colorado.  He spent some time in Leadville.

Doc apparently used large amounts of alcohol and laudanum to mange his illness.  This might not have been the best approach but it forms a part of his legend.  You  would epect that anybody with his illness and using that treatment regime, would hasten their own demise.

1885 – March 28 – A trial was held and Doc pleaded self-defense after he was charged for killing a man in a saloon.  A witness testified that a Mr.  Allen had been armed in Hymen’s Saloon earlier in the day apparently looking for Doc.  He was acquitted.

Doc had apparently shot the man in the hand.  Was this incredible skill, even in a sick and dieing man?  OR was it just another part of the legend.

1887 – Final days

The City of Glenwood Springs cemetery has a headstone for Doc. Along with having the incorrect date of birth nobody knows if it is in the right spot.

Doc was in a bad way in 1887.  He is often portrayed as spending his last days in a nursing home but the records show this was not the case.  He spent this  time primarily in the Hotel Glenwood near the Glenwood Springs.  I found many references to Doc being there because of the reputation of the healing powers of the nearby hot spring.  I found nothing to confirm this.

1887 – November 8 – Doc apparently died in the presence of a nurse.  Kate later reported it was her who looked after during those last days but that does not appear to be the case (but cannot be proved).



2005 – Statue of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday

Doc is buried in Linwood Cemetery near Glenwood Springs.  One reliable historian has written that it would have been impossible to transport him to the cemetery, which was only accessible via a difficult mountain road, or to dig a grave because the ground was frozen.  Bob Boze Bell has written more on this topic and clicking  on his name will take you to his True West website, an excellent reference place for Doc Holliday and a whole range of other Old West stories.  On that site you can also subscribe to the True West Magazine, a valued monthly treasure trove of Old West information, one of the best ways to spend $30 any old west fan can find.

Modern References to Doc

When not otherwise noted, the title listed below relates to a movie or television production

  • 1939 – Frontier Marshal
  • 1943 – The Outlaw
  • 1946– My Darling Clementine
  • 1952 – Gunsmoke
  • 1953 – True West Magazine – Published continuously and the best source of information on Doc Holliday I have ever seen.  My subscription is invaluable.
  • 1954 – Stories of the Century
  • 1961 – The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp(TV- ran until 1961)
  • 1957 – Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
  • 1957 – Colt .45 (TV – ran until 1960)
  • 1957 – Maverick (TV – ran until 1962)
  • 1957 – Sugarfoot (TV – ran until 1961)
  • 1958 – Lawman (TV – ran until 1962)
  • 1963 – Bonanza episode (I can’t find which episode to confirm this, let me know in the comments if you find it – there are several entries online with different answers)
  • 1964 – Cheyenne Autumn
  • 1966 – Doctor Who (The Gunfighters)
  • 1966 – Death Valley Days – episode called “Doc Holliday’s Gold Bars”
  • 1967 – Hour of the Gun
  • 1967 – The High Chaparral (Doc Holliday at the High Chaparral)
  • 1968 – Star Trek (The Spectre of the Gun) One of my person favourites – yes that’s right, I like Star Trek too.
  • 1971 -Alias Smith and Jones (TV – ran until 1973)
  • 1972 – Holliday Skate Palace – Closed 1988
  • 1980 – Wild Times (TV mini series)
  • 1981 – The Doc Holliday Band (Band – 1981 to present – check their album “Doc Holliday rides Again”
  • 1981 – Bret Maverick (TV series)
  • 1981 – I Married Wyatt Earp
  • 1986 – Stagecoach (remake)
  • 1993 – Tombstone (Played by Val Kilmer, absolutely the best and funniest portrayal of Doc Holliday I have ever had the pleasure of watching)
  • 1994 – Wyatt Earp
  • 1995 – Aristocracy’s Outlaw: The Doc Holliday Story (Reference Book)
  • 1995 – Doc Holliday’s Saloon – New York (current)
  • 1996 – Deadlands (Game)
  • 1999 – Purgatory
  • 2006 – Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend (Reference Book)
  • 1998 – Doc Holliday: A Family Portrait (Reference Book)
  • 1998 – The Fourth Horseman (Novel)
  • 2002 – Bucking the Tiger (Novel)
  • 2005 – The Last Ride of German Freddie (Novel)
  • 2005 – The Once and Future Dentist (Novel)
  • 2005 – Statue of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday
  • 2009 – Linwood (Song)
  • 2010 – Doc Holliday Look Alike Competion, Valdosta
  • 2010 – Merkabah Rider (Novel)
  • 2010 – The Buntline Special (Novel)
  • 2011 – Frontier Gambling (Reference Book)
  • 2011 – Doc (Novel)
  • 2012 – Holliday (Novel)
  • 2013 – A Wicked Little Town (Novel)
  • 2013 – Doc Holliday (Song)
  • 2013 – Southern Son: The Saga of Doc Holliday (Novel)
  • 2014 – Doc Holliday Festival – September – Griffin (ongoing)
  • 2015 – Epitaph (Novel)
  • 2015 – True West Magazine – I mention this for a second time (see 1953) because it is so good.
  • 2015 – Southern Son Trilogy – Historical novel by Victoria Wilcox. (Click her name for commentary on this page and her view of Doc, or John Henry as she refers to him as in her books)
  • Unknown – J Henry’s Restaurant – Griffin
  • Unknown – John Henry’s Cafe – Griffin

Daniel Stephen Hadley

Daniel Stephen Hadley, son of the owner of this website and contributor for this article.


  1. Victoria Wilcox
  2. Ron Williams
  3. Doc Holliday Festival
  4. True West Magazine


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