Dr. John Henry "Doc" Holliday - Misc. Characters

"YOU'RE A DAISY IF YOU DO."

-Doc Holliday
 

Dr. John Henry "Doc" Holliday 1851-1887

Shortly after graduating from the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery and establishing a successful Atlanta dental practice, the well-educated John Henry Holliday, D.D.S. discovered that he was suffering from a slowly advancing case of pulmonary tuberculosis, the same disease that had killed his mother when he was fifteen years old. On the advice of his family physician, who was also his uncle, he left his aristocratic Georgia home in 1873 (at the age of 22) and attempted to establish a dental career in the West, where the family hoped that the dry climate might prolong his life. But his Texas dental practice flagged (partly due to his illness and partly due to his increasing involvement in Dallas night life), and he soon found himself giving up dentistry for the life of a roving professional gambler. At various times, he practiced dentistry along with gambling. Doc apparently used his dental practice as something of a cover at times, but he also took pride in his work (he was, by all accounts, a good dentist). His livelihood, however, was mostly derived from his skill at the card table, which was substantial. He dealt faro and Spanish monte and played poker. His keen intelligence and particular skill in mathematics stood him in good stead, as he could quickly calculate percentages and count cards. He didn't often need to cheat during a card game, although he was not entirely honest in his faro dealing. Almost no actual faro dealers of the time were entirely honest—and Doc owned a fine pair of card-trimming shears as well as other implements of the trade. He moved around a lot, due to the nature of his gambling pursuits, and he became involved in a number of armed confrontations, although he is undoubtedly most famous for the part he played in the shootout at the OK Corral with the Earp brothers in Tombstone, Arizona in 1881.
Doc was tall (just slightly over 5 feet 11 inches) but sickly, with a persistent TB cough, and not much good in an un-armed physical encounter, so, for protection, he usually carried a knife and at least one pistol, usually in a shoulder holster, sometimes with an additional gun on his hip. It is perhaps not surprising that when Doc was brought up on gaming charges there was usually an accompanying charge of carrying a deadly weapon. Doc may not have been a gunslinger in the classic Hollywood sense, but he had to be skilled at using weapons, or he would not have survived. Western lawman Wyatt Earp once described him as the “nerviest,” “speediest” and “deadliest” man with a gun he had ever seen, although, in terms of his documented activities, he appears to have drawn said gun relatively seldom (considering his formidable reputation) and not always with impressive results. Doc’s less impressive encounters seem to have been fueled by whiskey. There were, nevertheless, several occasions upon which Wyatt would have seen him draw and/or fire his pistol in a non-inebriated state, sometimes with few or no other witnesses around. Given this fact, it seems reasonable to take Wyatt’s word for it, especially since it is not terribly likely that Wyatt, fond of Doc as he was, would have fabricated such high praise. It is also, once again, reasonable to consider that Doc, a physically frail, but quite successful, gambler, whom Wyatt also described as “a caustic wit,” would have needed to be able to defend himself with speed and assurance.
To do him justice, self-defense does seem to be the most frequent reason Doc ever drew his knife or pistol. Court records and other accounts tend to corroborate claims that he didn’t look for trouble but defended himself forcefully when he had to. Even lawman Bat Masterson, who, when all was said and done, did not particularly like Doc, and who described him as having a "mean disposition," proclaimed that when he got into trouble he was usually in the right more often than in the wrong:

"Holliday seemed to be absolutely unable to keep out of trouble for any great length of time. He would no sooner be out of one scrape before he was in another, and the strange part of it is he was more often in the right than in the wrong, which has rarely ever been the case with a man who is continually getting himself into trouble."

-Bat Masterson, from Gunfighters of the Western Frontier, 1907

 

Notably, Masterson never emphasized Doc's illness in his largely negative portrait, merely referring to him somewhat dismissively as "physically...a weakling." Wyatt Earp, on the other hand, stressed the fact that Doc was ill, thus putting a more positive spin on his physical endurance and mental fortitude, highlighting his bravery in spite of being "nearly dead with consumption." He also called him "a loyal friend and good company." Virgil Earp described Doc as “gentlemanly,” “a good dentist” and “a friendly man,” who nevertheless had something “very peculiar” about him, which kept him from making very many friends. Virgil's wife Allie, on the other hand, apparently simply did not like Doc, calling him "cold and disagreeable," and he may indeed have appeared aloof to her. Usually, though, it was Doc's wit and his propensity for derision, along with his deadly willingness to back up most of what he said, that garnered him more enemies than friends. Bat Masterson said he was "given to quarreling," but it is very likely that frequent disputes were merely part of his life as a gambler. And, his circle of friends and friendly acquaintances actually did extend beyond the Earp family, although the circle was somewhat limited and tenuous.
Many have called him a “cold-blooded killer,” and it is true that he would not hesitate to kill if he was threatened. However, biographers Ben Traywick and Karen Holliday Tanner have both shown that, overall, he did not kill as many men as some have previously claimed. The only documented killings by Doc Holliday were of Ed Bailey and Tom McLaury, although he shot at least three others and was probably responsible for the deaths of still others while a member of the Earp posse. Most, if not all, of his documented violent acts were arguably in self-defense. Tombstone historian Ben Traywick says Doc was not a cold-blooded murderer but merely “a hot-tempered Southerner who stood aside for no man.” On the other hand, writer Jeff Morey points out that Doc could also be quite composed under pressure. He certainly appears to have behaved in a cool-headed manner during his most well-documented confrontation at the OK Corral.
Doc was partly committed to the genteel southern notion of “honor,” and he had a temper to go along with it, but the key to the mix was probably his illness, which sometimes made him a target, and which produced a rather strangely manifested survival instinct. As many have noted before, Doc was aware that he did not have long to live, and this awareness probably contributed to his tendency to manifest profound indifference in certain dangerous situations. His obituary in the Leadville Carbonate Chronicle referred to his reputation as "one of the most fearless men on the frontier."
Many descriptions of Doc are on record by journalists of the time (mostly from the early 1880’s) with at least some interest in accuracy, all of which describe him as a tall, slender, elegant gentleman and a fine dresser (he usually wore a black tailored suit with a cravat and a diamond stickpin). He had blue-gray eyes, dark blonde hair with a sandy moustache, and he was cultured and witty. One journalist from the Denver Republican on May 22, 1882 noted that the first thing one noticed about Doc upon meeting him was "his soft voice and modest manner." Doc’s companion Kate (Harony, Fisher) Elder also described him as neat, modest and gentlemanly and noted that he always ensured that she was as well dressed as he was. It was Doc’s refined ways, as a matter of fact, that drew Kate, the "fallen" daughter of a respectable European family, to him in the first place.
Well-mannered and usually soft-spoken, Doc was also highly literate and a good conversationalist. He kept up on current events by reading newspapers, and he was classically educated, familiar with Latin, Greek and French, as well as various English literary works, and he could play the piano quite well. In addition to his own extensive formal vocabulary and knowledge, however, he used, and apparently enjoyed, the slang of the South and West. He also used, and apparently enjoyed, profanity. He was fond of irony and of irreverent rejoinders and, depending upon the situation, was likely to use either understatement or exaggeration, especially in the service of a desired immediate effect on his listener. The admixture of these elements produced a unique verbal style. The Denver Republican once quoted one of his attorneys, Colonel Deweese, who stated that Doc would “just as lief kill a man as not,” adding: “All he looked out for usually was to have the law on his side.” Deweese further added: “I said to him one day, ‘Doctor, don’t your conscience ever trouble you?’ ‘No,’ he replied, with that peculiar cough of his, ‘I coughed that up with my lungs long ago.’” But Doc also said, apparently in a more serious mood, and interested in setting the record straight: “I've had credit for more killings than I ever dreamt of.”
Doc drank a good deal, partly in an attempt to relieve the symptoms of his illness, and it did not always improve his ability to get along with others. But he was not actually chemically dependent until the last few years of his life (1883-1887). At that point, his advancing illness, compounded by several bouts with pneumonia, contributed to dramatic weight loss as well as to growing alcoholism and laudanum dependency. All of this also took a toll on his prosperity, and he found himself in narrowed financial straits. He even had to pawn most of his jewelry (he did not pawn his stickpin, which had been a going-away present from his uncle and which he valued as a family gift and marker of his identity). It was a vicious circle: as he grew more wasted by disease, he grew more dependent upon alcohol and, later, laudanum, to relieve his symptoms, which, in turn, exacerbated his illness. He also grew more withdrawn. Toward the end, he was enervated and frequently intoxicated, a skeletal shadow of his former self. But Doc, for a very long time, took pride in being able to hold his liquor and to comport himself as a gentleman. And Kate, who had doubtless seen her fair share of alcoholics, emphatically denied he was a drunk.
Doc Holliday finally lost his grueling battle with tuberculosis on November 8, 1887 at the Glenwood Hotel in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. One of the last people, besides Kate, to see him alive was the bellboy at the hotel, who recalled that the dying Doc was a generous tipper.
He is buried in the Linwood Cemetery in Glenwood Springs, although the exact location of his grave is unknown.

"YOU'RE A DAISY IF YOU DO."

-Doc Holliday

www.docholliday.info/bio.htm