Detail of Doc Holliday's
Travels and Encounters by Date (1875-1887):
first trouble with the law is a shooting incident in Dallas, Texas with a
man named "Champagne Charlie" Austin. This apparently
non-injurious exchange of pistol fire occurred while Doc was living in
Denison, Texas. The Dallas newspaper account is somewhat light in tone.
Nevertheless, Doc is brought up on shooting and gambling charges in
Dallas. He is found "not guilty" of shooting with intent to
kill by a jury.
—Doc goes to Fort Griffin, Texas, but is
brought up on gambling charges there. A warrant is issued for him, for
—Doc goes to Denver, Colorado. While there, he
uses the alias “Tom Mackey,” apparently taken from his mother’s maiden
name, McKey. (It doesn’t seem necessary to use an alias for a gambling
charge, and although there is no legitimate historical record of other
trouble, Doc could have been involved in another confrontation in Texas during
this time that prompted his using such an alias).
*While in Denver, he supposedly killed a
man named Bud Ryan with a knife, but while the story is often repeated, no
record shows this. As biographer Karen Holliday Tanner notes, "the
event never happened" but was fabricated by a journalist who wrote for
the Denver Republican after Doc's
death (the false story first appeared around Christmas of the year of Doc's
death, 1887). As Holliday Tanner also notes, Bat Masterson then
"readily perpetuated" the fabricated story in his negative
portrait of Doc. This, along with other refutable statements, provokes
questions as to the accuracy of Masterson’s well-known damning statements
about Doc’s character.*
Dakota Territory. Doc spends the winter playing poker and dealing faro in
the Bella Union Saloon. Wyatt Earp is also there—they may have met
for the very first time.
to Denison, Texas, and then to Breckenridge, Texas. On the 4th of July,
in Breckenridge, Doc canes a man named Henry Kahn with a walking stick in a
dispute over a card game. Kahn shoots him later in the day. The injury is
serious, and cousin George comes out west from Georgia to help him
—Doc goes back to Fort Griffin, TX. While
there, he meets Hungarian-doctor’s-daughter-turned-prostitute, Kate Fisher
a.k.a. Elder (Kate, whose real name was Harony, had apparently run away
from home at the age of 16 for the same reason some teens run away today:
to escape a sexually abusive male relative).
*Kate was sometimes referred to (generally
by people who wished to disparage her) as “Big-nose Kate.” She did have an
aquiline nose, but not a particularly large or prominent one by most
standards. It would appear, however, that it was primarily this physical
feature, rather than any quality of being a busybody, that prompted the
moniker. Allie Earp, for one, claimed that this was the case. Kate herself never used the nickname,
nor did Doc. However, the name was often used behind her back by the Earp
family, with whom she did not always get along.*
—Doc meets Wyatt Earp while dealing faro at
Shannsey's Cattle Exchange Saloon (Wyatt’s assertion that they met when he
was searching for a fugitive named Dave Rudabaugh has been proven false on
both counts—Rudabaugh was not there nor was Wyatt looking for him at that
—In Fort Griffin, according to Wyatt’s
account, Doc kills Ed Bailey with a knife over a confrontation at the poker
table, after politely warning Bailey first, who nevertheless attempted to
draw a gun on Doc. Doc is put under house arrest and an armed Kate helps
him escape by creating a diversion (setting fire to a shed) and holding a
gun on his jailer. Kate later denied this account in an interview during
her later life. The event may have
been exaggerated by Wyatt, Doc or both, but Kate’s denial does not make the
event immediately dismissable.
*Actually, both Wyatt and Kate were known to spin or alter the truth
in ways that suited their own purposes, and neither of them liked the
other’s version of things. Wyatt
clearly got the story from Doc, who himself was known to embellish the
truth. However, the fact that Doc
and Wyatt were willing to repeat the name of the gambler as well as the
time and place of the event lends some credence to the story. It is highly unlikely that either Wyatt
or Doc completely fabricated the tale and made up the name of the poker
player in question; it is far more likely that Doc did get into an altercation
with a man named Ed Bailey and that he somehow managed to escape the
consequences (probably because the stabbing was in self-defense and not
fatal). It is equally likely that
Kate denied the story because it had become exaggerated in ways she did not
appreciate and because, as unconventional as her life had been, she had a
tendency to deny, if possible, anything unseemly, illegal or outlandish
that she or Doc had done. Kate’s
version of events are, therefore, generally more likely to be sanitized or
minimized and Wyatt’s are more likely to be exaggerated in an opposing
manner. Sorting through all of this
can be difficult, especially regarding instances in which there is no
objective historical record to refer to.
The best educated guess, in short, is: yes, Doc stabbed Bailey, but
not as part of such a dramatic series of events as Wyatt would have it.*
City, Kansas. Doc avoids scrapes with the law, largely by associating with,
and apparently aiding, lawmen like Masterson and Earp.
—He accuses Charlie White of theft and runs
him out of town.
September 24, 1878—He saves Wyatt Earp’s life in Dodge City—he may or may
not have shot a man. He undoubtedly drew his pistol and fended off Wyatt's
attacker(s). This famous incident may have partly prompted Earp’s later
praise of Doc’s speed and adeptness with a gun. It certainly solidified
Wyatt later claimed:
a friend of Doc Holliday because when I was city marshal of Dodge City,
Kansas, he came to my rescue and saved my life when I was surrounded by
Earp, 1881, OK Corral Inquest
Vegas, New Mexico. —Doc is indicted for “keeping a gaming table.” He goes
back to Dodge City, KS.
—Doc is part of Masterson’s armed posse for
Sante Fe railroad interest.
—He goes back to Las Vegas, NM. Mike Gordon is
killed in a gambling dispute while Doc is in town, but probably not by Doc.
The record indicates a “person unknown.” Later accounts attributing the
shooting to Doc are not accurate (some have claimed he killed Gordon for
making trouble in his saloon, but his saloon had not yet been built at the
time of Gordon's death, and Doc probably would not have stayed around to
build it if he had been involved in a shooting).
—Doc attempts to establish his own saloon in
Las Vegas, NM. He is charged again with “keeping a gaming table and
carrying a deadly weapon.”
—Wyatt Earp arrives in town and convinces Doc
to accompany him to Prescott, Arizona and on to Tombstone. Doc leaves
behind his saloon.
—Prescott, Arizona. Doc stays behind the Earp
party because of a gambling run, then leaves, probably due to gambling
ordinances and/or other gambling-related issues.
returns to New Mexico to take care of unfinished business, including
payment of a debt. He meets up with Charlie White, whom he had run out of
Dodge City two years earlier. White attempts to draw on Doc, who shoots him
(grazed him in the head). He leaves town, believing he had killed White,
but he had not (White was merely stunned).
—He goes back to Prescott, and then on to
—Tombstone, Arizona. Doc becomes a
regular in the posh Oriental saloon, in which Wyatt Earp owns an interest.
He plays poker and deals faro.
October 10, 1880—Local ruffian Johnny Tyler starts trouble in the
saloon at the behest of some local bar owners jealous of the Oriental’s
success, but is ejected by Wyatt, much to Doc’s outspoken amusement. Tyler
gets a pistol and returns to the saloon to confront Doc, who draws his gun.
Both men are disarmed before shots are fired. Doc later demands his gun
back from Oriental bartender Milt Joyce, who refuses to return it to him,
so Doc goes and gets a double action revolver and comes back to the saloon.
A scuffle ensues when Joyce sees that Doc has re-armed himself, and Doc is
hit over the head by Joyce with a pistol. He shoots Joyce in the hand. He
also shoots another bartender in the foot. Doc is brought up on charges the
next day, which are reduced, and he pays a fine.
*According to the somewhat negatively
biased Tombstone Nugget account,
Doc shot at Joyce first, who was 10 feet away at the time, and Joyce then
approached Doc in order to pistol-whip him. This seems unlikely, and it is
doubtful that Joyce approached an armed Doc Holliday who was already firing
at him (from a distance of ten feet). Ducking for cover would doubtless
have been a more prudent course of action, as would returning fire, rather
than attempting to pistol-whip Doc. It is more likely that Doc's wild
shots were fired when Joyce first leapt upon him from the bar. Joyce's
attack probably was provoked, as Karen Holliday Tanner indicates, by Doc's
reappearance with the gun—and, also, perhaps not surprisingly, by something
Doc said. The Nugget claimed that, upon returning to the saloon, Doc
made a remark to Joyce that "would not appear well in print."
There's no doubt that Doc was hurt badly and bleeding from the blow(s) to
the head that Joyce dealt him. The Epitaph reported that
"Holliday was picked up and placed in a chair, it being generally
thought, from his bloody appearance, that he was severely, if not fatally,
hurt. . . ."*
Kinnear (Benson) stage holdup occurs, during which the driver and another
man are killed. Doc is not involved, although he is later accused of it by
the outlaw “cowboy” faction (who were themselves involved or connected).
Actually, according to Wyatt Earp, Doc was in town at the Alhambra saloon
at the time the robbery was reported, and had been in town since late
afternoon (the stage was robbed at 10 pm—while Doc was dealing or playing
faro). But a friend of Doc’s, a formerly respectable jeweler named Leonard,
is named as one of the bandits. A rumor develops that Doc is involved, much
to his great dismay, and it is forwarded by the cowboy faction and Sheriff
Behan, apparently to cover their own involvement (many Tombstone residents
believed that members of the "cowboy" gang, Ike Clanton and Frank
Stillwell, along with Curly Bill Brocius and Pete Spencer, were involved in
In 1926, Wyatt, in a deposition in Los
Angeles, explained some of the tensions in Tombstone in 1881:
you became Deputy United States Marshal there was not the best of feeling
between your office and the office of the sheriff?
The sheriff's name was Behan?
You were allied with one faction and he with another?
With you was allied Doc Holliday?
was somewhat of a notorious character in those days?
Well, no. I couldn't say that he was notorious outside of this other
faction trying to make him notorious. Of course he killed a man or two
before he went there.
Didn't he have the reputation of being a holder-up of stages?
never heard of it until I left.
With the Behans were allied the Clandens [sic]?
Yes. And the Behan side whenever they got a chance to hurt me over
Holliday's shoulders they would do it. They would make a lot of talk
about Doc Holliday.
Because he was allied with you?
never had no trouble in Tombstone outside of being in this street fight
[OK Corral] with us. Then on one occasion he got in trouble with part of
the combination that was against me, Joyce, [Behan's] partner, and he
shot Joyce in the hand and the other fellow in the foot and of course
that made them pretty sore against Holliday. But they knew that I was
Holliday's friend and they tried to injure me every way they could....This
fellow Behan, he intended to run for sheriff and he knew that I did, and
if I do say it myself I was a pretty strong man for the position. He knew
that he had to do me some way and he done everything in the world that he
could against me. He stood in with this tough element, the cowboys and
stage robbers and others, because they were pretty strong and he wanted
their vote. Whenever they would get a chance to shoot anything at me over
Holliday’s shoulders they would do it. So they made Holliday a bad man. An
awful bad man, which was wrong. He was a man that would fight if he had
—"Cowboy" crony Sheriff Johnny Behan
purposely allows a captured robber to escape (Morgan Earp had arrested him
—Doc, incensed about the rumors of his involvement
in the stage robbery, grows more hostile to the cowboys. Mayor Clum
overhears him saying he will “make a sieve out of the next lowdown
son-of-a-bitch” who repeats the gossip.
—Doc, in court again over the Joyce affair,
gets into another scuffle with Joyce for calling him a stage robber. Doc
agrees to pay court costs and the charges are all dropped.
a lucky month for Doc. He is brought up on a charge related to the stage
robbery, but it is eventually stricken from the docket. A drunken Kate, who
visited Doc intermittently in Tombstone, had argued with him and then later
been persuaded by Behan to swear an affidavit that Doc was involved in the
stage robbery. Kate later sobers up and regrets her action. According to
some sources, she recants. Judge Spicer throws the charge out, as there is
*There was undoubtedly trouble between Doc
and Kate because of this incident, but given Doc and Kate's refined
backgrounds, it is difficult to picture them brawling as some have
attempted to assert, and it is far more likely that their quarrels were, if
occasionally volatile, primarily verbal. However, Doc was undoubtedly angry
at Kate for the Behan affidavit incident, and he may indeed have, as some
have put it, "thrown her out" on this occasion.*
—Two of the real robbers are killed by others.
—Wyatt Earp secretly offers money to Ike
Clanton to find out the whereabouts of the remaining stage robber, who can
clear Doc (Wyatt wants to clear Doc and also wants the glory of the capture
for his own ambitions—Wyatt admits to both motives in a later newspaper
—According to some sources, Doc is part of the
Earp posse that sets out to capture the remaining stage robber who is in
company with some of the cowboys. In a nearby canyon, there is a shootout
between the Earp posse and the cowboys, one of whom is Old Man Clanton. One
of the Kinnear stage robbers, a man named Crane, is killed along with
Clanton and others. Doc may have been shot in the leg during the shootout.
He relies on a walking stick for some time after.
*According to some, it was the Mexican
authorities (and not the Earp posse) who were involved in this shootout
with the cowboys, who were known for stealing cattle across the
border. According to others, the Earp posse was in company with the
Mexican authorities. Whether or not the Earps were directly involved
in the shootout, they were clearly following up and investigating the stage
October—Doc, apparently reconciled with Kate, goes with her to
Tucson. While there, Doc is called back to Tombstone by the Earps.
Oct. 25, 1881—Tombstone—Evening: Ike Clanton is in a
panic because of his involvement in selling out the cowboys to the Earps,
afraid his action will be discovered. He is hostile to the newly-arrived
Doc because he thinks he was privy to the arrangement with Wyatt. Ike
accuses Wyatt of telling Doc about the arrangement: he was afraid that Doc
might leak the story (an ironic concern considering the rumors that had
been spread about Doc by some of Ike’s associates). Wyatt denies telling
Doc about the payoff. Later, Wyatt relates Ike’s panicky suspicions to Doc.
Doc spends the next few hours drinking and playing cards, but at 1 a.m. he
gets hungry and goes to the Alhambra’s eating counter. There, Doc and Ike
have a confrontation, during which Doc curses at him, calling him
“a damned liar and a son-of-a-bitch of a cowboy.” Clanton asserts
that by selling information to Wyatt he was really trying to lure the Earp
posse into a trap (he probably wasn’t, but was just attempting to save
face). Angry, Doc tells him if he doesn’t have a gun to go get one. He may
also have made a remark to Ike about the death of his father. Virgil Earp
breaks up the confrontation. Wyatt convinces Doc to come away with him, and
they return to their rooms. Doc, as Wyatt later recounted, was “pretty
tight.” So was Ike, but he was not so easily led away by the Earps. Ike
makes threats around town about killing Doc for the rest of the night and
Oct. 26, 1881—11 a.m.—Wyatt and Virgil Earp take a fully
inebriated Ike Clanton into custody after a scuffle (Virgil pistol-whips
Ike). Ike is brought into court on a weapons charge (he had been carrying a
Winchester rifle and a pistol). Wyatt also has words with Tom McLaury and
pistol whips him.
1:30 p.m.—A re-armed Ike is looking for Doc. Doc is asleep when Ike comes
into his boarding house (Fly’s boarding house with adjoining photography
studio), but he does not find Doc. Doc is warned after Ike’s departure by
Kate via the landlady (who had informed Ike that Doc was not there, or that
she wasn’t sure he was).
—Doc, hearing the news about Ike, says, “If
God will let me live to get my clothes on, he shall see me.” He gets
dressed (a black suit with a light-colored linen shirt, a broad hat, and a
long, gray ulster overcoat), goes out, and then meets up with the Earps,
who have been receiving reports from various townspeople that the cowboy
gang is gunning for them.
*Some reports have Wyatt saying to Doc on
his arrival that he needn’t get mixed up in the coming confrontation
(presumably because he was not officially a lawman) and Doc replying, “That
is a hell of a thing for you to say to me” (presumably because he was
already very much involved and because he always aided the Earps, who were
at that moment also arguably aiding him). It would indeed, under the
circumstances, have been a “hell of a thing” for Wyatt to say. Karen
Holliday Tanner makes no mention of this exchange in her biography*.
—The Earps decide to confront the cowboys. Doc
and Virgil exchange walking stick and shotgun: Doc takes Virgil’s shotgun
and Virgil takes Doc’s walking stick. Holliday Tanner seems to feel that
Virgil carried Doc’s walking-stick to appear more imposing, but he probably
carried it as a cudgel; this would support Holliday Tanner’s other
assertions that Virgil and Wyatt intended to disarm the cowboys by
pistol-whipping, and that their near approach into the small lot is
evidence of such an intent. Doc carries the shotgun partially concealed
beneath his long overcoat. The foursome start walking toward the lot by the
OK corral, where a group of cowboys, including an apparently now unarmed
Ike Clanton, along with Billy Clanton, the McLaury brothers and Billy
Claiborne are nearby—apparently waiting to ambush Doc as he arrives at the
adjoining boarding house (this is important—Doc and the Earps believed that
the cowboys did intend such an ambush, and this provided part of their
motivation for the confrontation). Nearly there, they encounter cowboy
sympathizer Sheriff Behan, who claims to have disarmed the cowboys, but
they brush him aside and continue, apparently not trusting that Behan had
done so, or, perhaps, as Virgil later suggested, to make sure of it. He, in
fact, had not (or not completely) disarmed them. Billy Clanton and the
McLaury brothers still had weapons.
witnesses reported that they saw and heard Doc whistling as he and the
Earps approached the lot. He probably was whistling (it would certainly
have been in character for him), although Holliday Tanner makes no mention
—As they approach the cowboys, one of the
Earps tells Doc to “let them have it.”
(This may have been the second part of an
“if,then” statement. Doc, as armed backup, stood slightly behind in the
street with the shotgun to ensure that Virgil and Wyatt were not fired upon
as they disarmed the Clantons and McLaurys. Virgil and Wyatt probably did
not think that the cowboys would fire on them with Doc and Morgan covering
them in this manner).
Doc responds, “All right.”
—Virgil says, “Throw up your hands. I intend
to disarm you,” but the cowboys do not comply. Two shots are fired
initially and simultaneously, apparently by Wyatt and Frank McLaury, *although
some accounts have Billy Clanton drawing first.* Frank McLaury is hit
in the stomach by Wyatt. Ike Clanton flees the scene (rather, he is allowed
by Wyatt to flee: “The fight has commenced. Get to fighting or get away”).
Some have claimed Doc may have shot at Ike as he fled, but he almost
certainly did not; eyewitness accounts, and Wyatt's account, indicate his
only shots were at the McLaury brothers. Most historians believe that, in
the early seconds of the fight, Doc was trying to get a shot at Tom McLaury,
who was temporarily sheltered behind a horse and apparently trying to reach
a weapon in a saddle sheath.
The popular image of Doc Holliday as a
man racing toward death with little regard for those he takes with him
isn't borne out by his conduct at the O.K. Corral gunfight. Instead, his
actions seem measured if not restrained. Positioned out on Fremont Street
as back-up to the brothers Earp, he fully met the responsibilities of
that assignment. Instead of initiating an unprovoked and unmotivated onslaught,
he patiently covered the flank of the City Marshal.
Morey, "Blaze Away! Doc Holliday's Role in the West's Most Famous
—As the shootout progresses, Doc joins the
action. His first shot, a blast from the shotgun, hits Tom McClaury in the
right side. Then Doc tosses the shotgun and draws his nickel-plated pistol,
traversing some ground to come face to face with a wounded Frank McLaury,
who, leveling his pistol, tells Doc, “I’ve got you now.” Doc responds, “You’re
a daisy if you have.” Then he shoots Frank McLaury, who is also fired
upon at this point by a wounded Morgan Earp. Doc is hit in his hip (Kate
reported later that his hip was only grazed) by McLaury’s bullet (Kate
asked Doc if he was hurt, and he replied “no,” but she saw a slight reddish
welt from the bullet). The Tombstone Nugget also reported that Doc's
skin was "just grazed," because the bullet hit his "pistol
pocket" or pocket holster.
The Tombstone Epitaph account quoted
an eyewitness who said:
Holliday was hit in the left hip but kept on firing. Virgil Earp was hit in
the third or fourth fire, in the leg, which staggered him but he kept up
his effective work. Wyatt Earp stood up and fired in rapid succession, as
cool as a cucumber, and was not hit. Doc Holliday was as calm as though at
target practice and fired rapidly.
—R. F. Coleman, quoted in the Tombstone
Epitaph, October 27, 1881
*Some claim Doc shouted that he had been
shot and aimed to kill whoever shot him, sometimes McLaury and sometimes
Billy Clanton. Testimony during the inquest indicates that if he did shout
this, which he probably did not, it was at McLaury and not Clanton. The
fact is that there simply wasn't enough time in the 30 second fight for all
the dialogue that was later reported, and, again, credible conflicting
reports indicate that Doc was more cool-headed and didn't respond at all to
the slight wound.*
the end, the McLaury brothers and eighteen-year-old Billy Clanton are
killed. Doc, upon returning to his room, seems upset (Kate reports he
sat on the side of the bed, downcast, and said, “This is just
December 1881—Virgil Earp is attacked by unknown assailants and shot
badly in the arm.
January 17, 1882—Street standoff between Doc and Johnny Ringo. Doc
offers a challenge (“All I want of you is ten paces out in the street”),
but no shots are fired. Wyatt and others are witness to this (according to
the Holliday Tanner biography, it is recorded in the journal of a Tombstone
resident). Doc and Ringo are both arrested for carrying weapons on the
March 1882—Morgan Earp is shot during a pool game. He dies in
Wyatt’s presence. An upset Doc goes around kicking in doors, looking for
the killers. Wyatt swears revenge, and he and Doc begin a vendetta against
the cowboys. Wyatt also enlists the help of brother Warren Earp, Sherman
McMasters, Turkey Creek Johnson and Texas Jack Vermillion.
—Wyatt and his posse escort the Earp wives and
Virgil, along with Morgan’s body, dressed in one of Doc’s tailored suits,
to the railroad station. Cowboys Ike Clanton and Frank Stillwell are at the
train station. Wyatt most likely kills Stillwell, who is found with
multiple gunshot wounds. Doc and Wyatt refuse to be arrested by Behan for
Stillwell’s death. Behan deputizes a number of cowboys and sets out after
Wyatt and Doc.
—Wyatt and Doc’s posse kills a cowboy named
—Wyatt kills Curly Bill Brocius with a shotgun
during a shootout with the cowboys at a place called Burleigh Springs.
Johnny Barnes, others, are also gunned down. According to Doc in a later
newspaper interview, his and Wyatt’s escape from the shootout is
“miraculous.” He indicates that providence was on their side.
According to all accounts, even those circulated by the opposing camp,
Wyatt stood his ground during the battle despite heavy fire. Everyone
else took cover as they returned fire, although one of the others (it is
uncertain which one, but one account claims it was Doc) apparently rode
forward at one point to pull Texas Jack up onto his own horse when his was
shot from beneath him.
April-May 1882—Doc and Wyatt’s posse get provisions and rest at Henry
Hooker’s ranch. While there, Doc sends off a wry, taunting letter to the Tombstone
Epitaph, mocking the Behan posse. This letter, written on torn out
sheets from an account book, is dated "In Camp, April 4, 1882"
and signed "Yours respectfully, One of them." It presents
a response to the "article in the Nugget of March 31,"
which was uncomplimentary to the Earp posse (the Nugget editor tended
to favor the Behan faction). In his response, Doc terms the cowboys and
Behan "honest ranchers" with some irony and suggests that
there might have been trouble near their camp if the Behan posse's "trailing
abilities" had been "equal to those of the average Arizona
ranchman." He further offers to recover the renowned
lost/kidnapped child Charley Ross (who had been abducted in
Philadelphia in 1874) and deliver him to the Behan posse, whom he refers to
as "'gentlemen'" [Doc's quotation marks], as a consolation
prize so that they "may not return again to Tombstone empty-handed."
*While the letter is anonymous, and Wyatt’s
biographer Stuart Lake once attempted to attribute it to him, its
grammatical propriety, style, knowledge of current events (especially in
Philadelphia, where Doc had attended dental school) and heavy irony leave
little doubt that it was penned by Doc.*
Then he, Wyatt and company head to Silver
City, NM to sell their horses. They travel to various towns and end up in
Colorado. They stay in Trinidad with Bat Masterson. Then they split up and
head their separate ways.
—Doc, in Denver, is caught off guard and taken
into custody by a bounty hunter hired by the Behan/cowboy faction. He
enlists the help of Bat Masterson.
—Journalists duel over how to portray the
imprisoned Doc, some painting him as a murderer, others as a justified
lawman, but all describe him as well-dressed (usually dressed “neatly in
black” with “a colored linen shirt”), tall, slender and/or delicate,
handsome, soft-spoken and sophisticated. He is described by one as “a man
of considerable culture,” and by another as having “a soft voice and modest
manner.” Yet another describes him as having “piercing” blue eyes. Another
refers to Doc’s eyes as having “a well-defined look of determination.” His
hands are described as somewhat small and slender. Reporters seem quite
surprised by his elegant appearance and his polite and refined personality.
Doc defends himself in press interviews, and establishes a conspiracy by
Behan and the cowboys. After some legal maneuverings, Bat Masterson helps
to get Doc released on bail, and (somewhat oddly, considering his later
statements) defends his character: “I tell you all of this talk is wrong
about Holliday. I know him well. He is a dentist and a good one.”
May 1882—The Arizona
Daily Star interviews Virgil Earp, who has this to say about Doc:
something very peculiar about Doc. He was gentlemanly, a good dentist, a friendly man and yet, outside of us
boys, I don't think he had a friend in the Territory. Tales were
told that he had murdered men in different parts of the country;
that he had robbed and committed all manner of crimes, and yet,
when persons were asked how they knew it, they could only admit it
was hearsay, and that nothing of the kind could really be traced
to Doc's account. He was a slender, sickly fellow, but whenever a stage
was robbed or a row started, and help was needed, Doc was one of the first
to saddle his horse and report for duty.
—Virgil Earp, Arizona Daily Star, May 30, 1882
June 1882—Doc meets up with Wyatt Earp in Gunnison. While there, he is
interviewed briefly by a reporter. At first Doc tells him: "I'm not
travelling about the country in search of notoriety, and I think you
newspaper fellows have already had a fair hack at me." He
nevertheless answers a few questions about his background and recent
troubles in Denver and mentions with a smile that the bounty hunter hired
by Behan had left town four days before he was released from jail. He then
indicates his intention to "mind [his] own business and let others do
the same." The journalist once again describes him as having
"piercing dark blue" eyes and being dressed in black.
July 1882—Doc reunites with Wyatt just outside Salida, CO. Wyatt and Doc’s
many newspaper interviews at this time may have been part of an attempt to
establish their whereabouts legitimately. But they disappeared from public
view abruptly that July.
July 13, 1882—Johnny Ringo is shot, possibly by himself, possibly by
Wyatt, possibly by Doc. Wyatt later claimed to have killed Ringo. Ringo’s
body, shot through the head, is found under a tree with a Colt revolver,
*Most historians believe Ringo committed
suicide (which may well be true) and that Doc, in any event, was in Pueblo, CO at the time of his
death. Holliday Tanner points out that Doc was not in Pueblo at this time
as some have claimed, pointing to a writ of capias issued for him in court
on July 11. His attorney appeared on his behalf that day (in spite of the
wording of a court record that indicated he may have appeared in person—“in
propera persona” or “in his own proper person” was/is standard legal filler
text and does not mean the person was necessarily there at all). One should
also consider the fact that the Pueblo charge, for “larceny,” was merely
trumped up by Doc’s friends to provide an obstacle to his extradition to
Arizona—and thus, even though many authorities were unaware of this fact,
there was no real urgency for him actually to be there to face the bogus
charge. There is no question that the case was continued more than once,
apparently because of Doc’s absence. There is also no question that Doc had
just arrived in Salida on July 7th, as a newspaper reported his arrival in
town. Holliday Tanner believes he met up there with Wyatt and others just
west of town that day. This account is based on statements supposedly made
by Josie Marcus Earp. Doc’s next documented appearance was in Leadville on
July 18th, the very date his bogus Pueblo court case was again continued.
If Doc did kill Ringo, Wyatt may have claimed the killing himself to
protect his friend’s reputation, since Doc had no legal authority (of
course, neither did Wyatt at this point, which explains why he claimed to
have killed Ringo earlier—when he still had a badge). Although the exact circumstances
are uncertain, Wyatt Earp accepted responsibility for the death of
John Ringo, and, as Karen Holliday Tanner points out: "means, motive,
opportunity and a confession will convict in most courts."*
Tombstone trouble largely over, Doc helps fight a fire in Leadville,
Colorado, with no regard for his own endangered health.
1883-1884—Doc has several bouts with pneumonia, which compound his TB and leave
him incredibly emaciated and weak: his normally slim 155 lb. body down to
an incredible 122 lbs. He becomes dependent on laudanum. In July, a
helpless, unarmed Doc is confronted and taunted by a few remaining old
enemies from Tombstone, including Johnny Tyler, whom he and Wyatt had
humiliated at the Oriental. In a newspaper interview re: the incident, Doc
expresses both his outrage at the humiliation and his intent to be
—He ends up owing money to one of the men,
Billy Allen, and afraid for his life after being threatened, conceals a
pistol behind a bar and fires on Allen as he arrives at the saloon with his
hand in his pocket, hitting him in the arm. Doc then fires at Allen again
and is disarmed by bystanders. Doc explains his actions in the paper the
next day, and, able to establish in court that his life was threatened, is
later exonerated due to shooting in self-defense.
*Some have expressed surprise that Doc was
found not-guilty by this jury, but one should recall that Doc was extremely
ill at this point and was indeed being threatened by a much larger and
healthier man. It wasn’t difficult
for him to elicit genuine sympathy from the jurors, especially when he
pointed out in court the disparity in body weights and remarked that his
life (such as it was) was still valuable to him (a comment bound to elicit
pity from those present, who could see how obviously ill he was).*
—Doc travels back and forth between Leadville
and Denver. He is persona non grata with local law enforcement officials in
Denver, mostly because of his reputation.
to some sources, he sees Wyatt Earp for the last time at the Windsor Hotel in
Denver. Josie Earp reports that the emaciated Doc has a continuous cough
and is so weak that he stands unsteadily. There is no mention of this in
the Holliday Tanner bio.*
CO.—Doc, feeling ill and in low spirits, writes to Kate in Arizona and asks
her to accompany him to Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Once there, he attempts
to support himself by doing some dental work, but his cough is too violent.
Kate joins him in Glenwood Springs.
—Glenwood Springs, Colorado. A very ill
Doc, accompanied by Kate, checks into the Hotel Glenwood. For a very short
while, he tries to deal faro, but by September, he is too weak and becomes
bedridden. For 57 days he is mainly bedridden and, at times, delirious. The
delirium is most likely induced by a combination of his extreme ill health
and his addiction to laudanum, which, at this point, Kate apparently
provides to him liberally in order to ease his pain. When his money runs
out, Kate supports them on her savings.
—John Henry "Doc" Holliday dies on
the morning of November 8, 1887, at the age of 36. His few remaining
belongings are sent back to Georgia. Along with a straight razor, a small
knife and some gambling items, the Holliday family receives Doc’s trademark
diamond stickpin, without its diamond.
*According to some sources, including
Tombstone chronicler Ben Traywick, his last words were: “This is funny.”
Holliday Tanner makes no mention of this in her book, clearly believing
that Doc was too far gone to speak at all by Nov. 8th (which is probably
illness had been so difficult and protracted that he would have been
unlikely to say this anyway, but this last dying quip is presented
elsewhere frequently. Holliday Tanner also makes no mention of the presence
of a Catholic priest, whom some have claimed converted Doc as he lay ill,
but Doc’s strong association of his Methodist religion with his lost (and
beloved) mother probably precluded any such conversion, although a priest
may well have visited him—Kate was Catholic. His funeral service, however,
was administered by a Presbyterian minister.*
*Some like to claim that Doc is buried in
Georgia rather than in Glenwood Springs, making the dubious claim based on
speculation that Doc’s family had his body disinterred, shipped to Georgia
and re-buried. This is highly
unlikely for the following reasons, among others:
only actual evidence that exists on the record is that he was buried in
making this claim express surprise that Doc's grave could have been lost
and that nobody would have taken the time to mark it so that his body could
be retrieved later. These people forget that Doc’s fame grew
primarily after his death (all the way to the legendary status that he now
enjoys) but at the time of his burial, he was little more than another dead
tubercular gambler, who, like many others in the West at the time, had been
in a few shooting scrapes earlier in his life. His body was simply placed in an unmarked grave in the
Linwood Cemetery. Nobody paid much
attention to, nor did they apparently care much, where he was buried. His death was unspectacular, as were the
arrangements for his burial. Under
these actual circumstances, and not the glow of his current celebrity, the
fact that the grave was quickly lost and forgotten is not in the least
had been alienated from his family for the better part of his adult
life. His estranged father probably
would not have considered, much less actually planned and paid for, the
difficult project of disinterring his body and bringing it back to Georgia
for re-burial. To perceive how
unlikely this was, just recall the rather lonely, isolated and painful
circumstances of Doc’s death (and the cheap, quick burial that Kate was
able to provide) and the Holliday family’s shame and reticence over his
existence (some of whom were so ashamed of the disgrace they perceived he
brought onto the family that they even denied he was related to them). Also consider that disinterment and
transport (from the West, which was seen as a world away) and reburial
would have been far more difficult in the nineteenth century than now. And it was culturally less likely as
well. Death in the nineteenth
century tended not to be seen as a scientific or medical fact nearly as
much as a spiritual one. Disturbing
someone’s “final resting place” was not often done.
is no convincing evidence of any kind that the family succumbed to either
regret or familial sentiment and went to such extreme lengths to express
it. It is, of course, a comforting
thought for people in Georgia to believe that their native son was finally
embraced and brought home. In reality,
Doc had no home to which he could return.*
 A witness testified at the later inquest that
“Doc’s vocabulary of profanity and obscene language was monumental and he
worked it proficiently in talking to Ike.”
 In the terminal stage of
tuberculosis, as described by a nineteenth-century physician, "'the
emaciation is frightful and the most mournful change is witnessed...the
cheeks are hollow…rendering the expression harsh and painful. The eyes are
commonly sunken in their sockets...and often look morbidly bright and
staring.' At this point, throat ulcers made eating difficult and speech was
limited to a hoarse whisper. Once the distinctive 'graveyard cough' began,
diagnosis was certain and death inevitable. Rarely, he wrote, 'life, wasted
to the most feeble spark, goes out almost insensibly.' More typically,
severe stomach cramps, excessive sweating, a choking sensation and vomiting
of blood preceded the victim's demise." (NIAID, Tuberculosis
in History: "Focus on Tuberculosis: I Must Die").
–Most factual information in
the timeline is derived from Karen Holliday Tanner’s biography, Doc
Holliday: A Family Portrait (U of Oklahoma Press, 1998).
-Other information about the
O.K. Corral gunfight from various other sources, including the transcript
of the O.K. Corral Inquest, the documentary "Investigating
History: The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" on The History Channel,
2004, and excerpts from the Tombstone Epitaph, particularly its coverage of the OK Corral gunfight and coverage of the
Earp posse's activities in Martin's Tombstone's Epitaph (U of New
Mexico Press, 1951).
–Other sources consulted
include Ben Traywick's book, John Henry, The Doc Holliday Story, Bat
Masterson's Gunfighters of the Western Frontier, Jeff Morey's
article "Blaze Away! Doc Holliday's Role in the West's Most
Famous Gunfight," as well as various historical websites and
online historical newspaper excerpts.