Doc Holliday: Tombstone, AZ

Detail of Doc Holliday's Travels and Encounters by Date (1875-1887):


1875—Doc's 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 gambling.

—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.*


1876-77Deadwood, 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.


1877—Back 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 convalesce.

—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 time).

—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.*


1878—Dodge 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 their friendship.

Wyatt later claimed:

I am 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 desperadoes.

—Wyatt Earp, 1881, OK Corral Inquest


1879—Las 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.


1880—Doc 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.

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. . . ."*


1881—The 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 the holdup).


In 1926, Wyatt, in a deposition in Los Angeles, explained some of the tensions in Tombstone in 1881:

Q After you became Deputy United States Marshal there was not the best of feeling between your office and the office of the sheriff?

A No.

Q The sheriff's name was Behan?

A Yes.

Q You were allied with one faction and he with another?

A Yes.

Q With you was allied Doc Holliday?

A Yes.

Q He was somewhat of a notorious character in those days?

A 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.

Q Didn't he have the reputation of being a holder-up of stages?

A I never heard of it until I left.

Q With the Behans were allied the Clandens [sic]?

A 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.

Q Because he was allied with you?

A He 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 to.


—"Cowboy" crony Sheriff Johnny Behan purposely allows a captured robber to escape (Morgan Earp had arrested him earlier).

—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.

July—Never 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 no evidence.

*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 interview).

—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 robbery.*

October—Doc, apparently reconciled with Kate, goes with her to Tucson. While there, Doc is called back to Tombstone by the Earps.

Oct. 25, 1881TombstoneEvening: 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[1], 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 morning.

Oct. 26, 188111 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.

2:30 p.m.—*Some 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 of it.*

—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.

Jeff Morey, "Blaze Away! Doc Holliday's Role in the West's Most Famous Gunfight"

—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:


Doc 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.*

In 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 awful—awful.”)

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 street.


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 "Indian Charlie."

—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:

There was 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, fired once.

*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."*

1882—The 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 law-abiding.

—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.


1886*According 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.*


1887—Leadville, 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 right[2]). Doc's 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:

1)      The only actual evidence that exists on the record is that he was buried in Colorado.

2)      People 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 surprising.

3)      Doc 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.

4)      There 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.*




[1] 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.”

[2] 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.


You're a daisy if you do -- click to return to the top