I guess every state in the United States has had a bad boy. Georgia’s was Doc Holliday.
Henry B. Holliday was a trained pharmacist who served in several wars. After serving in the Mexican War he returned to his home to Griffin with an orphaned Mexican boy. On Jan. 8, 1849, he married Alice Jane McKay and within a year had a daughter, who died in infancy. On Aug. 14,1851, John Henry (Doc) Holliday was born.
In 1857 Maj. Holliday moved to Lowndes County and quickly became Valdosta’s leading citizen. He served two terms as mayor. He also served in other functions and offices of government in Valdosta and Lowndes County.
When Doc was just 15, his mother died of consumption. Consumption was later known as tuberculosis. Doc and his mother had a close relationship. Her death was a hard blow. His father remarried a short time later.
The family’s status in the community — and the fact that a cousin had started the Pennsylvania College of Dentistry — probably encouraged Doc to enroll in dental school. On March 1, 1872, he was conferred a degree as doctor of dental surgery. He began his work as a dentist in Atlanta.
Though an educated and respected man, Doc was a hot-tempered Southerner. It is said that when some people were swimming in his favorite hole he grabbed his gun and began to fire over their heads. Shots were fired back, but no one was hit. This seems to be the first account of Doc’s love for the gun.
Shortly after starting his dental practice he discovered he had tuberculosis. His adopted Mexican brother also was diagnosed with the disease and later died from it. Doc was told he had a short time to live and encouraged to move to a dry climate. In October 1883, he packed his bags and headed for Dallas, Texas.
He worked with another dentist in Dallas. As the coughing spells increased, he was forced to find another way to make a living. Doc was an unusual character, being an educated and refined man. He was fluent in Latin, played the piano and was a natty dresser. He displayed the manners of a Southern gentleman.
His intelligence made him a natural at gambling and it became his means of support. He was an active poker and faro dealer, moody, and a heavy drinker. With the knowledge of his impending death, he had no fear of death. He knew the occupation of a gambler was risky. He began to practice with his gun.
The first account of a gunfight occurred on Jan. 2, 1875. No one was hurt. Most of the people thought it was amusing, until a few days later when Doc got into another. This time, Doc killed a prominent citizen.
Fleeing Dallas with a posse behind him, he ended up in Jacksboro, Texas. Doc found a job dealing faro, with a gun in a shoulder holster and one on his hip. Jacksboro was a wild and lawless town. Doc also carried a knife. He was involved in three more gunfights in a short time. He left one man dead, but no action was taken against him.
In the summer of 1876, a disagreement led to violence. He killed a soldier from Fort Richardson. This brought in the U.S. government. A reward was offered for his capture and he was pursued by the Army, Texas Rangers and the U.S. Marshals. There also were bounty hunters looking for him.
Doc fled for his life to the Kansas territory, now Colorado. On his way he left three more bodies in the wake. He settled down in Denver, taking the name of Tom Mackey. While dealing faro he got into an argument with another gambler. Doc nearly cut his head off with his lethal knife. The gambler survived, his face and neck terribly mutilated. This forced Doc to run again — first to Wyoming and then to New Mexico. He finally went back to Texas, where he met Wyatt Earp and Big Nose Kate.
Big Nose Kate did have a prominent nose; her other features were quite lovely. She was a prostitute by trade. When asked if she liked her trade, she would say that she liked her business. Kate and Doc became friends. When he was seen in Dodge City, Kate was often with him.
In Dodge City, Doc saved Wyatt Earp’s life when a gunman drew behind Earp’s back. Doc yelled a warning, drew and shot the man. Wyatt Earp had several brothers. They were a close family. Many experts believe that the Earp brothers became replacements for the family Doc had left in Georgia. Wyatt, Morgan and Virgil Earp were friends with Doc for the rest of their lives.
Doc Holliday became well-known in the West. He became even more famous after taking part in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral with Wyatt, Morgan and Virgil Earp. As they came to the corral, Wyatt demanded that the Clantons surrender. Shots were fired and, when it was over, Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury and Tom McLaury were dead. Ike Clanton had run away. Morgan and Virgil Earp were wounded. Neither Doc nor Wyatt were hurt.
Enemies of the Earp brothers wanted a trial. The Earp brothers and Doc Holliday were arrested. The jury found them innocent. A few months later, a gunman killed Morgan Earp. Doc and Wyatt began to hunt the killer. They killed several men who were known to be involved.
It is not known how many killings Doc was involved in. Some say as many as 30, some say closer to eight. History will tell you that Doc was arrested several times, mostly for playing illegal games of chance. The few times he faced a criminal charge he was found not guilty. Often the charges were dismissed because he was defending himself.
Doc Holliday may have won at cards and gunfights but he could not win against tuberculosis. On Nov. 8, 1887, he died in his bed in the little city of Glenwood, Colorado. He was 36 years old.
Wyatt Earp said of Doc Holliday, “I found him a loyal friend and good company. He was a dentist whom necessity had made a gambler; a gentleman whom disease had made a vagabond; a philosopher whom life had made a caustic wit; a long, lean blonde fellow nearly dead with consumption and at the same time the most skillful gambler and nerviest, speediest, deadliest man with a six-gun I ever knew.”