Doc Holliday’s Life and Death Were the Stuff of Legend. The Facts Are Even More Amazing.
Although he sometimes drank three quarts of whiskey a day, he was the most skillful gambler, and the nerviest, fastest, deadliest man with a six-gun I ever saw.Wyatt Earp
It is doubtful that even Doc Holliday drank three quarts of whiskey a day, and he didn’t kill many men with his six-gun, but that was the tribute paid to Doc by Wyatt Earp, who was his friend and something of a tough character himself.
Much has been written about Holliday (including “The West’s Deadliest Dentist,” by Robert Barr Smith, in the April 1994 Wild West), and in most accounts, inaccuracies abound. One writer said Holliday won “more than thirty duels to the death.” More than one historian has written that Doc killed 16 men. Such numbers are fanciful. Many Holliday stories are sensational tales that won’t hold up to investigation. Still, the true story of John Henry Holliday‘s short life is an exciting one.
John Henry was born in Griffin, Ga., on August 14, 1851, to Henry Burroughs Holliday and Alice Jane Holliday. The Hollidays’ first child, Martha Eleanora, had died on June 12, 1850, at 6 months, 9 days. According to church records, “John Henry, infant son of Henry B. and Alice J. Holliday, received the ordinance of baptism on Sunday, March 21, 1852, at the First Presbyterian Church in Griffin.” John Henry’s mother was a Southern beauty, and his father was a druggist, planter and soldier. Henry Holliday volunteered to fight Indians in Georgia in 1838, Mexicans in 1846 and Yankees in 1861. He rose to the rank of major during the Civil War, but sickness caused him to resign his commission in 1862. Two years later he moved his family to Valdosta, Ga., near the Florida line, when he realized that his old home was in the path of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman’s “March to the Sea.” The senior Holliday quickly became one of Valdosta’s leading citizens. In 1876, he was elected mayor.
Alice Holliday died on September 16, 1866, after a long illness. Her death was a terrible blow to 15-year-old John Henry, as he and his mother had been very close. It did not help that his father married Rachel Martin only three months later, on December 18, 1866. Rachel was only a few years older than John Henry.
Because of his family’s status, John Henry was compelled to choose some sort of profession. He enrolled in dental college in 1870, attending lecture sessions in 1870–72. He wrote his thesis on “Diseases of the Teeth.” Lucian Frink, who practiced dentistry in Valdosta from 1868 until 1879, served as his preceptor. At the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery’s 16th annual commencement in Philadelphia’s Musical Fund Hall on March 1, 1872, the college conferred a “Degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery” upon 26 men, one of whom was John Henry Holliday.
Upon completion of his training, Dr. Holliday opened an office with Dr. Arthur C. Ford in Atlanta. A short time later, Holliday discovered that he had tuberculosis. He consulted a number of doctors, and all of them predicted a short future. They did say, however, that he would do better in a dry climate. So Holliday packed up and headed west. His first stop was in Dallas, Texas, the last bastion of civilization before the “uncivilized” West. A listing in the 1873 Dallas business directory reads: “Holliday, J.H. (Seegar & Holliday) Elm between Market and Austin Streets.” John Seegar, also from Georgia and a friend of Henry Burroughs Holliday, helped John Henry to get established in Dallas. Not long after hiring the young man, Seegar made him a partner.
On March 2, 1874, the Dallas Daily Commercial reported: “Upon mutual consent the firm of Seegar and Holliday have dissolved. J.H. Holliday will be responsible for the two debts against the firm. J.A. Seegar will remain at the old office, over Cochran’s Drug Store, Elm Street. J.H. Holliday’s office is over the Dallas County Bank, corner of Main and Lamar Street.” Coughing spells were wracking Holliday’s thin frame and often occurred at inopportune times, such as in the midst of a filling or an extraction. As a result, his dental business gradually declined. It appears that he had also lost interest in the business. He had discovered that he possessed a natural ability for gambling, and it quickly became his principal means of support.
In the Frontier West, a gambler had to be able to protect himself, for he usually stood alone. Holliday faithfully practiced with a revolver and knife. He soon developed a reputation as a man who could handle weapons, as well as cards and liquor. Holliday encouraged the stories that made him out to be a skilled gunman ready to kill at the drop of a hat. He did it for his own protection, since he was slim and frail and no match physically for most of the clientele in saloons.
According to legend, Holliday was already a killer before he came to Texas. Back in Valdosta, he was involved in an argument with some black youths over a swimming hole in the Withlacoochee River and was said to have killed one or more of them. Actually, he shot none of them; he fired over their heads. Like much of what has been written about Holliday’s life, details of the swimming hole incident were derived from legend, fiction and supposition — not facts. Many writers and newspaper reporters have had Holliday killing men he never met, in places he never was; killing men that were actually killed by someone else; and killing men that were not killed at all.
In Dallas, on January 2, 1875, Holliday and a local saloonkeeper named Austin had a disagreement that flared into violence. Both men produced six-shooters. Several shots were fired, but not one struck its intended target. Both shooters were arrested. Sometime later, Holliday supposedly shot and killed a prominent citizen and had to flee Dallas. No newspaper accounts or court records could be found to support the death of this unnamed victim. That June, Holliday was indicted by a grand jury for “gaming in a saloon” in Fort Griffin, Texas. By the time he had reached Jacksboro, Texas, in 1876, he was known as the “Deadly Dentist,” thanks in large part to his own tales. In Jacksboro he supposedly enhanced his reputation with three fights. His alleged tally, accepted as gospel by some writers, was one gambler dead, two gamblers wounded and one 6th Cavalryman dead. No newspaper accounts, court records or Army records mention any such occurrences.
Arriving in Denver in the winter of 1876, Holliday assumed the name “Tom Mackey,” which sounds the same as his mother’s maiden name — Mckey. There, according to legend, he was drawn into a fight with local bully Budd Ryan. In this imaginary altercation, Ryan drew a gun, but never pulled the trigger, because Holliday pulled his knife and slashed Ryan’s throat. The victim carried horrible scars the rest of his life. Both Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson later recounted the tale many times, but neither of those famous Westerners had been present; they had only heard about it. An article in the Denver Republican of June 22, 1887, does tell of a ‘kid’ Ryan slashing the neck of a Jack Brogan in a saloon called Mose’s Home. So there was a slashing in Denver, but it was much later, Ryan was the “slasher,” and Holliday wasn’t even involved. At some point after leaving Denver, Holliday briefly went to Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory, no longer using the name Mackey. Legend makers say he killed three unidentified men before he ended his visit. In truth, there is no evidence that he killed anyone in Wyoming.
In the early fall of 1877, Holliday was back in Fort Griffin, Texas. In November, Wyatt Earp rode into the “Flat” (the name for the civilian settlement near the fort) on the trail of outlaw Dave Rudabaugh. Holliday found out where Rudabaugh was and informed Earp of his whereabouts — down near Fort Davis. Holliday and Earp thus became friends — a friendship that would last all of Doc’s life.
Holliday’s “killer legend” also has him claiming another victim at about this time. The story goes that while playing poker, a gambler named Ed Bailey kept sifting through the discards, which was highly illegal. Holliday warned him several times, but Bailey ignored him. The next time Bailey did it, Holliday just raked in the pot without showing his hand, which was according to the rules. Bailey pulled a revolver, but Holliday whipped out his trusty knife and went to work first. Bailey died without getting off a shot. The dead gambler apparently had friends because Holliday was put in jail, and a lynch mob began to form.
At that point the tale needed a bit of romance: Enter Big Nose Kate, who was christened Mary Katherine Harony in her native Hungary. Holliday had in fact met Kate in the Flat a short time before he met Wyatt Earp. A dance hall woman and sometime prostitute, Kate would be the only woman in Holliday’s adult life. Kate’s nose was indeed prominent, but she had other prominent curves as well and was at least as educated as Holliday. Tough, stubborn and fearless, she worked at the business of being a prostitute because she liked it. She belonged to no man, nor to a madam’s house, but plied her trade as her own boss. Doc met her while he was dealing cards in John Shanssey’s saloon.
While Holliday was in jail and the mob was outside engaged in lynch talk, Big Nose Kate supposedly set fire to a barn. The burning building distracted the mob. Then Kate slipped into the jail, brandishing two six-shooters at the terrified jailer. She had horses ready, and she and Holliday rode off to Dodge City, Kan.
Great story, but it didn’t happen quite that way. No newspaper articles or court records tell of such an incident. Actually, Holliday had been arrested again for “illegal gaming,” not for killing Ed Bailey. Also, he was not locked in jail, as the town had no jail at that time. Holliday was being held in a hotel room under guard. Kate actually did set fire to a shed behind the hotel as a diversion and did free Doc.
In Dodge City, the couple registered at Deacon Cox’s boardinghouse as Dr. and Mrs. John H. Holliday. The “Queen of the Cow Towns” had no dentist, so Doc hung out his shingle once more in 1878. The local paper carried his ad:
John H. Holliday, Dentist, very respectfully offers his professional services to the citizens of Dodge City and surrounding county during the Summer. Office at Room No. 24 Dodge House. Where satisfaction is not given, money will be refunded.
Big Nose Kate coped with the shackles of respectability for about three months before she cast them off and returned to the bright lights of the saloons. Doc was livid with anger at Kate for using the name Mrs. John H. Holliday and for making such a spectacle of herself. Her shenanigans were a terrible blow to his pride. Doc lost his desire to practice dentistry, and down came his shingle. Kate eventually took off for parts unknown, and Doc, feeling free and easy, headed for H.A.W. Tabor’s new town, Leadville, in Colorado Territory.
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A story is also told about how Holliday saved Wyatt Earp’s life in Dodge City in 1878. It seems that two Texas cattlemen, Ed Morrison and Tobe Driscall, along with 25 Texas cowhands, were taunting Wyatt and were about to shoot him. At the last possible moment, Doc jumped in, a revolver in each hand. During this distraction, Wyatt Earp regained his gun and pistol-whipped Morrison. This fearless peace-keeping duo then ordered the Texans “to shed their hardware.” One was so completely foolish as to pull out his gun, and Holliday shot him without hesitation. Despite the overwhelming odds in their favor, the other Texans complied with the order. One report said that 50 revolvers were picked up from the street, which suggests that virtually every one of the Texans was a two-gun man.
The Dodge City newspapers did not report any such incident, and there is no record of any large number of cowboys being arrested at one time. More likely, Earp was arresting three cowboys, one of whom was trying to pull an out-of-sight pistol on Wyatt, when Holliday jumped up from a nearby poker table and dealt himself in, making the would-be gunman re-evaluate the situation. In any case, Earp always said that Holliday had saved his hide that day.
On his way to Colorado Territory, Holliday is said to have become involved in an argument with two gamblers — an argument that he won by killing both men. And once in Trinidad, Colorado Territory, he supposedly got into a gunfight with an elusive gunman named Kid Colton. Legend, of course, has Doc also shooting Colton graveyard dead, thus adding another mythical notch to his gun. But, once again, no newspaper account or court record has surfaced that makes any mention of those two incidents.
On his way to Las Vegas, New Mexico Territory, in 1879, Holliday, according to legend, drew more blood. In the railroad construction camp of Otero, Doc is said to have killed yet another argumentative but unidentified soul, who was planted in the local cemetery. As expected, there is no record or evidence whatsoever of such an incident.
Many accounts make much over Holliday’s killing a man named Mike Gordon on July 20, 1879, in Las Vegas. But a coroner’s inquest held the day Gordon was killed made no mention of Holliday; it was ruled that the fatal gunshot wound to Gordon’s chest was ‘inflicted by some person unknown to that jury.’ The newspapers of the time expounded on the killing for days without a single mention of Holliday, who owned a saloon on Center Street.
It was two years later to the day, on July 20, 1881, that a Las Vegas Optic reporter wrote that Holliday was ‘the identical individual who killed poor, inoffensive Mike Gordon.’ From the content of the article, it is obvious that the reporter knew nothing about Holliday and even less about Mike Gordon. The same paper, three months later, carried the story of Tombstone’s Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. That article made no comments concerning Holliday’s earlier activities in Las Vegas and made no mention of Gordon.
Bat Masterson added fuel to the Holliday legend when he gave an interview to the Arizona Weekly Citizen on August 14, 1886. He named Holliday as Gordon’s killer and even threw in an unnamed Mexican that Doc was supposed to have shot when he objected to the shooting of Gordon. Always prone to enlarge the facts in making his own life story a colorful extravaganza, Masterson did the same where Holliday was concerned.
Another alleged Las Vegas victim of the Deadly Dentist was Charley White. Holliday had run White, a bartender, out of Dodge and told him that if he ever saw him again, he would kill him. Well, Holliday saw White again, tending bar in the Plaza Hotel saloon in Las Vegas’ Old Town. Miguel Antonio Otero, who later became the governor of New Mexico, told of their meeting: “The two men faced each other and began shooting. They shoot and shoot with no one scoring a hit. Finally, Charley White is down!” But White had not been killed — only stunned. When he regained his senses he packed his belongings, went back to Boston and never came West again. No newspaper account or court records were found to verify that such a gunfight ever took place. But even if it did happen, Doc Holliday, the dangerous cold-blooded killer, still had not killed anyone yet.
Holliday left Las Vegas for Arizona Territory in the fall of 1879. In Prescott, he had a fantastic run of luck at the poker tables. Big Nose Kate joined him. Under those circumstances, they got along just fine. When they finally left for Tombstone sometime after June 3, 1880, Holliday had his pockets full of the Prescott gamblers’ money. In Tombstone, Holliday found living quarters for Kate and himself sandwiched between a funeral parlor and the Soma Winery, on the north side of Allen Street at Sixth Street. His friend Wyatt Earp had arrived in the boom town the previous December.
The so-called Cowboy faction had had things its way in Tombstone for quite some time. The Cowboys resented the presence of the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday — men who weren’t afraid to stand up to them. Newton Haynes (“Old Man”) Clanton; his sons Phin, Ike and Billy; the McLaury brothers, Frank and Tom; Curly Bill Brocius; John Ringo; and other Cowboys lost no time in expressing their displeasure. Cochise County Sheriff John Behan usually saw things their way.
Early in October 1880, Holliday and a trouble-making gambler named Johnny Tyler had a dispute in the Oriental Saloon. Holliday challenged Tyler to fight where they stood, but Tyler wasn’t eager to face Doc, so he turned and ran. Oriental owner Milt Joyce, who did not like Holliday or the Earps, continued the argument with Doc. Joyce had Holliday put out of the saloon, but the Deadly Dentist soon came back, revolver in hand. Holliday fired several shots, hitting Joyce in the thumb and Joyce’s partner (a man named Parker) in the big toe. Joyce fired one shot that missed, then hit Doc over the head with his revolver. A law officer named Bennett then appeared on the scene and separated the men.
A warrant was issued for Holliday’s arrest on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon, with intent to kill. “On October 12, 1880, Holliday appeared in court in the custody of the town marshal, Fred White,” the Daily Nugget reported. “None of the prosecution witnesses appeared in court. The defendant offered a plea of guilty to assault and battery. It was accepted and the charge of assault with a deadly weapon was dismissed. Holliday was fined $20 and costs of $11.25.” Things weren’t going any better for Holliday in his relationship with Big Nose Kate. Although they lived together, Doc concentrated on his drinking and gambling and Kate concentrated on her drinking and other duties as a saloon woman. When together, they mostly quarreled. Kate became loud and abusive when drunk. Doc finally decided that he had had enough and threw her out.
As fate would have it, masked men attempted a holdup of the Kinnear & Company stage near Contention City on March 15, 1881. The robbers killed Budd Philpot, the stage driver, and Peter Roerig, a passenger. The Cowboy faction accused Holliday of being one of the holdup men. Milt Joyce, who was county supervisor as well as owner of the Oriental, and Sheriff John Behan found Kate on one of her drunken binges. While she berated Holliday for throwing her out, Joyce and Behan bought her all the whiskey that she could drink. They sympathized with her and suggested how she might “even the score” with Doc.
Eventually, they persuaded her to sign an affidavit implicating Holliday in the attempted holdup and murders of Philpot and Roerig. Justice Wells Spicer issued a warrant for Holliday’s arrest on the strength of Kate’s affidavit. When Kate sobered up, she realized what she had done. She insisted that she had signed a paper while drinking with Behan and Joyce but that she could not remember what it was. Witnesses to Holliday’s whereabouts at the time of the robbery and Kate’s new stand exposed the Cowboy plot, and Holliday was released. The district attorney labeled the charges “ridiculous” and threw them out. Doc gave Kate some money and put her on a stage leaving town. As far as he was concerned, his debt to her, which he had carried since she “saved him” in Fort Griffin, was paid in full.
Violence and bloodshed on both sides of the border had been straining relations between the American and Mexican governments. Both governments feared that the border might explode in gunfire if the situation was not soon corrected. These fears were not unfounded. On August 13, 1881, the international border near where the territories of New Mexico and Arizona meet did explode.
Old Man Clanton was driving a herd of cattle to the Tombstone market, where he expected to make a quick sale and profit. The drive did not turn out exactly as he had planned. Clanton made camp the first night, August 12, most likely in Guadalupe Canyon, about one mile south of the international border. With him were Dixie Lee Gray, Billy Lang, Bud Snow, Billy Beyers, Harry Ernshaw and Jim Crane. Crane was one of the four men who had attempted to rob the stage near Contention City five months earlier. The other three men who had been involved were Harry Head, Billy Leonard and Luther King. King had escaped Sheriff Behan’s jail. Head and Leonard had been killed by brothers Ike and Bill Haslett over in New Mexico Territory.
Early the morning of August 13, the Clanton party was attacked by riflemen. Lang, Gray, Crane, Snow and Clanton were killed; Beyers and Ernshaw were wounded but escaped. The attackers were said to be Mexicans. Several historians, including this author, believe that an Earp federal posse was involved in the deaths of these men. Records show that Marshal Crawley Dake was ordered to send a posse down to the border to quell the disturbances caused by the Cowboys. Marshal Dake trusted Wyatt Earp and likely had Earp head the posse. Logically, the first place for this federal posse to search would have been the area where Arizona, New Mexico, Sonora and Chihuahua all met. It appears that they did, indeed, find the Cowboys in Guadalupe Canyon (or possibly Skeleton Canyon). And the posse must have been most happy to see Jim Crane with them.
The Mexican government was emphatic about the Cowboy rustling problem — either the Americans would have to stop the Cowboys from coming across the border to steal or the Mexicans would. So there may have been Mexicans present in the canyon, too, either working with the American lawmen in a joint effort or simply observing the American effort to curb the outlaws. Both Doc Holliday and Warren Earp were wounded in that border gun battle, and they did not reappear in Tombstone until they had recovered. That explains why Holliday had a cane on October 26, 1881, and why Warren missed the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
Tombstone was more divided than ever, with the Cowboys on one side and the Earps and Holliday on the other. Cowboys threatened to kill Wyatt, Virgil, Morgan and Doc if they didn’t get out of town. But running was not Holliday’s or the Earps’ style. On the night of October 25, 1881, Ike Clanton and Holliday drank heavily and then began hurling obscenities at each other. Doc finally ended the cursing match by inviting Ike to use his gun. Clanton claimed that he was unarmed, so Holliday told him to go get heeled. Then, to goad him ever further, he told Ike that his big mouth had caused his old man to be killed and that he (Holliday) had had the pleasure of pulling the trigger. Furthermore, he would take much enjoyment in doing the same to Ike!
In shock, Ike Clanton left and went to the Grand Hotel. Holliday went to his room at Fly’s Boardinghouse. The next day, the 26th, Ike appeared at Fly’s, looking for Holliday. The doctor wasn’t in. Big Nose Kate was visiting Doc at the time, and Mrs. Fly told her that Clanton had been there trying to find Holliday. When Kate informed Doc of this, he replied, “If God will let me live long enough, he will see me!”
Shortly afterward, word was conveyed to the Earps that the Cowboys were gathered in the wagon lot next to Fly’s Photo Gallery and were wearing guns in violation of city law. Holliday met the Earps near Hafford’s Saloon, at the corner of Allen and Fourth streets, and demanded that he be allowed to join them in their little walk. Five men, potential killers, lay in wait just down Fremont — Ike and Billy Clanton, Frank and Tom McLaury, and Billy Claibourne.
When the Earps and Holliday confronted four Cowboys (Claibourne fled before the shooting) in that narrow, 15-foot space between Fly’s and the Harwood house, guns flamed and roared for less than half a minute, then ceased abruptly. Plenty of damage was done in that short time. The McLaurys and Billy Clanton were dead, and Morgan and Virgil Earp were both wounded. Holliday killed Tom McLaury and fired one of the bullets that struck Frank McLaury; he may have hit Billy Clanton as well.
Three days later, Ike Clanton, who had run away when the shooting started, filed a complaint. Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday were arrested, and hearings were held in Justice Wells Spicer’s court from November 2 to November 29. When Spicer had heard all the testimony, he issued this opinion: “In view of all the facts and circumstances of the case, considering the threats made, the character and position of the parties, and the tragical results accomplished in manner and form as they were, with all surrounding influences bearing upon the result of the affair, I cannot resist the conclusion that the defendants were fully justified in committing these homicides, that it was a necessary act done in the discharge of official duty.”
Retaliation from the Cowboy faction was sure to come, and it did. Near midnight on December 28, 1881, Virgil Earp, on his way from the Oriental Saloon to the Crystal Palace, was ambushed by three men with shotguns. Two out of the five shots fired struck Virgil, one badly shattering his left arm, the other entering his left side and back. These wounds crippled Virgil for the rest of his life. Virgil’s wounds were serious, but he was able to walk back to the Oriental, where his brother Wyatt was playing poker.
The men responsible for the attack on Virgil were Ike Clanton, John Ringo, Frank Stilwell, Hank Swilling, Pete Spencer and Johnny Barnes. Some of the men were arrested and brought into court. A number of Cowboy witnesses swore that those charged with the crime were in Charleston at the time that Virgil was shot. The judge had no alternative but to release the defendants.
On January 17, 1882, Ringo confronted Holliday. Many writers would have us believe that Ringo challenged all the Earps, too. Not true. Morgan and Virgil were still incapacitated with painful wounds and were not yet out and about. Wyatt was present, but Ringo was not running much of a risk as there was little chance that his challenge would be accepted. Wyatt knew that Ringo had been drinking heavily and that the whiskey was talking. Besides, Wyatt already had troubles enough in the aftermath of the October gunfight. Holliday, though, was quite eager to accommodate Ringo in any kind of fight he wanted. James Flynn, the acting town marshal, grabbed Ringo and held him while Wyatt hustled the struggling Holliday away. That was the extent of the confrontation.
On March 18, 1882, assassins struck again. Morgan Earp was playing pool with Bob Hatch at Cambell and Hatch’s Saloon and Billiard Parlor on Allen Street when a shot, fired from the darkness of the alley, struck him in the back and snuffed out his life. When Doc Holliday learned of Morgan’s murder, he vowed to kill all the men responsible. In a wild rage, he went through the town, kicking in doors, searching for the men he suspected. Had he found them that night, there would have been several more bodies requiring the undertaker’s attention. Wyatt Earp, of course, was none too pleased, either. He had seen Virgil shot and crippled for life and the ambushers go free. And now, Wyatt knew the law would do nothing again.
A coroner’s jury ruled the next day that Morgan’s murderers were Frank Stilwell, Pete Spence (actually Spencer), Joe Doe Freis (real name Frederick Bode), John Ringo, Indian Charlie and another Indian, name unknown. Consumed with hatred and frustration, Wyatt wanted revenge. Someone had to pay for Virgil’s crippling and Morgan’s death. Then Stilwell boasted that he had fired the shot that killed Morgan. He might as well have written his own death sentence. Either Wyatt, Holliday or both would certainly come for him before long.
Morgan’s body was embalmed, dressed in a blue suit belonging to Doc Holliday and laid out for viewing in the Cosmopolitan Hotel. The funeral cortege started away from the hotel with the fire bell tolling out its solemn peals of ‘Earth to earth, dust to dust.’ Morgan was sent to his parents home in Colton, Calif., for burial. Morgan’s wife, along with Virgil and his wife, went also. Wyatt and Warren Earp, Doc Holliday, Sherman McMasters, Turkey Creek Jack Johnson and Texas Jack Vermillion went along to provide protection all the way to Tucson.
The Earp party encountered Stilwell at the railroad station in Tucson on March 20. Wyatt chased him down the track and filled him full of holes. Holliday shot him twice more for good measure, even though Stilwell was already dead. A Tucson coroner’s jury named Wyatt and Warren Earp, Holliday, Texas Jack and McMasters as the men who had killed Stilwell. The Tucson Weekly Citizen of March 28, 1882, noted: “Frank Stilwell was buried this afternoon, the coffin being conveyed to the grave in an express wagon, unfollowed by a single mourner.”
The killing of Stilwell was only the beginning of Wyatt Earp’s bloody trail of vengeance, and Doc Holliday rode along all the way. When they learned that Pete Spencer was at his wood camp at South Pass in the Dragoon Mountains, Earp, Holliday and the rest of the “federal posse” rode there on March 22, 1882. They did not find Spencer, but they came upon Florentino Cruz. When Cruz fled, the posse shot him to pieces. Two days later, the Earp party was riding along a deep wash near Iron Springs when Curly Bill Brocius and eight of his men opened fire on them. Wyatt Earp slid down from his horse and killed Curly Bill with a blast from a double-barrel shotgun. Johnny Barnes, who had been one of Virgil’s ambushers, was badly wounded in the Iron Springs fight and never recovered.
Wyatt and Warren Earp and Doc Holliday remained in Arizona Territory until April, reluctant to leave. They had been riding over the countryside in the hopes of encountering Ringo, Clanton, Spencer or Swilling. What they didn’t know was that the men they sought were hiding in Mexico, near Fronteras, Sonora.
By May 1882, the two Earps and Holliday were in Colorado — the Earps in Gunnison and Doc in Denver. Arizona Territory made an attempt to extradite Holliday from Colorado. Sheriff Behan and his Cowboy cronies would have been overjoyed to have had Doc delivered to them unarmed and handcuffed. Colorado Governor Frederick Pitkin, however, decided that he could not honor the request from Arizona Territorial Governor Fred Tritle.
In Arizona Territory on July 14, 1882, a teamster named John Yoast, bound for Morse’s sawmill, discovered a dead man in West Turkey Creek Canyon, east of the Dragoon Mountains. The body was sitting in the intertwined limbs of oak trees. A bullet had entered the right temple and exited through the top of the head. The dead man was one of the more famous Cowboys — John Ringo. Yoast quickly notified the sheriff of his grisly find. A suicide, it was suggested by some members of a coroner’s jury, but most people disagreed. They did not agree on who had shot him, only that someone had.
What had happened was that Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday had returned to Arizona and had rendezvoused with several friends — Fred Dodge, Oregin Smith, Johnny Green, John Meagher and one other, probably Lou Cooley — near Henry Hooker’s ranch. A short time later, they all had taken the trail toward Galeyville. Ringo had been spotted while camped on Turkey Creek, and when he ran up a canyon, Wyatt had shot him. The body had then been placed between the oak trees. Bat Masterson, Warren Earp and some newspaper friends helped establish alibis for Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday — things they said and wrote made it appear as if Wyatt and Doc had never left Colorado.
Once back in Colorado, Holliday decided to go to Leadville. He was living quietly there until he ran into old enemies — Johnny Tyler and Billy Allen. Friends advised Holliday that Allen was armed and making threats. On the afternoon of August 19, 1884, Holliday strolled into Hyman’s Saloon and placed himself at the end of the bar. As Billy Allen crossed the threshold, Holliday leveled his revolver and fired, hitting Allen in the right arm. Allen fell to the floor, screaming, and Holliday rushed behind the cigar case, leaned over and fired again. The second bullet missed Allen’s head by a hairbreadth. Doc leveled his revolver once more, but bystanders seized him and disarmed him. Holliday was arrested and tried for shooting Allen, but on March 28, 1885, a jury found him not guilty.
In May 1887, Holliday went to Glenwood Spring, Colo., to try the sulphur vapors, since his health was worsening. He stayed at the Hotel Glenwood, not a sanitarium, although the hotel catered to those who hoped to be “healed” by the Yampah Hot Springs. Nothing could be done for him; his tuberculosis was more relentless than any human enemy. He spent his last 57 days in bed and was delirious for 14 of them. On November 8, 1887, John Henry “Doc” Holliday awoke, clear-eyed, and asked for a glass of whiskey. It was given to him, and he drank it down with obvious enjoyment. Then he said, “This is funny,” and died.
“Few men have been better known to a certain class of sporting people, and few men of his character had more friends or stronger champions,” said the Denver Republican in Holliday’s obituary. That obituary went on to say that Doc had “killed several men during his life in Arizona.” Wrong. But then most writers get Holliday’s kill total dead wrong. There is no doubt whatsoever that he killed Tom McLaury near the O.K. Corral. Enough evidence exists to convince this author that Holliday killed Old Man Clanton, too. That makes a total of two. He shot eight more men — White, Joyce, Parker, Frank McLaury, Billy Clanton, Stilwell, Cruz and Allen — but none of those men died by his bullets. No matter how much blood he did or did not contribute to the blood-stained pages of Western history, though, Doc Holliday will not be forgotten. His deeds, his dentistry, his disease, his death and that name ‘Doc’ have brought the Southern boy named John Henry a secure place among the immortals who inhabited the Old West.