The life of Doc Holliday

Kathie Bell
Special to The Globe
John Henry "Doc" Holliday was born Aug. 14, 1851, in Griffin, Ga.

His time here was short, yet most think of him when they hear the name "Dodge City."

John Henry "Doc" Holliday was born Aug. 14, 1851, in Griffin, Ga., to Henry Burroughs Holliday and Alice Jane (McKey) Holliday.

In 1864, John moved with his family to Valdosta, Ga., where he received a classical education at Valdosta Institute. Just two years after moving to Valdosta, his mother died from tuberculosis. As a teenager, he was her primary caregiver, exposing him to this deadly disease.

In 1870, Holliday entered the Pennsylvania College of Surgery in Philadelphia. At the age of 20, he finished his doctorate in dentistry, which the college held for five months until he could legally practice when he turned 21.

Still under 21, Holliday began his dental practice in St. Louis, Mo., where he assisted a classmate. After less than four months he left for Atlanta, where he substituted for Dr. Arthur C. Ford.

Early in his dental career, Holliday received the diagnosis of tuberculosis and was given only months to live. Upon Ford's return in September, he left for drier and warmer Dallas to slow the progression of the disease.

In Dallas, Holliday practiced with his father's friend, Dr. John A. Seeger. The two won awards for their innovations in dentistry. In 1874, Holliday struck out on his own. However, his health continued to decline and he had coughing fits at bad times. As his practice waned, Holliday turned to gambling, which became his main source of income. Soon he began to run afoul of the law.

He left Dallas for Denver, where he continued as a gambler. Eventually he made it back to Texas after traveling extensively around the region. Most of this time he worked as a gambler, but he couldn't stay out of trouble. On July 4, 1877, gambler Henry Kahn shot and seriously wounded Holliday.

After his convalescence, he moved to Fort Griffin, Texas, where Holliday practiced dentistry by day and gambled by night. Here, he met Mary Katharine "Big Nose Kate" Horony, who had moved to Fort Griffin in 1876. Big Nose Kate, a dance hall girl, was the only romantic interest in Holliday's life. Doc and Kate had a lot in common. They both loved the nightlife and fast living.

In 1874, Kate had been fined for working as a "sporting woman" in Dodge City for Nellie "Bessie" Earp, James Earp's wife. She obviously had a connection with the Earp brothers and is the one who introduced Doc Holliday to her friend Wyatt Earp at Fort Griffin.

In 1878, Kate and Doc went with Earp to Dodge City for the cattle drives. Here Holliday practiced dentistry in room 24 of the Dodge House Hotel. This is the last known time he practiced dentistry.

Before and during his residence in Dodge City, Holliday had gained a reputation for being good with a gun and handling conflicts.

He had served both as a villain and a hero. But, it was after leaving Dodge City that reputation began to blossom, as did his friendship with Wyatt Earp. He is best known for fighting, along with the Earps, in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Ariz., on Oct. 26, 1881. Afterwards, Holliday continued to engage in major conflicts and had serious scrapes with the law into 1882.

Holliday lived his final years of his life in Colorado, where his health and gambling skills declined. He last fight was in 1885, when he wounded a man to whom he owed $5. He was acquitted on the grounds of self-defense.

Holliday died of tuberculosis at the age of 36 on Nov. 8, 1887, in Glenwood Springs, Colo., where he is buried at Linwood Cemetery.