“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.” –Wyatt Earp speaking of Doc Holliday
Doc Holliday’s father, Henry B. Holliday was a trained pharmacist who served in several wars, including the Cherokee Indian War, the Mexican-American War, and as a Major in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. After serving in the Mexican War, he returned to his home in Griffin, Georgia with an orphaned Mexican boy named Francisco Hidalgo. On January 8, 1849, Major Holliday married Alice Jane McKay and within just year had a daughter, Martha Eleanora, who died in infancy. On August 14, 1851, John Henry (Doc) Holliday was born.
He hailed from middle-class stock. His father made his living as a druggist in Griffin, a booming Georgia city that had become a central point for the South's most important export: cotton. Holliday was adored by his parents, particularly his mother. Born with a cleft palate, Holliday had undergone corrective surgery, but his speech needed considerable work. Ever mindful of her son's condition and what others might say of his birth condition or the way he talked, she spent hours working with him to correct his speech. In addition, she imparted to her son the Southern etiquette and manners that would forever reflect his demeanor.
By all accounts, Holliday was a bright student who excelled at school. His devotion to his books accelerated in 1866 when his mother died of tuberculosis. Her death devastated Holliday, and he poured himself into math and science as a way to cope with her loss. In 1870, Holliday moved to Philadelphia to attend what is now called the University of Pennsylvania Dental School, where he graduated in 1872.
New life out West
For a time, Holliday returned to the South to begin his dental career. But at the age of 23, he fled to Dallas, Texas. The reason for this abrupt move isn't entirely clear, but historical research strongly suggests that Holliday, who'd contracted tuberculosis, thought he'd fare better in the drier air.
Holliday continued with his dental career in his new home, but the Dallas nightlife, especially its drinking and card games, called to him. Soon, his gambling habits directed his life. By the mid-1870s, he'd already developed a strong reputation for card playing and fighting.
After escaping a charge of murder in Dallas, Holliday went on the move. He relocated to a number of different cities before settling down in Dodge City, Kansas, a hot spot for gunfighters and the city where he befriended Wyatt Earp. He later followed Earp to Tombstone, Arizona, a booming mining and frontier town near the Mexican border.
Wyatt Earp and the O.K. Corral
It was in Tombstone that the Holliday legend that would be passed down from one generation to the next was made. On October 26, 1881, Holliday and the Earps found themselves in an intense firefight with cowboys Ike and Billy Clanton, and Frank McLaury and his brother Tom. More than 30 shots were fired in a 30-second battle that came to be known as the shootout at the O.K. Corral. It's arguably the most legendary gunfight ever fought in the American West.
The battle left three men dead and several others wounded, including Holliday. Both Holliday and Earp were arrested for murder but quickly released of the charges. Following the fight, Morgan Earp was killed, setting his brother Wyatt off on the Earp Vendetta Ride. Holliday accompanied his friend on the ride, which went well into 1882 and saw an assortment of killings.
Final Years and Death
After splitting from Earp, Holliday moved to Glenwood Springs, Colorado. His health continued to deteriorate, and he died of tuberculosis at the Hotel Glenwood on November 8, 1887. His death reverberated around the country. Despite his lawless ways and his quick temper, Holliday's character was augmented by the same Southern etiquette his mother had taught as a child.
"Few men have been better known to a certain class of sporting people, and few men of his character had more friends or stronger companions," wrote the Denver Republican after his passing. "He represented a class of men who are disappearing in the new West. He had the reputation of being a bunco man, desperado, and bad-man generally, yet he was a very mild-mannered man, was genial and companiable, and had many excellent qualities."
Doc Holliday is one of the main characters in the 1993 western film, Tombstone. He was played by Val Kilmer. Southern gambler and skilled gunslinger seeking relief from his sickness, Tuberculosis, and becomes enemies with Johnny Ringo. He helps Wyatt and the other heroes fight the the Cowboys, which Johnny Ringo is apart of. Holliday and the other first battle the Cowboys at the O. K. Corral and kill several of them. They pursue the rest of the Cowboys and kill them including their leader, Curly Bill Brocius, who meets his demise at the hands of Wyatt Earp.
Then when Johnny Ringo becomes the leader and sends Earp a message to meet him for a showdown to stop the hostilities. Holliday arrives at the showdown before Earp does and kills Ringo. They hunt the remaining Cowboys down and kill them except for Clanton, who tears off his red sash. Afterward, Holliday stays at a sanatorium in Colorado and dies from his illness.