Doc Holiday is known as “history’s most fearsome dentist” and is perhaps the only man in American history idolized for doing something that took all of 30 seconds.
Born John Henry Holliday in Griffin, Georgia on August 14, 1851, the future gunslinger and gambler grew up to watch his mother and adopted brother die of tuberculosis. Doc graduated from dental school in 1872 to some classic good news / bad news.
He graduated younger than almost anyone in his class.
He contracted tuberculosis only a few months afterward.
Doc’s diagnosis gave him only a few months to live. Hoping to stretch this time to its max, Doc decided to move west with the hopes that the dryer climate would help slow his demise. He also started drinking heavily and taking opium like a mad man. He moved to Dallas where he practiced dentistry and won awards for his dental work at the Annual Fair of the North Texas Agricultural, Mechanical, and Blood Stock Association at the Dallas County Fair. Doc and his partner Dr. John A. Seegar won the coveted “Best Set of Teeth in Gold,” “Best in Vulcanized Rubber,” and “Best Set of Artificial Teeth and Dental Ware” awards. Despite these accolades, Doc’s practice began plummeting given the fact that he would often pull away from his patients’ mouths to damn near hack up a lung.
Tuberculosis was and still is a bitch to live with.
Deciding this was no way to run a practice, Doc turned to gambling.
And shooting at folks.
He was arrested for such in January 1875. He was found not guilty and fined, so he left Texas and moved to Denver. There, Doc took on the name of Tom Mackey and gambled like there was no tomorrow. Also during this time, Doc got seriously wounded in a knife fight with gambler Bud Ryan. Doc left Denver and basically gambled his way across the west. He gambled in Cheyenne, Deadwood, back in Denver, Kansas, and then to Breckenridge, Texas. In the latter, Doc got into a disagreement with fellow gambler Henry Kahn. Doc beat the man with his walking stick. The two were arrested and fined. Kahn later found Doc and shot and seriously wounded him. Doc was wounded so badly that the Dallas Weekly Herald inadvertently reported that he had been killed.
Doc recovered and moved to Fort Griffin, Texas where he hooked up with occasional prostitute Mary Katharine “Big Nose Kate” Horony. Doc and his new – and according to history only – love continued life on the road gambling and getting into trouble until they ended up in Tombstone, Arizona in 1880.
On October 26, 1881, Deputy U.S. Marshal and Tombstone’s City Police Chief, Virgil Earp heard that some roughens he had had some run-ins with prior were packing heat in violation of a city ordinance. As these cowboys were bad news and had threatened him, his brothers Wyatt and Morgan, and Doc before, Virgil decided to give them a visit. Virgil deputized his brothers and Doc and the four of them confronted the cowboys at the O.K. Corral. The resulting confrontation was a blaze of glory that took all of half a minute and saw Doc – maybe – kill Tom McLaury by blowing a hole in his abdomen with a load of buckshot then draw his pistol and shoot Tom’s brother Frank in the neck killing him. Doc also might have hit Billy Clanton.
Wanting revenge on those who killed his brother Billy, Ike Clanton and his gang killed Morgan Earp. This act unleashed a vengeance trail that produced so many bodies that historians are still arguing about how many thugs Wyatt and Doc sent to meet their maker. One of those that historians agree Doc had a hand in putting down was Frank Stilwell who was found dead at a rail station. Authorities found 20 bullets and a load of buckshot in his corpse.
In Doc’s defense, Wyatt later admitted to delivering the buckshot.
Wyatt and Doc killed so many folks on their vengeance ride that they became wanted by the law in Arizona. They left and eventually parted ways when Doc, according to New Mexico Territory Governor Miguel Otero, said something about Wyatt being a “damn Jew boy.”
As Doc’s physical condition continued to deuterate, his dependency on opium and booze increased. In 1887, he traveled to the Hotel Glenwood, near the hot springs of Glenwood Springs, Colorado hoping the sulphur-rich water might help ease his condition.
On his last day of life, Doc asked the nurse for a shot of whiskey.
She refused and he, for some reason, looked at his bare feet and realizing he was going to die with his boots off and in bed rather than being shot exclaimed, “This is funny.”
He was 36 years old.