John Henry Holiday (Doc) was a gambler and a gunman most famous for his fight at the OK Corral where he helped his buddy Wyatt Earp beat some bad guys that were in a gang called “The Cowboys” (not real original). Countless books have been written about him and of course he is featured in many movies so I thought I’d do some research and give you a short breakdown of his life.
Doc Holiday was in fact a doctor as he got his degree at the age of 20, in dentistry from the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery. Before going to dental school he also went to college to study ancient Greek, French, Latin, and mathematics. They didn’t measure genius back then but let’s say he was always the smartest man in the room. He opened a dental practice in Atlanta, Georgia but left at the age of 23 after being diagnosed with consumption/tuberculosis (his mom died from it when he was 15). He was told the air was better for peoples’ lungs out west so he took off and moved from town to town as he made his way towards the west coast.
He still helped people from time to time with dentistry even set up a couple of dental practices along his travels but he made a better living off gambling. Part of the problem was that Doc coughed a lot and that wasn’t something patients wanted from their dentist. The reason he became so famous with his gun is due to the short life span of men in the gambling business. He studied it, practiced it, and could even do some tricks with his guns that mesmerized people. His deadly gun fighting skills paved the way for gambling to be his way of making a good living.
He loved moving to boom towns where single men would take their earnings and spend most of it on drinking, gambling, and women. He figured he might as well tap in to one of these three vices. Once people became too afraid of his gambling and gun fighting skills he moved to the next boom town. Unfortunately though his reputation preceded him and there were always up and coming gun fighters hoping to enhance their reputation. It never worked because Doc Holliday never lost. He wasn’t usually the one starting the fight but he sure knew how to end them. He was also not trigger happy as he was so fast with his gun that he was pointing his as the other man was still pulling his weapon out. He’d let these men live but the point was certainly made on the man and everyone around them.
Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp were friends because they were a lot alike in many ways except that Wyatt was more laid back. Wyatt also was a sheriff on many occasions while Doc Holliday was usually on the other side of the law.
There was a time when both men were in a saloon and Sheriff Wyatt Earp was trying to get some rowdy cowboys out of there when they pulled their guns on him. Wyatt would’ve gotten killed had it not been for Doc Holliday who quickly gunned the men down. Needless to say Sheriff Earp didn’t arrest him.
There is speculation that Doc Holliday shot and killed the famous outlaw and gun slinger Johnny Ringo in a scheduled gunfight just between the two of them. The rumor is that Ringo was going to kill Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday wanted to get him first. Doc didn’t think Wyatt could beat Ringo so he was trying to protect his best friend. It was said that Doc was very sick from T.B. when he took Ringo on.
As Doc Holliday became more ill he became more reckless; some people thought he was trying to get himself killed to put himself out of misery. Doc was arrested 17 times including for assault and murder but he was always acquitted. One time he got into a fistfight in a bar and almost killed a man. He wasn’t arrested but the guy he beat up snuck up on him later and fired a shot that almost killed him. The papers reported that he was dead but they were wrong.
Doc Holliday never married but he had a long time companion. He died at the age of 36 in a hospital and there have been a variety of stories that came out of it. The nurse said that the last thing he said and did was look down at his feet and said: “Damn, that’s funny.” She thought it was peculiar until someone told her that his friends always kidded him that he’d never die with his boots off meaning he’d die in a gunfight not lying in bed.
I’ll wrap up with Wyatt Earp’s description of his friend. He said that Doc was a witty philosopher who became the best gambler and fastest gun slinger he’d ever seen. He said he was the bravest, most deadly man with a six-shooter the west had ever known. He was also the best friend he’d ever known.