Doc Holliday The Deadly Dentist



I have revised an older post on this due to some factual errors according to my cousin who is very meticulous when it comes to the history of John Henry “Doc” Holliday.

John Henry “Doc” Holliday (August 14, 1851 – November 8, 1887) was born in Griffin, Georgia, my own place of birth. My own father is buried there. (Same graveyard as Doc) He was a dentist having graduated from the Pennsylvania College of dental surgery in 1872 at the age of 20. This was 5 months too early to practice dentistry in Georgia as being 21 years of age was a requirement. Holliday was a student of rhetoric, history, mathematics, grammar and languages which included ancient Greek, French and Latin. He was also an expert pianist. His cousin by marriage incidentally was Margaret Mitchell who wrote the classic : “Gone With The Wind”

Cousin Margaret.

Margaret Mitchell

Young John Henry Holliday returned to Griffin where his uncle gave him a model 1851 Colt revolver just like the one he had given to his other three sons.

There have been many books and movies which mention Doc Holliday. I was always interested in the shoot out at the O.K. corral, especially after watching the movie “Tombstone” starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer.

He was born to Henry Burroughs Holliday and Alice Jane Holliday (McKey) and baptized in the First Presbyterian Church. Doc Holiday suffered from the disease called tuberculosis and decided the climate out west would be much better for his lungs. He may have contracted the disease from his mother who died of it when he was 15 years of age.

Bat Masterson reputedly said of him, had a mean disposition and an ungovernable temper, and under the influence of liquor was a very dangerous man. Masterson did say his wit and loyalty were admirable.  A fellow Georgian described Doc as “a warm friend who would fight as quick for one as he would himself.” Wyatt Earp called him the quickest man with a six shooter he ever knew. A newspaper correspondent described him as “Here is a man who, once a friend is always a friend, once an enemy, is always an enemy.” The record shows a certain sense of humor, but he is at present a man without a voice, “The Deadly Dentist”,  if you will.

“Masterson noted that Doc was unable to keep himself out of trouble. He would no sooner be out of one scrape before he was in another, and the strange part of it is he was more often in the right than in the wrong, which has rarely ever been the case with a man who is continually getting himself into trouble.”

Sheriff Paul of Tucson described Doc Holliday thusly: He was always decently peaceable, though his powers when engaged in his ostensible calling, furthering the ends of justice, made him a terror to the criminal classes of Arizona.” This was a direct contrast to some newspaper articles of the day which tried to label him as a cold blooded killer.

“He feared not man or devil, and acted with such insane disregard for danger that is was generally believed he really courted death.”

This was a time when Cherokee land was being taken, the trail of tears, and Chief Osceola, who chose to fight rather than leave. Henry Burroughs Holliday entered the Mexican American war. He fought at Monterrey and Veracruz. He brought home a Mexican boy named Francisco Hidalgo orphaned in the war and took him into his home.

After beginning dental practice, Doc Holliday was given a few months to live, however he managed to live until the ripe old age of 36 where he died in Glendale, Colorado. Upon his arrival in Dallas, Texas it became difficult to keep patients due to his constant cough but he soon realized there was more money to be made gambling than fixing teeth. Not soon afterwards however he was arrested for illegal gambling and moved on to Denison, Texas where once again he was charged and fined for gambling. By 1975 he had arrived in Denver where he became a faro dealer under the name of Tom Mackey.

Doc had left Las Vegas after shooting a man named Gordon who had fired into the saloon. A local dance girl had refused to leave with Gordon.

After sometime in various Texas towns Doc Holliday met Wyatt Earp in Fort Griffin, Texas while he was passing through on his way to Dodge City. The two became fast friends after Doc Holliday defended him after an altercation in a saloon where a group of cowboys meant to kill Earp. They were both there for purposes of gambling. The legend goes that Kate Elder burned the hotel down where Doc was being held for killing a prominent citizen in a gun fight before they hung him. When the locals noticed the hotel was on fire, Kate Elder got the drop on the deputy guarding Doc Holliday and they escaped. She left for Tombstone with the “deadly dentist”.

Doc Holliday arrived in Tombstone to join the Earps where allegedly they had sent for him due to trouble with what is known as the cowboys, a group numbering probably up to 300, who rustled cattle and held up stages on both sides of the Mexican border. The Earps had become marshals in Tombstone and Doc Holliday managed to become embroiled in the the ensuing chaos which led to what is known as the shoot out at the O.K. Corral.


Before the shootout Doc did ask if he were going to be left out. Wyatt Earp explained that he did not need to get involved and Holliday did say “that is a hell of thing to say to me. It is going to be a tough one, tough ones are the kind I like.” He was then given a shotgun and walked down the street in a dapper grey suit, whistling and nodding to onlookers.

A wounded Frank McLaury regained his feet and lifting his pistol  said to Doc, “I’ve got you now.”  Doc said calmly, ” blaze away, you’re a daisy if you do.” McLaury’s bullet tore Doc Holliday’s coat and grazed his hip after Doc shot him in the chest and Morgan shot him in the head. The body was still moving when Doc Holiday ran towards him exclaiming “the son of bitch has shot me and I mean to kill him.”

Then there was Johnny Ringo a well educated heavy drinker who once shot a man in the neck for refusing to drink with him. The story goes the cowboys would go out robbing and murdering and then come back into town exclaiming they saw indians in the area. This would work up the towns people who would exclaim it was time all the indians needed to be exterminated. This seems to be an old story.

It is reportedly true that Johnny Ringo challenged Wyatt Earp in the street in 1882 and Doc Holliday intervened stating, “I’m your huckleberry, that is my game.” Some say chief of police James Flynn grabbed Ringo by the arm and Wyatt Earp led Doc away. George Parsons recalled that he heard Holliday shout out to Ringo, “all I want out of you is ten paces out in the street.” Johnny Ringo and Doc Holiday were fined $32.00 each for having guns.

The cowboys or red sash gang where said to be some of the first stirrings of organized crime. They were generally thought to be led by Curly Bill Brocius,  Ike and Billy Clanton as well as legendary killer Johnny Ringo who was a cousin of the Younger gang from Missouri. He was jailed for murder a couple of times during what is called the Mason County War. The ex-deputy sheriff John Worley was shot, scalped and thrown down a well. Johnny Ringo was also a constable in Loyal Valley, Texas before showing up in Arizona.

Nobody really knows who killed Johnny Ringo as he was found near Chiricahua Peak with a bullet in his forehead and his gun hanging on his finger with one bullet fired. His feet were wrapped in pieces of his undershirt. Doc Holliday was said to be in court in Colorado fighting a case with his attorney and could not be responsible however relative Karen Holliday Tanner says Doc Holliday may not have been in Pueblo that day as a writ of Habeas Corpus had been issued for him. “In propia persona” which is standard legal filler text that does not mean a person is physically present. Possibly someone went to the trouble to make sure Ringo did not die with his boots on.

Morgan Earp had been shot in the back while playing pool, the rest of the Earps left Tombstone except Wyatt and Doc Holliday who stayed with him. Sheriff Behan deputized Johnny Ringo and 19 other cowboys to hunt down Wyatt Earp for the murder of Frank Stillwell in the Tucson rail yards. Perhaps we will never know what really happened. After the death of Morgan, Wyatt Earp became a U.S. marshall, Wyatt Earp remembered what judge Stilwell had told him, “leave your prisoners out in the brush where alibis don’t count.” It was something a man reared in the Antebellum Southern code of honor like Doc Holliday could appreciate.” He considered the law impotent anyway.

Frank Stilwell did not have his face scratched by Wyatt Earp as the movie (Tombstone) indicated. He reached for the shotgun and George Hand who saw the body called him “the worst shot up man I ever saw.” He took two buckshot loads, a rifle slug in the arm pit, bullets in the left arm and right thigh and his arm was burned as he reached for the shotgun.

The Earps and a desperado named Doc Holliday are running things  with a high hand at Tombstone, Arizona. .. Albuquerque Morning Journal, January 31, 1882

If it hadn’t have been for me and a few like me, there would never have been any government in some of these towns. -Doc Holliday, New York Sun 1886

There are many exaggerations  found on the internet. I will defer to Wild Bill on this as he has researched it for 36 years at least. Estimates of how many people Doc Holiday shot range anywhere from 16 to 50. Cousin Bill once offered a reward of $10,000 dollars for anyone who could prove Doc Holliday killed anybody other than those at the O.K. corral.

Virgil Earp later became a sheriff in California even though he had lost an arm after being ambushed by the Clantons. Wyatt Earp also traveled to California, when he died, legendary cowboy Tom Mix is said to have wept.  Doc Holliday ended up in Glenwood Springs, Colorado although there was no sanatorium at the time. It is really true that just before dying he asked the nurse for a drink of whiskey, looked at his feet and laughingly said “Damn this is funny!” He died without his boots on. Some stories indicate the nurse gave him the whiskey and some say she did not. It seems apparent that Doc had always embraced death due to his lung problems and was absolutely not afraid to die.

For the record Doc Holliday did tell Wyatt Earp, “There is no such thing as a normal life, Wyatt, there is just life, now get on with it.”

We are told Doc Holliday was buried in Glenwood Springs and it is probably not true, Doc Holliday’s cousin, Bill Dunn of Griffin, Georgia, (also my cousin) indicates he is convinced that a relative traveled to Colorado and took the body back to Griffin, Georgia, and Doc Holliday is now buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.

Bill Dunn is the curator of the Doc Holliday Museum in Griffin, Georgia.

Believed To Be Doc Sign

“Bill Dunn now believes without a doubt that he has found the unmarked graves of both in Griffin’s Oak Hill Cemetery.

The two unmarked graves that Bill Dunn found are located in the Thomas plot. The families were very close and the Thomas family may have agreed to an anonymous burial of Doc in their family plot to avoid vandalism of his grave. “I believe they buried Doc in Oak Hill when he was brought back from Glenwood Springs and Major Holliday buried there when he died,” Dunn said. “Why would a plot containing expensive marble markers of the Thomas family contain two concrete slab graves with no marking? Could it be they wanted them to remain anonymous?”

Osgood Miller, an employee of Clark Monument Company for forty-six years, supports
Dunn’s claim. He remembers the late Charlie McElroy, who was the cemetery superintendent during the 1930s, telling him that Doc Holliday was buried in Oak Hill. Charlie had pointed in the direction of the Thomas plot. Several years later the late Griffin historian Laura Clark pointed out the same area as Doc’s final resting place.”


Wild Bill Dunn

Bill Dunn, cousin of Doc, Griffin, Georgia’s most famous son. A former television personality and one who interviewed Morgan Freeman when parts of “Driving Miss Daisy” were partially filmed there. He also interviewed Jock Mahoney a fairly well known television personality and western star and also Tarzan movies. Sunset Carson and others also made the interview list. I suppose it was felt an interview with Doc’s cousin couldn’t hurt a wild west career.

Bill spent a couple of weeks in Tombstone with the proprietor of the Doc Holliday museum there. He said he must have walked down the street 150 times with people who wanted their picture taken with the cousin of Griffin, Georgia’s most famous son.

The deadly dentist! I use the term Aristocracy’s outlaw, however Doc Holliday was no outlaw, in fact he was deputized for most of the shootings. The term outlaw can be attributed more to Hollywood than reality. After the shooting at the O.K. Coral, he returned to his room and exclaimed, “this is awful, just awful.”

That will be me beside Doc’s grave. We understand that Hollywood portrays the south as genocide under the hot sun. Let it be said that there were 6 black workers on the Holliday plantation of some 18,000 acres. Cousin Bill sometime back, removed the old grave stones and replaced them with up to date grave stones that are top of the line.

It is ironic that I found myself in the U.S. Border Patrol In Yuma, Arizona, Doc’s favorite state apparently. At a barbeque with some beer drinking, someone said, “we must be crazy to be here.” I said we are all a little crazy or we would not be here chasing aliens in the Yuma desert on the midnight shift.”

Doc's Grave

That will be me at Doc’s grave

Some of the reported exchange between Doc and Johnny Ringo in the saloon scene is reportedly as follows:

Doc Holliday: In vino veritas.
[“In wine is truth” meaning: “When I’m drinking, I speak my mind”]

Johnny Ringo: Age quod agis.
[“Do what you do” meaning: “Do what you do best”]

Doc Holliday: Credat Judaeus apella, non ego.
[“The Jew Apella may believe it, not I” meaning: “I don’t believe drinking is what I do best.”]

Johnny Ringo: [pats his gun] Eventus stultorum magister.
[“Events are the teachers of fools” meaning: “Fools have to learn by experience”]

Doc Holliday: [gives a Cheshire cat smile] In pace requiescat.
[“Rest in peace” meaning: “It’s your funeral!”]

Several chapters of Doc Holiday, The Life and Legend by Gary L. Roberts are available through google reads. I have the book and it is absolutely the best biography out there in my opinion although there are many.

I will say this about my cousin Bill Dunn whom I am very fond of. He is a chip off the old block. He was a running back in high school and the general consensus of opinion was he could have played at most any University in the south until his shoulder was crushed and he had to have a pin inserted.

He traveled to Gainesville, Florida at the ripe old age of 15 and lost on a decision to the eventual Florida golden gloves champion. According to Bill his trainer kept telling him you are winning this thing, keep your head in there. Bill responded, are you watching the same fight I am watching? This guy is hurting me!

He trained under Harold Moore of Griffin, Georgia, (once a ranked fighter), a man who went 15 rounds with Joe Louis and lost on a decision. Joe Louis remarked this guy is the hardest puncher I have ever been in the ring with.

In fact many years ago, he shot himself in the leg with a 22 magnum pistol on a 45 frame practicing fast draw. Luckily it was not a 45!

Wild Bill was once at a gathering in place called Bear Lake in Georgia. I small friend came up to him and said Bill this guy won’t leave me alone. My cousin went over and put his arm around the guy and said why don’t you give it a rest. He was promptly stabbed in the stomach. They all said don’t take him to Atlanta, he will die in the parking lot. He was in the hospital for weeks. He told the doctor thanks for saving my life. The doctor said son I didn’t save your life, God did. You had no pulse when you arrived and it took shock to get your heart beating again. He came out of the hospital weighing about 115 pounds.

He asked me recently if I remembered when he came into contact with a bottle very large bottle of beer at my dad’s store in Georgia. I think it was cold 45 or falstaff. We went outside and drank it. He was 15 and I was 11. I remember it but the details are a bit hazy!

Wild Bill has made it known that he wishes the inscription on his cremation urn to read, “It Was A Wild Ride!”

Doc’s favorite poem as quoted in Tombstone the movie after Morgan Earp had been shot in the back by Curly Bill and his gang.

Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Kubla Khan

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round :
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree ;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh ! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover !
A savage place ! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover !
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced :
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail :
And ‘mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean :
And ‘mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war !
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves ;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice !

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw :
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ‘twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome ! those caves of ice !
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware ! Beware !
His flashing eyes, his floating hair !
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Quoted in Tombstone

Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
In a related post concerning Doc Holliday’s favorite poem

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One Response to Doc Holliday The Deadly Dentist

  1. Dublinsmick says:

    And the latest from foghornleghorn. I don’t know what kind of cheap software program they are running if they don’t even know where I am from. I assume this is a reference to this post.

    “And all this time I thought you were from Dublin. Why do you go out of your way to give everyone the impression you’re from Dublin if you’re really from Griffin, Georgia? Most Irish are of Catholic descent. If you’re of “Presbyterian” descent then your family heritage is Scot Irish, then you and your family never had anything to do with Dublin, but everything to do with Protestant Northern Ireland.

    You’re a hoot Dubby. You missed your true calling, You should be in Hollywood writing movie scripts for the Hollywood producers and directors.”


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