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John Henry ‘Doc’ Holliday Biography

Doc Holliday, John Henry, Valdosta, Wyatt Earp

John Henry Holliday, or more commonly Doc Holliday, was a famous western gunslinger and friend of Wyatt Earp. He was a bit of an outcast among the men of the wild west. He was a dentist, fluent in Latin and French, he could play the piano really well and dressed well too. However, he was also quick on the draw, a great gambler and notoriously brave, although the bravery may have stemmed from the fact that he was dying of tuberculosis. No matter the cause of his bravado, he will always be remembered for it and his odd personality.

John Henry Holliday was born in late 1851 or early 1852, in Griffin, Georgia; sources conflict as to the exact date of his birth. He was the son of Major Henry Burroughs Holliday and Alice Jane McKey. When John Henry was around five years old, the Holliday’s moved to Valdosta, Georgia. He attended grade school in Valdosta, where he learned some Greek, Latin and French. His mother taught him to play the piano when he was a young boy. She died of tuberculosis when John Henry was only 12 years old. Some historians believe that Doc contracted his tuberculosis from Alice.

John Henry Holliday attended the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery and graduated in 1872. This is how he earned his nickname. He supposedly loved being a dentist, but had hard time finding work with his cough. That is one of the suspected reasons that he moved out west as well, which he did soon after graduation.

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In 1875, Doc Holliday had his first run in with the law in the west. He was involved in a shootout with a local barkeep in Dallas, Texas. Neither of the men were hurt, but they were both arrested. It was around this time that Doc began developing a bit of a reputation for himself. He was involved in many gunfights in his lifetime and it was also remarked that he acted like he didn’t care if he lived or died. He also developed a reputation as a capable gambler. In 1877 Holliday went to Dodge City, Kansas, where he met up with his friend, Wyatt Earp.

Doc Holliday left Dodge City with Earp in 1879. They moved to Tombstone, Arizona where Earp became a deputy sheriff. During his time in Tombstone Doc was involved in the legendary shootout at the OK corral. The shootout occurred on October 26, 1881; soon after Doc moved to Colorado.

John Henry “Doc” Holliday spent the last years of his life in Colorado. By 1887, his health had declined so much that he had to check himself into a tuberculosis hospital there. On November 8 of that year, Doc died of the disease, at the age of 34 or 35. Some believe that he may have died because he drank so much, but it is unlikely that he drank enough to kill him by that age. It is more likely that his drinking combined with the tuberculosis did him in. It is rumored that the moment before he died, he looked down and his bare feet and said “this is funny.” He had always thought that he would die in a gunfight with his boots on.

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John Henry Holliday Family History, kansasheritage.org/families/holliday.html