On August 14, 1851 in Griffin, Georgia, John Henry Holliday was born to Henry Burroughs and Alice Jane Holliday. Their first child, Martha Eleanora, had died on June 12, 1850 at six months of age. When he married Alice Jane McKay on January 8, 1849, Henry Burroughs was a druggist by trade and, later became a wealthy planter, lawyer, and during the War between the States, a Confederate Major. Church records state: "John Henry, infant son of Henry B. and Alice J. Holliday, received the ordinance of baptism on Sunday, March 21, 1852, at the First Presbyterian Church in Griffin." Alice Jane died on September 16, 1866. This was a terrible blow to young John Henry for he and his mother were very close. To compound this loss, his father married Rachel Martin only three months later on December 18, 1886. Shortly after this marriage, the Holliday family moved to Valdosta, Georgia. Major Holliday quickly became one of the town's leading citizens, becoming Mayor, the Secretary of the County Agricultural Society, a Member of the Masonic Lodge, the Secretary of the Confederate Veterans Camp, and the Superintendent of local elections.
Because of his family status, John Henry had to choose some sort of profession and he chose dentistry. He enrolled in dental school in 1870 and attended his first lecture session in 1870-1872. Each lecture session lasted a little over three months. He served his required two years apprenticeship under Dr. L.F. Frank. On March 1, 1872, the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery in Philadelphia conferred the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery upon twenty-six men, one of whom was John Henry Holliday. Upon completion of his training and graduation, Dr. Holliday opened an office with a Dr. Arthur C. Ford in Atlanta in 1872. Then, because of the session of the Southern Dental Association, Dr. Arthur C. Ford, D.D.A. was unable to serve patients, until the middle of August. Taking his place was Doc Holliday.
John was a good dentist, but shortly after starting his practice, he discovered that he had contracted tuberculosis. Although he consulted a number of doctors, the consensus of all was that he had only months to live. However, they all concurred that he might add a few months to his life if he moved to a dry climate. Following this advice, Doc packed up and headed West. His first stop was in Dallas, Texas, the end of the railroad at the time. The date was October 1873, and Doc soon found a suitable position as an associate of Dr. John A. Seegar. He hung out his shingle and prepared for business, but his terrible illness was not through with him. Coughing spells wracked his thin frame and often occurred at the most embarrassing times, such as in the midst of filling a tooth or making an extraction. As a result, his dental business gradually declined. John soon had to find other means of earning a livelihood.
It became apparent that he possessed a natural ability for gambling and this quickly became his sole means of support. In those days, a gambler in the west had to be able to protect himself, for he stood alone. Holliday was well aware of this and faithfully practiced with six-gun and knife. His next stop was Jacksboro over in Jack's County, where he found a job dealing Faro. Jackson was a tough town situated near an army post. Not to be outdone, Doc now carried a gun in a shoulder holster, one on his hip and a long, wicked knife as well. Reports confirm the fact that he was becoming an expert with these weapons as he was involved in three gunfights in a very short span of time. One of these left another dead man to Doc's credit. Since this was a pretty wild section of the West at that time, no law action was taken against him. During the summer of 1876, Holliday again became a participant in a gunfight. On this occasion, he was careless enough to kill a soldier from Fort Richardson.
Since the US Marshals, Texas Rangers, and local lawmen were on Doc's tail, he drifted on to Wyoming, then to New Mexico and from there to Fort Griffin, Texas. It was there that Doc met the only woman who was ever to come into his life. She was known as "Big Nose" Kate, a frontier dance hall woman and prostitute. It was quite true that Kate's nose was large, but her other features were quite attractive. Tough, stubborn, fearless, and high tempered; she worked at the business of being a Madam and a prostitute because she liked it! Doc met her while he was dealing cards in John Shanssey's saloon. It was also at Shanssey's that he met Wyatt Earp. While Doc was helping Wyatt gain the information he needed, they became fast friends. Holliday had already gained the reputation of being a cold-blooded killer. He was simply a hot-tempered Southerner who stood aside for no man.
A bullyboy of Fort Griffin sat down in a poker game with Holliday. His name was Ed Bailey and he had grown accustomed to having his way with no one questioning his actions. In an obvious attempt to irritate Doc, Bailey kept picking up the discards and looking through them. This was strictly against the rules of Western poker. Holliday warned Bailey twice, but the he ignored his protests. The very next hand Bailey picked up the discards again. Without saying a word Doc, with one slash, completely disemboweled him. Spilling blood everywhere, Bailey sprawled across the table.
As he felt that he was obviously only protecting himself and in the right, Doc stuck around town and allowed the Marshal to arrest him. "Big Nose" Kate knew that Doc was finished unless someone did something and quickly. Kate went into action by setting fire to an old shed. It burned so rapidly that the flames threatened to engulf the town. Everyone went to fight the fire with the exception of three people: Kate, Doc, and the Officer who guarded him. As soon as the lawman and his prisoner were left alone, she stepped in and confronted them. A pistol in each hand, she disarmed the guard, then passed a pistol to Doc and the two of them vanished into the night.
All that night they hid in the brush, carefully avoiding parties of searchers. The next morning they headed for Dodge City, four hundred miles away, on "borrowed" horses. The couple registered at Deacon Cox's Boarding House in Dodge City as Dr. and Mrs. J.H. Holliday. Kate gave up being a prostitute and inhabiting the saloons. Doc gave up gambling and hung out his shingle again. All of Doc's good intentions were totally unappreciated and did not endure for long. Kate stood the quiet and boredom of respectable living as long as she could. Then she told Doc that she was going back to the bright lights and excitement of the dance halls and gambling dens. Consequently, the two split up, as they were destined to do many times during the remainder of Doc's life.
There was nothing to hold him in Dodge City with Wyatt gone, so Doc headed West, bound for Tombstone. Without Doc knowing it, he would soon get to know more of the Earp family, for all of the Earp brothers were bound for Tombstone. Morgan was coming in from Montana, Wyatt and James from Dodge City and Virgil from Prescott, where Marshal Crawley Dake had just made him a Deputy U.S. Marshal. Virgil left Prescott for Tombstone without Holliday, who was having a fantastic run of luck at the poker tables.
"Big Nose" Kate, also en route to the new boom town of Tombstone, caught up with Doc in Prescott while he was still winning at poker. The two of them reached Tombstone in the early summer of 1880 and Doc, with $40,000 of the Prescott gambler's money in his pockets, found Kate very happy to be in his company. In Tombstone, Doc found Kate's living quarters sandwiched between a funeral parlor and the Soma Winery on the North side of Allen Street, at Sixth Street. Kate was quick to realize opportunity and, soon after her arrival in Tombstone, went into business and was soon making a sizable income.
The outlaw gang in Tombstone had things their way for quite some time and they resented the arrival of the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday. "Old man" Clanton, his sons, Ike, Phin, and Billy, and the McLaury brothers lost no time expressing their negative feelings for Doc and his gang. Doc had become quite famous as a gunman by the time he had reached Tombstone. Several men had died in encounters with him. At any rate, Holliday was a welcome addition to the Earp's fight with the Cowboy faction.
Doc and Kate's arguments were frequent, but not really serious until Kate got drunk and abusive. Doc, at this point, decided that enough was enough and threw her out. Sheriff Behan and Deputy Stilwell found Kate on one of her drunken binges, still berating Doc for throwing her out. They sympathized with her and fed her more whiskey, and then persuaded her to sign an affidavit that Doc had been one of the masked highwaymen and had actually pulled the trigger on the shot that killed Bud Philpot.
While Kate was sobering up, the Earps began to round up witnesses who could verify Doc's whereabouts on the night in question. When Kate realized what she had done, she regretted her actions and repudiated her statement. Doc gave Kate some money and put her on a stagecoach-leaving town after he was released. As far as he was concerned, his debt to her was paid in full. Most likely that is why the "Cowboys" were in a vacant lot next door near the O.K. Corral. They may have been waiting for Doc to come back to the room they shared where they would have an opportunity to kill him.
Kate was apparently in Colorado from 1882 to the early part of 1888, although there is no information that she was living with Doc any of those years. She married a blacksmith, named George M. Cummings in 1888 and with her new husband moved to Bisbee, Arizona, only a few miles from Tombstone. They also lived for a time in Pearce, Arizona. In 1889, Kate left her husband and moved to the tiny railroad town of Cochise. (Cummings committed suicide in Courtland, Arizona on July 7, 1915. The coroner's jury report said that he killed himself because he had an incurable cancer of the head.) Cochise had been born in 1886 as a railroad station and post office at the junction of the Arizona Eastern and Southern Pacific railroads. John J. Rath hired Kate to work in his Cochise Hotel in 1899, although the customers never knew her true identity. She left the Cochise Hotel in the summer of 1900, and moved in with a man named Howard, from the mining town of Dos Cabezas. She lived with him until 1930, and when he died she inherited some property. In 1931, she wrote to the Governor of Arizona, George W.P. Hunt, and requesting admission to the "Arizona Pioneers Home". Being foreign born, she was not eligible but she claimed that she had been born in Davenport, Iowa. So Hunt gave her permission for admission to the home and she stayed there until her death in late 1940.
After Joseph Issac Clanton, Robert Findley McLaury, and Thomas Clark McLaury had threatened to kill Wyatt, Morgan, Virgil, and Doc if they didn't get out of Tombstone. The whole town watched to see the outcome. They knew that the Earps and Doc would not run. On October 26, 1881, Virgil received word that the Cowboys were gathering at the O.K. Corral, and that they were armed, which was against City law. Doc met the Earps on Fourth Street on their way to the O.K. Corral and demanded that he be allowed to join them in their little walk. Five men, potential killers, lay in wait. When Wyatt Earp and Billy Clanton opened the battle, Doc shot Billy in the chest then cut Tom McLaury down with a double charge of buckshot. The life was blasted from McLaury before he struck the ground. Although, Wyatt allowed Ike Clanton to run from the fight scene, Holliday was not so generous. He threw two shots at Ike as he fled, missing him narrowly. A bullet from Frank McLaury cut into Doc's pistol holster and burned a crease across his hip. Doc's return shot smashed into McLaury's brain. Less than thirty seconds after the opening shot, three men lay dead and three were wounded. Doc had shot each of the dead cowboys at least once. Virgil had been shot in the leg and Morgan through both shoulders. Only Wyatt Earp has survived the fight untouched.
The Earp party encountered Frank Stilwell and Ike Clanton at the Tucson Station. Wyatt chased Stilwell down the track and filled him full of holes. The date was March 20, 1882. A Tucson Coroner's Jury named Wyatt and Warren Earp, Doc Holliday, "Texas Jack", and McMasters as the men who had killed Stillwell. A Tucson judge issued warrants for their arrests. As far as Wyatt Earp was concerned, the man who shot Virgil and killed Morgan were dead men, only living until he found them. The killing of Stilwell was just the beginning of his bloody trail of vengeance, and Doc Holliday rode beside him all the way. The "federal posse" rode there and found: not Pete Spencer, but Florentino Cruz. Frightened, he named the men who had murdered Morgan himself included. The Earp posse shot him to pieces. The date was March 22, 1882. The Earp posse was riding along a deep wash near Iron Springs when they encountered Curly Bill Brocius and eight of his men. In the fight that followed, Curly Bill was killed and Johnny Barnes received a wound that eventually killed him. The date was March 24, 1882.
Perry Mallan remarked in the paper that he was standing along side when Curly Bill Brocius was killed. Doc related his thoughts as to that: "...eight rustlers rose up from behind the bank and poured from thirty-five to forty shots at us. Our escape was miraculous. The shots cut our clothes and saddles and killed one horse, but did not hit us. I think we would have been killed if God Almighty wasn't on our side. Wyatt Earp turned loose with a shotgun and killed Curly Bill. The eight men in the gang which attacked us were all outlaws, for each of whom a big reward has been offered...If Mallan was along side Curly Bill when he was killed, he was with one of the worst gangs of murderers and robbers in the country."
Doc left Denver and went to Pueblo and from there to Leadville. It was there that he ran into two old enemies from Tombstone, Billy Allen and Johnny Tyler. Friends advised Doc that Allen had threatened him and was looking for him with a pistol. Around 5 PM on August 19, 1884, Doc strolled into Hyman's Saloon, and placed himself at the end of the bar near the cigar lighter. As Billy Allen crossed the threshold, Doc leveled his pistol and fired creasing Allen's head. Reaching over the tobacco counter, Doc shot him again through the left arm below the shoulder. Holliday would have shot him again, but bystanders disarmed him. Allen was much larger than Doc and had obviously threatened him publicly so Doc was acquitted of the shooting charges.
Doc Holliday claimed he almost lost his life a total of nine times. Four attempts were made to hang him and he was shot at in a gunfight or from ambush five times. In May 1887, Doc went to Glenwood Springs to try the sulfur vapors, as his health was steadily growing worse, but he was too far-gone. He spent his last fifty-seven days in bed and was delirious fourteen of them. On November 8, 1887, he awoke clear-eyed and asked for a glass of Whiskey. It was given to him and he drank it down with enjoyment. Then he said, "This is funny", and died. Doc Holliday had come West years before, knowing his days were numbered. Long before his death he had maintained that he would not die in bed coughing his guts out. He always believed that he would be killed by a quicker, easier death than that planned for him by destiny. He often said that his end would come from lead poisoning, at the end of a rope, a knife in his ribs, or that he might drink himself to death. That's why he considered it funny when he died peacefully in bed. Doc was the best of the Western gamblers and he lost his biggest bet when he died of tuberculosis. The greater part of his years had been lived on borrowed time. His remains were buried in their final resting-place in the Glenwood Cemetery (Old Hill Cemetery), Colorado.