OLD WEST LEGENDS
Doc Holliday as Told by Bat Masterson
By W.R. (Bat) Masterson in 1907
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Doc Holliday was one of the most deadly shootists
in the American West.
This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
While he never did anything to entitle him to a statue in the Hall of Fame,
was nevertheless a most picturesque character on the western border in those
days when the pistol instead of law courts determined issues.
was a product of the state of Georgia, and a scion of a most respectable and
prominent family. He graduated as a dentist from one of the medical colleges of
his native state before he left it, but did not follow his profession very long
after receiving his diploma. It was perhaps too respectable a calling for him.
had a mean disposition and an ungovernable temper, and under the influence of
liquor was a most dangerous man. In this respect he was very much like the big
Missourian who had put in the day at a cross-road groggery, and after getting
pretty well filled up with the bug juice of the Moonshine brand, concluded that
it was about time for him to say something that would make an impression on his
hearers; so he straightened up, threw out his chest and declared in a loud tone
of voice, that he was "a bad man when he was drinking, and managed to keep
pretty full all the time." So it was with
Couldn't Have Whipped a Boy
was a weakling who could not have whipped a healthy fifteen-year old boy in a
go-as-you-please fist fight, and no one knew this better than himself, and the
knowledge of this fact was perhaps why he was so ready to resort to a weapon of
some kind whenever he got himself into difficulty. He was hot-headed and
impetuous and very much given to both drinking and quarrelling, and, among men
who did not fear him, was very much disliked.
He possessed none of the qualities of
leadership such as those that distinguished such men as H. P. Myton,
Wyatt Earp, Billy Tilghman and other
famous western characters.
seemed to be absolutely unable to keep out of trouble for any great length of
time. 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
The indiscriminate killing of some
in the little Georgia village in which he lived was what first caused him to
leave his home. The trouble came about in rather an unexpected manner one Sunday
afternoon --unexpected so far at least as the negroes were concerned. Near the
little town in which
was raised, there flowed a small river in which the white boys of the village,
as well as the black ones, used to go in swimming together. The white boys
finally decided that the negroes would have to find a swimming place elsewhere and notified them to that effect. The
negro boys were informed that in the
future they would have to go further down the stream to do their swimming, which
they promptly refused to do and told the whites that if they didn't like
existing conditions, that they themselves would have to hunt up a new swimming
Shot a Crowd of Negroes
might have been expected in those days in the South, the defiant attitude taken
by the negroes in the matter caused the white boys to instantly go upon the war
path. They would have their order obeyed or know the reason why. One beautiful
Sunday afternoon, while an unusually large number of negroes were in swimming at
the point in dispute,
appeared on the river bank with a double-barreled shot-gun in his hands, and,
pointing it in the direction of the swimmers. ordered them from the river.
"Get out, and be quick about it," was his
peremptory command. The negroes, as a matter of course, stampeded for the
opposite shore, falling over each other in their efforts to get beyond the
range of the shot gun.
waited until he got a bunch of them together, and then turned loose with both
barrels, killing two outright, and wounding several others.
The shooting, as a matter of course, was
entirely unjustifiable, as the negroes were on the run when killed; but the
authorities evidently thought otherwise, for nothing was ever done about the
afterwards in speaking about the occurrence, justified the deed on the broad
grounds that the "n***ers" had to be disciplined, and he knew of no more
effective way of doing it than with a shot-gun. His family, however, thought it
would be best for him to go away for a while and allow the thing to die out; so
he accordingly pulled up stakes and went to Dallas,
Texas, where he hung out his
professional sign bearing the inscription. "J.
H. Holliday, Dentist." This was in the early seventies
and at the time when Dallas was a typical frontier town in everything the term
implied. A stranger in Dallas in those days could get anything he wanted from
pitch and toss to man-slaughter at any hour of the day or night, and that was
exactly what suited the Georgia dentist.
Gambling was not only the principal and
best-paying industry of the town at the time, but it was also reckoned among its
most respectable and, as the hectic Georgian had always shown a fondness for all
things in which the elements of chance played an important part, his new
environment furnished him with no cause for complaint. In a short time those who
wished to consult professionally with the doctor, had to do so over a card table
in some nearby gambling establishment, or not at all. While
never boasted about the killing of the negroes down in Georgia, he was
nevertheless regarded by his new-made
acquaintances who knew about the occurrence, as a man with a record; and a man
with a record of having killed someone in those days, even though the victim was only a "n***er,"
was looked upon as something more than the ordinary mortal; wherefore the doctor
on that account was given instant recognition by the higher circles of society
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