Doc Holliday – Deadly Doctor of the American West

Dodge City

Hiding out during the night, they headed to Dodge City on stolen horses in the morning, registering at Deacon Cox’s Boarding House as Dr. and Mrs. J.H. Holliday. Doc so appreciated what Kate did for him, that he was determined to make her happy and gave up gambling, hanging up his doctor’s shingle once again. In return, Kate promised to give up the life of prostitution and stop hanging about the saloons.

However, Kate couldn’t stand the quiet and boredom of respectable living. 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.

Dodge City, Kansas, 1874

Dodge City’s Front Street, 1874, courtesy Ford County Historical Society.

Doc went back to gambling, frequenting the Alhambra and dealing cards at the Long Branch Saloon. Though Dodge City citizens thought the friendship between Wyatt and Doc was strange, Wyatt ignored them and Doc kept to the law while in Dodge City.

One night, while Doc was dealing Faro in the Long Branch Saloon a number of Texas cowboys arrived with a herd of cattle. After many weeks on the trail, the rowdy cowboys were ready to “let loose.” Leading the cowboy mob was a man named Ed Morrison, whom Wyatt had humiliated in Wichita, Kansas, and a man named Tobe Driskill. The cowboys rushed the town, galloping down Front Street with guns blazing, blowing out shop windows. Entering the Long Branch Saloon, they began harassing the customers.

When Wyatt came through the front door, he came face to face with several awaiting gun barrels. Stepping forward, Morrison sneered “Pray and jerk your gun! Your time has come Earp!”

Suddenly, a voice sounded behind Morrison. “No, friend, you draw – or throw your hands up!” It was Doc, his revolver to Morrison’s temple. Doc had been in the back room his card game interrupted by the havoc out front. “Any of you bastards pulls a gun and your leader here loses what’s left of his brains!” The Cowboys dropped their arms. Wyatt rapped Morrison over the head with his long barrel Colt, then relieving Driskill and Morrison of their arms he ushered them to the Dodge City Jail. Wyatt never forgot the fact that Doc Holliday saved his life that night in Dodge City. Responding later Wyatt said, “The only way anyone could have appreciated the feeling I had for Doc after the Driskill-Morrison business would have been to have stood in my boots at the time Doc came through the Long Branch doorway.”

The original Long Branch Saloon, courtesy Ford County Historical Society

The original Long Branch Saloon, courtesy Ford County Historical Society

Later, Kate and Doc, in their constant love-hate relationship, had another of their frequent, violent quarrels. Furious, Doc saddled his horse and headed out, winding up in Trinidad, Colorado.  Shortly after he arrived, he was goaded into a fight by a young gambler, known as “Kid Colton”. The “Kid”, either wishing to make himself a reputation or very unaware of Doc’s gunmanship, wound up in the dusty street with two bullets.

Not wanting to linger, Doc rode on to Las VegasNew Mexico, where, in late summer of 1879, he hung out his shingle for the last time. However, this idea was short-lived and only a few weeks later he bought a saloon.

In late August 1879, Doc got into an argument with a local gunman, named Mike Gordon. The two took the argument to the street where Doc politely invited Gordon to start shooting whenever he felt like it. Gordon obviously accepted this invitation and wound up dead with three shots in his belly.

Again, a lynch mob formed with plans to lynch Holliday and Doc headed back to Dodge City. However, he arrived only to find that Wyatt had gone to a new silver strike, in a place called Tombstone, ArizonaBig Nose Kate was also nowhere to be seen in Dodge City. There being nothing to hold him there, Doc struck out West, bound for Tombstone.


Allen Street in Tombstone, 1882.

Allen Street in Tombstone, 1882.

Unknown to Doc, “Big NoseKate was also en route to the new boomtown of Tombstone and the two ran into each other in Prescott, Arizona. Doc was winning heavily at the tables and pocketing $40,000 in winnings, Kate was happy to keep him company. In the early summer of 1880, the two reached Tombstone.

When Doc arrived in Tombstone, not only did he find Wyatt, but all of the Earp brothers including Morgan from Montana, James who traveled with Wyatt from Dodge City, and Virgil from Prescott, where he had just been made a Deputy U.S. Marshal. Wyatt and his brothers were mining silver and James was dealing Faro at Vogan’s Saloon. Virgil appointed Wyatt as the acting City Marshal and also swore in Morgan as an officer.  When the Earps had arrived in Tombstone, the outlaw Clanton Gang had been running roughshod over the territory and immediately resented the Earps arrival. “Old man” Clanton, his sons, Ike, Phin, and Billy, the McLaury brothers, Frank and TomCurly Bill BrociusJohn Ringo and their followers lost no time in expressing their displeasure. Holliday was a welcome addition to the Earp’s fight with the “Cowboy” faction.   Shortly afterward, Kate was running a boarding house in Globe, Arizona, some 175 miles away from Tombstone. However, she was known to often stay with Doc when she visited.

In October 1880, Doc had a dispute with a man by the name of Johnny Tyler in the Oriental Saloon. Though Tyler quickly high-tailed it out of the saloon, Doc and the saloon owner, Milt Joyce, continued to argue.

As usual, the argument turned violent and Doc, who was drunk at the time, fired several shots hitting Joyce in the hand and his bartender, Parker, in the toe of his left foot. In retaliation, Milt struck Doc on the head with a pistol.  Doc was arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon, found guilty and fined $20 for assault and battery plus $11.25 court costs.

Many times when “Big Nose” Kate visited Holliday, they were known to have frequent arguments, most of which were not serious until Kate got drunk. Often, her drunkenness would escalate to abuse, and in early 1881, Doc had finally had enough and threw her out.

On March 15, 1881, four masked men attempted a hold up on a stagecoach near Contention and in the attempt, killed the stage driver and a passenger. The Cowboy faction immediately seized upon the opportunity and accused Doc Holliday of being one of the holdup men. The sheriff who was investigating the hold-up, found Kate on one of her drunken binges, still berating Doc for throwing her out. Feeding her yet even more whiskey, the sheriff persuaded her to sign an affidavit that Doc had been one of the masked highwaymen and had killed the stage driver.

While Kate was sobering up, the Earps were rounding up witnesses who could verify Doc’s whereabouts on the night in question. When Kate realized what she had done, she repudiated her statement and the charges were thrown out. But, for Doc, this was the “last straw” for Kate and giving her some money, he put her on a stage out of town.

Throughout the summer of 1881, the threats against the Earp Brothers by the Clantons increased. The Cowboys, as they were referred to, were often heard telling bar room stories of how they were going to send Wyatt Earp to Boot Hill.

On Tuesday, October 25th, Ike Clanton spent the day getting drunk, moving from one saloon to the next, and making threats against the Earps and Holliday to any who would listen. That night, he made his way to the Occidental Saloon for a card game with Tom McLaury.

Virgil Earp

Virgil Earp

Morgan Earp

James Earp

James Earp

An angry Doc Holliday, who had heard of the boasts, confronted him. “I heard you’re going to kill me, Ike,” he said. “Get out your gun and commence.” Virgil, a U.S. Deputy Marshall, Wyatt, an appointed an acting city marshal by Virgil, and Morgan also a sworn officer, were present during this confrontation. Virgil told Doc and Ike that he would arrest both of them if they continued the argument. Though boasting violence throughout the day, Clanton was unarmed and finally, Virgil drew Holliday away. But Clanton followed, promising “to kill you tomorrow when the others come to town.”

Spotting Wyatt on the streets, the fired-up Clanton continued. “Tell your consumptive friend, your Arizona nightin’gale, he’s a dead man tomorrow!”  To which, Wyatt just turned and replied: “Don’t you tangle with Doc Holliday — he’ll kill you before you’ve begun.”

Ike Clanton

Ike Clanton

Ike’s parting shot was “Get ready for a showdown!”

Wednesday, October 26, 1881, was an overcast windy day. The Earps, in anticipation of trouble, woke early.  As Virgil watched from his hotel window, he saw Billy Clanton ride into town, accompanied by friend Billy Claiborne. They met the McLaury brothers and Ike Clanton on Allen Street. Ike was looking for Holliday but before he could find him, Virgil and Morgan confronted him. Ike, bracing a shotgun, exchanged words with the two but when Clanton raised his rifle Virgil subdued him, impounded his rifle, and dragged him before Justice of the Peace Wallace, who fined Ike $27.50 for carrying firearms in the city.

Wyatt and Tom McLaury, both hearing what had happened, met at the judge’s door at the same time, literally bumping into each other. Though Wyatt apologized, McLaury insulted him and, in return, Wyatt brought his gun down on McLaury’s head.

Later that morning, the Cowboys met at Spangenberg’s, a gunsmith shop. Then Frank McLaury rode his horse onto the boardwalk, frightening pedestrians off its path outside the gunsmith shop. Wyatt grabbed the reins of the horse, leading it to the streets as McLaury yelled profanities. After this latest confrontation, the outlaws retreated in a group around the corner off Allen Street. With all of the tension, there was bound to be a fight. Several members of the town’s Citizens’ Committee offered their assistance to the Earp brothers, but thanking them, Wyatt said it was his and his brothers’ responsibility as law officers.

Sheriff Johnny Behan

Sheriff Johnny Behan

Then John Behan, the County Sheriff, appeared pronouncing, ” Ike Clanton and his crew are on Fremont Street talking gun-talk.”  Evidently, Ike Clanton, the two McLaurys, Billy Clanton and Billy Claiborne were meeting in a vacant lot planning to bushwhack Doc Holliday, who passed that way every morning.

Virgil, as Chief Marshal, agreed to go down there to break them up but contended that Behan should accompany him. Behan only laughed. “Hell, this is your fight, not mine.”

However, the Cowboys were surprised when the Earps showed up and Doc was with them. As they made their way to the O.K. Corral, witnesses said that the three Earp brothers were all dressed in black with firm, mean grimaces on their faces while Doc was nattily clad in grey and was whistling. Where the two forces finally met was actually 90 yards down an alley from the O.K. Corral. The actual gunfight took place off Fremont Street between Fly’s Photo Gallery and Jersey’s Livery Stable. The Earps passed by the O.K. Corral but cut through the alley where they found the troublemakers waiting at the other end.

“You are under arrest for attempting to disturb the peace,” Virgil announced. As a senior officer, he displayed only a non-threatening walking stick, having given his shotgun to Doc to carry. The rustlers tightened and Morgan and Doc simultaneously braced for action. “Hold on, I don’t want that!” cried Virgil.

Frank McLaury

Frank McLaury

What happened next was a blur, occurring in about 30 seconds. The shooting started when Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury cocked their pistols. It is not really known who fired the first shot, but Doc’s bullet was the first to hit home, tearing through Frank McLaury’s belly and sending McLaury’s own shot wild through Wyatt’s coattail.  Billy Clanton fired at Virgil, but his shot also went astray when he was hit with Morgan’s shot through his rib cage.

Billy Claiborne ran as soon as shots were fired and was already out of sight. Ike Clanton, too, panicked and threw his gun down, pleading for his life. “Fight or get out like Claiborne!” Wyatt yelled and watched Ike desert his brother, Billy, as he ran towards the door of the photography shop.

Tom McLaury

But, Ike then withdrew a hidden gun firing one more round towards Wyatt before disappearing. The sound distracted Morgan, enough so that Tom McLaury sent a bullet into Morgan’s side. Doc instantly countered, blowing Tom away with blasts from both barrels of his shotgun. Desperately, wounded and dying, Billy Clanton fired blindly into the gun smoke encircling him, striking Virgil’s leg. Wyatt responded by sending several rounds into Billy.

Then it was silent and the townspeople ran from their homes and shops, wagons were to convey wounded Morgan and Virgil to their respective homes, and doctors followed.

The 30-second shootout left Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury and Tom McLaury dead. Virgil Earp took a shot to the leg and Morgan suffered a shoulder wound. As Wyatt stood, still stunned, Sheriff Behan appeared advising him he was under arrest. The Earps and Doc Holliday were tried for murder but it was determined that the Earps acted within the law.

7 thoughts on “Doc Holliday – Deadly Doctor of the American West”

  1. Historians have sought permission to exhume the body, or micro-tunnel to him for possible evidence, but the family has and continues to refuse all offers.

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