Doc Holliday as Told by Bat Masterson


By W.R. (Bat) Masterson in 1907

Doc Holliday

Doc Holliday

While he never did anything to entitle him to a statue in the Hall of Fame, Doc Holliday was nevertheless a most picturesque character on the western border in those days when the pistol instead of law courts determined issues. Holliday 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.

Holliday 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 Holliday.

Couldn’t Have Whipped a Boy

Physically, Doc Holliday was a weakling who could not have whipped a healthy 15-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 quarreling, 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. Holliday 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 trouble.

The indiscriminate killing of some negroes 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 Holliday 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 hole.

Shot a Crowd of Negroes

Doc Holliday T-shirt

As 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 warpath. 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, Holliday appeared on the river bank with a double-barreled shotgun 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 shotgun. Holliday 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 matter. Holliday. afterward 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 Holliday never boasted about the killing of the negroes down in Georgia, he was nevertheless regarded by his new-made Texas 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 in Dallas.

A Poker Game Incident

Faro Players

Cyrus Noble Whiskey Ad showing Faro Players

If there was any one thing above another Holliday loved better than a session in a poker game, it was conflict, and, as Dallas was the home of conflict, the doctor was in his element. It was not a “n***er” that he shot this time, but a white man of some local prominence for which he had to emigrate to some more congenial place. He brought up next at Jacksborro, a small, out-of-the-way place just off the Fort Richardson Military Reservation, on the north-western border of the state, where civilization was only in a formative stage.

The doctor had by this time heard much about the man-killers who abode on the frontier, and regarded himself as well qualified to playa hand among the foremost of the guild. He was not long in Jacksborro before he was in another scrape. This time it was with a soldier who was stationed at the Fort, and who had been given permission to visit the town by his commanding officer.

The trouble was over a card game in which the soldier claimed he had been given the worst of it by the man from Georgia. This, of course, necessitated the fighting Georgian taking another trip on the road, for he knew it would never do to let the soldiers at the Fort capture him, which they would be sure to try to do as soon as word reached them about the killing of their comrade. He, therefore, lost no time in getting out of town, and, seated on the hurricane deck of a Texas cayuse, was well on his way to safety by the time the news of the homicide reached the Fort. It was a long and dangerous trip that he mapped out for himself on this occasion.

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