Doc Holliday as Told by Bat Masterson

His Career in Denver

From Jacksborro to Denver, Colorado, was fully 800 miles, and, as much of the route to be traversed through was the Texas Panhandle and no-man’s land, which was in those days alive with Indians none too friendly to the white man, and renegade Mexicans from New Mexico, the journey was a most perilous one to take; but the doughty doctor was equal to the task and in due time reached Denver without either having lost his scalp or his desire for more conflict. This was in the summer of 1876 and while Denver was a much more important city than Dallas, its local government was conducted on very much the same principles. Like Dallas, everything went in Denver, and the doctor, after looking the situation over for a day or two, concluded that he had lost nothing by the change.

In all respects, the Rocky Mountain town looked good to him, and as he had set out to build up a record for himself as a man-killer, he did not purpose lying idle very long. While Denver, in many respects in those days was a rough and ready town, it nevertheless enforced to the very letter the ordinance against the carrying of firearms, and Holliday, for the once becoming prudent, put his canister aside, but straightway went and bought himself a murderous-looking knife. Thus heeled, he did not long delay in getting into action, and in so doing, carved up the face and neck of one Bud Ryan, a quiet and gentlemanly looking sport, in a frightful manner. Bud Ryan still lives in Denver and carries around with him the marks of his run-in with the fighting Holliday more than thirty years ago. It was again the doctor’s turn to take the road and escape from the scene of his recent malefaction, and this time he headed for Dodge City, Kansas. It was there I first met him, although I had heard about his doings in Texas.

He was slim of build and sallow of complexion, standing about five feet ten inches, and weighing no more than 130 pounds. His eyes were of a pale blue and his mustache was thin and of a sandy hue. Dodge City was then very much like Dallas and Denver, only a little more so, and the doctor did not express regret at having come. It was easily seen that he was not a healthy man for he not only looked the part, but he incessantly coughed it as well. During his year’s stay at Dodge at that time, he did not have a quarrel with anyone, and, although regarded as a sort of grouch, he was not disliked by those with whom he had become acquainted. It was during this time that he also made the acquaintance of Wyatt Earp and they were always fast friends ever afterward.

His Friendship with Wyatt Earp

Doc Holliday in 1879

Doc Holliday in 1879

He went from Dodge to Trinidad, Colorado, where, within a week from the time he landed, he shot and seriously wounded a young sport by the name of Kid Colton, over a very trivial matter. He was again forced to hunt the tall timber and managed to make his escape to Las Vegas, New Mexico, which was then something of a boom town, on account of the Santa Fe Railroad having just reached there. Holliday remained around Las Vegas for some time, doing the best he could in a gambling saloon; then he had a quarrel with one of the town rounders by the name of Mike Gordon, whom he invited to step outside of the saloon in which they were quarreling. No sooner had Gordon stepped from the door than Holliday shot him dead. From Las Vegas to Dodge City across the country, without following’ the traveled road, was about five hundred miles and this was the trip Holliday was again compelled to make on horseback in order to get away from the authorities who were hot on his trail.

He reached Dodge City in safety and remained there until Wyatt Earp took him in his covered wagon to Arizona in the fall of 1880. Again he showed no disposition to quarrel or shoot while he lived in Dodge, and many thought that much of the trouble he had been having in other places had been forced upon him, but I am satisfied that it was pretty much all of his own seeking. His whole heart and soul were wrapped up in Wyatt Earp and he was always ready to stake his life in defense of any cause in which Wyatt was interested. He aided the Earp brothers in their street fight in Tombstone, against the Clanton and McLaury brothers, in which the latter two were killed, along with Billy Clanton.

It was Doc Holliday, who, along with Wyatt Earp, overtook and killed Frank Stillwell at the railroad station in Tucson for having participated in the murder of Morgan Earp in Tombstone. He was by Wyatt’s side when he killed Curly Bill at the Whetstone Springs outside of Tombstone. Damon did no more for Pythias than Holliday did for Wyatt Earp.

After Wyatt and his party had run down and killed nearly all their enemies in Arizona, Holliday returned to Denver, where he was arrested on an order from the Arizona authorities, charged with aiding in the killing of Frank Stillwell. This happened in the spring of 1882. I was in Denver at the time and managed to secure an audience with Governor Pitkin who, after listening to my statement in the matter, refused to honor the Arizona requisition for Holliday. I then had a complaint sworn out against Holliday, charging him with having committed a highway robbery in Pueblo. Colorado, and had him taken from Denver to Pueblo, where he was put under a nominal bond and released from custody. The charge of highway robbery made against Holliday, at this time, was nothing more than a subterfuge on my part to prevent him from being taken out of the state by the Arizona authorities after Governor Pitkin went out of office, but the Colorado authorities did not know it at the time. Holliday always managed to have his case put off whenever it would come up for trial, and, by furnishing a new bond, in every instance would be released again.

When he died at Glenwood Springs a few years afterward, he was still under bond to answer to the charge of highway robbery I had caused a certain person to prefer against him. Doc Holliday, whose right name was John H. Holliday. lived during his stormy career in three states of the Union besides the one in which he was born, and in two territories; namely Texas, Colorado, and Kansas, and in the territories of New Mexico and Arizona. Besides the killing of the negroes in the river in his hometown, he shot a man in Dallas, Texas, and killed another in Jacksboro. He stabbed Bud Ryan in a frightful manner in Denver, Colorado, and shot another in Trinidad in the same state. He killed a man in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and was directly connected with several killings in Arizona.

Kansas, it will be observed, was the only state in which he had lived in which he failed to either slay or bodily wound some person. The question as to the extent in which he was justified in doing as he did, is, of course, open to debate. I have always believed that much of Holliday’s trouble was caused by drink and for that reason held him to blame in many instances. While I assisted him substantially on several occasions, it was not because I liked him any too well, but on account of my friendship for Wyatt Earp who did.

Holliday had few real friends anywhere in the West. He was selfish and had perverse nature-traits not calculated to make a man popular in the early days on the frontier.


Bat Masterson, 1907. Compiled by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated November 2019.

Bat Masterson

Bat Masterson

About the Author and Notes:

Though most of us know that W.B. “Bat” Masterson was famous as a gunfighter and friend of such characters as Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and Luke Short, many may not know that he was also a writer. After his many escapades in the American West, he accepted a post of U.S. Marshal in New York state. However, by 1891 he was working as a sports editor for a New York City newspaper. In 1907 and 1908 he wrote a series of articles for the short-lived Boston magazine, Human Life. This tale of Doc Holliday, was just one of several of those articles. Masterson died in 1921 of a heart attack. *The article that appears on these pages is not verbatim, as it has been very briefly edited, primarily for spelling and grammatical corrections.

Also See:

John Henry “Doc” Holliday – Deadly Doctor of the Frontier

Dodge City – A Wicked Little Town

Earp Vendetta Ride

Wyatt Earp – Frontier Lawman of the American West

My Friend Wyatt Earp by Bat Masterson

Tombstone – The Town Too Tough to Die

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