If you know anything about the “Wild West,” chances are you know a thing or two about Wyatt Earp. Chances are you also know about John Henry “Doc” Holliday.
So who was “Doc” Holliday? Well, here are some facts…he lived to be about 36 years old, was born with a cleft palate (that was later corrected with surgery), he was a practicing dentist, he was very attached to his mother, and he was one of the dudes involved in the famous “Gunfight at the OK Corral.” Those are the basics!
“Doc” Holliday was born in Griffin, GA on Aug. 14, 1851, which would make him a Leo according to the Western zodiac, lol…but that’s not important right now! OK, if you want to know more, Leo is a fire sign. Which actually explains a LOT considering some of the Leos I know! 😉
Because of Holliday’s cleft palate, his mother worked extra hard to make sure he learned how to talk properly, and make sure he sounded like a proper “southern gentleman.” He was very close to his mother, which would kind of make him like Norman Bates in Psycho.
Anthony Perkins in Psycho.
Holliday lost his mama when he was about 15, when she died of tuberculosis – a disease he likely contracted from her (let’s hope he didn’t contract it from soul kissing) – and he suffered from it throughout most of his adult life.
He earned his nickname “Doc” by being a practicing dentist. I shudder to think of the finer points of Wild West dentistry…it must have involved copious amounts of booze, and unsanitary conditions. Hell, I don’t even like going to the dentist now, with all of the sexy painkillers, digital imaging and (generally) very sanitary conditions. I don’t even want to think about having a toothache back in the 1800s (my head hurts just thinking about it)! Enough digression, lol!
Holliday received his degree in dentistry in Philadelphia in 1872, and later moved to the South, where he would set up shop. But his own battles with tuberculosis would lead him to seek warmer, drier climates, and would cause him to seal his fate as a Wild West legend. In this case, he moved to Texas, where the nightlife lured him in – gambling, whores, card playing, and fighting. This is where he would make a REAL name for himself, because obviously, this guy’s fate was NOT to be a dentist!
Probably better for Doc to be a professional gambler than a dentist if he had an infectious disease such as tuberculosis! A scene from Tombstone illustrating his well-known way with words.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Holliday would eventually meet Wild West lawman Wyatt Earp, and make a notorious name for himself in the Southwest, most specifically, Tombstone. There is a movie called Tombstone which chronicles the events leading up to and including the infamous “Gunfight at the OK Corral.”
To understand Doc Holliday’s appeal, watch the movie Tombstone. Though Val Kilmer didn’t exactly trip the light fantastic in films like The Island of Doctor Moreau and Batman Forever, his portrayal of Doc Holliday was…pretty damn good! Interesting trivia fact about this movie is that Kurt Russell, who starred as the lead character Wyatt Earp, also filled in as director after the original director was fired.
It’s not hard to fall in love with Doc Holliday in this movie. He’s got the whole vulnerability thing going with the tuberculosis, for one. In Tombstone, he’s constantly coughing up blood and sweating profusely. Despite his illness, which would have been called “consumption” at the time, he is still at the top of his game. Master gamer, master gunfighter and quick witted to boot. What’s not to like about this guy? As for me, I’m kind of terrified of him (he did kill people) – and in awe of him – for his street-smarts and mad skills. Because he’s so sick, I also want to feed him a bowl of hot soup. Maybe some nice herbal tea with honey. Clean his guns for him. Mark his cards for him (JK). Oh, OK! I have a little bit of a “crush” on Doc Holliday!
One of the film’s most iconic quotes…
The most admirable thing about Doc Holliday, imho, was his steadfast loyalty to his friends, especially Wyatt Earp. He had Wyatt Earp’s back in every battle they faced – even while he was coughing up blood and pissing off fellow gamblers in the numerous saloons in which he played faro, poker, etc. He stood by Earp and his “crew” in the famous gunfight, and in remaining battles afterward, as chronicled in Tombstone.
And I’ll let a meme do the talking here about Holliday’s attitude toward Earp…
This always tears at my heartstrings to hear him say this! At this point in the movie, he has sunk even deeper in the throes of tuberculosis.
While I really like that he was loyal to his friends – especially Wyatt Earp – I also admire that he was a smart, educated guy- and a master of the game – whether that game be gunfighting, poker, faro, or matching wits with his longtime partner and wife “Big-Nose Kate” (more about her later). Only a fool would have gone up against Doc in a poker game, faro game or most importantly, a gunfight – without being prepared – or getting very, very lucky! Let’s see, he possessed a combination of vulnerability, smarts, bad-assery, loyalty to his friends, and he master gamer? Yup, there’s your Wild West hero for y’all! And did I mention that all of his personality was colored by the etiquette lessons his mother taught him as a child, adding to the whole “southern gentleman” allure?
Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) and Doc Holilday (Val Kilmer) in Tombstone.
Doc Holliday had a girlfriend (whom he later married) nicknamed “Big-Nose Kate,” a Hungarian prostitute whom, per Wikipedia, Holliday dubbed his “intellectual equal.” Very telling! Doc was no dummy, and neither was she! Kate also reportedly introduced him to Wyatt Earp, whom she knew because of her “work” (ahem)! A girl doesn’t kiss and tell! Kate and Doc later lived in Dodge City, Kansas; where he practiced dentistry by day – and gambled/drank by night. They reportedly got into frequent, violent, alcohol-fueled fights with each other. Which makes total sense. As a Leo, he was a “fire” sign – and as a Scorpio – she was a “water” sign. Yes, astrology is total BS – but this is STILL noteworthy! What do you get when you mix fire and water? Tequila! 🙂
Doc Holliday and “Big-Nose Kate” in an undated photo.
In addition to being his intellectual equal, she was equal to him in…other ways! As described here:
“In 1875 she was going by the name of Kate Elder and was listed as being in Dodge City, KS working as a dance hall girl. A couple of years later she moved south to Fort Griffin, Texas, she met Doc Holilday at John Shanssey’s Saloon, where Holliday was dealing cards. By this time, Kate had earned the nickname “Big Nose” Kate. While the dance hall girl and prostitute was attractive, she did have a prominent nose. Kate was tough, stubborn, and with a temper that matched Doc’s. She said she worked the business because she liked it, belonging to no man, nor to any house!”
Side note, I think I just fell in love with her, lol…! She wound up living to almost 90.
Kate continued working as a prostitute over the course of several years while she and Doc maintained their rocky relationship. She was not content to be Doc’s arm candy! She helped break Doc out of jail – at double gunpoint, and nearly set a whole town on fire in the process! Well, it wasn’t really “jail,” he was being held in a hotel room under guard of a police officer after Doc fatally knifed a man during a poker game. Hey…the guy was cheating! He was looking at the discarded cards! Now think about how mad you got that one time you saw someone using their phone to cheat during a pub trivia game, lol! This happened to my husband and I when people SITTING RIGHT NEXT TO US AT THE BAR did just that! Did we knife them? No, but we did tell the host, who did nothing. We spent the rest of the night watching those people like hawks, so I guess you could say we “deputized” ourselves!
Afterward, Doc and Kate escaped on stolen horses and made their way to Dodge City. Doc said he appreciated what she did so much, that he wanted to give up gambling (blows raspberry…yeah right). She said she would give up hanging around in saloons – and plying her whore trade (also…a big sarcastic yeah, right)! But none of that basking-in-the-afterglow stuff would last, since the infamous events in Tombstone had not yet come to pass. She would reportedly get abusive when she drank too much, and eventually Doc would show her the door.
Not long after Doc kicked her out, police in Tombstone forced a fake – and very drunken – confession out of her that would implicate Doc in a murder that occurred during a stagecoach robbery, that she would later recant – after sobering up. Police gave her lots, and lots of whiskey to get this fake confession – after she was already drunk and ranting about having been tossed out by Doc (I refer to the landmark case of Hell Hath No Fury vs. Woman Scorned). The charges were eventually tossed out. But Doc was pissed – he gave her some money and sent her on a stagecoach out of town.
This was not enough to keep these two apart! After the events in Tombstone, Kate began running a boarding house in Arizona, and Doc made his way to Colorado, but she would still visit him from time to time. He died with his boots OFF in Colorado, which apparently surprised him (per the movie). Kate stayed with him until after he died.
If these were women’s feet, this would be a scene from a Tarantino film, lol…
A nice quote about Holliday’s death can be found below, but I’ve also copied and pasted it from an online article you can read here