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Doc Holliday - Mythical Tales, or Real Life Episodes

Updated on October 13, 2015

Okay, most of you have seen a "Gunfight at the OK Corral" movie. There have been several of them and I have seen them all. My favorite is Tombstone made in 1993 with Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday born John Henry Holliday in Griffin, GA on August 14, 1851.

Who was Doc Holliday really? Was he truly a dentist and did he actually shoot Johnny Ringo? Well, let me start with his career as a dentist. He graduated from the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery at age 20 after just one year of studies. He opened his first dental office in Atlanta, Georgia.

In September of 1873, Doc moved to Dallas, Texas (my hometown) and opened his second office on Elm St. between Austin and Market Streets in downtown Big D. He was arrested for gambling the next year and found not guilty of shooting at a saloon-keeper one year later which encouraged him to move his office to Denison, Texas. Later, he was found guilty of the Dallas gambling charge and decided to leave Texas. He would return to set up a gambling establishment in Breckenridge, Texas in 1877. He beat another gambler with his walking stick and later that same day, the man shot Doc wounding him seriously. The Dallas Weekly Herald erroneously reported his death.

After recovery, Doc moved to Fort Griffin, Texas where he first met Wyatt Earp. He also met Big Nose Kate who became his longtime girlfriend. Both Earp and Doc would eventually move to Dodge City, KS where Doc defended Earp in a gun battle against a group of cowboys.

After forging a strong bond with Wyatt and his brothers, Doc followed them to Tombstone, AZ when the Earps told him of the trouble they were having with a group of thugs and rustlers known as the "Cowboys". There, of course, is where the famous gun battle took place outside the O.K. Corral which sat next door to Fly's Boarding House where Doc had a room. Most of the things that took place in the movies actually happened between the Earps and Doc Holliday against the Clantons and McLaurys. They also truly went after the rest of the Cowboys after the Cowboys killed one of Earp's brothers.

In Tombstone, some of the great lines in movie history appear. "I'll be your Huckleberry", Doc said to a drunk Johnny Ringo as Ringo tried to get the Earps to take him on. The phrase means you are the right person for a particular job. When Wyatt goes walking unprotected into the water toward a dozen Cowboys pistols firing, Texas Jack says, "You ever seen something like that before?" Turkey Creek Jack Johnson replies, "Hell, I never even heard of something like that." From Doc to Ike Clanton, "Maybe poker's just not your game, Ike. I know: let's have a spelling contest."

It isn't known for a fact if Doc was the one that killed Johnny Ringo as he did in the film. Ringo was waiting for Wyatt who was much slower on the draw than Ringo, but in the movie Doc shows up. After a few moments of fear in Ringo's eyes over a possible gunfight with a much faster Doc, suddenly Johnny's eyes light up and he says, "All right, Lunger. Let's do it." The name "Lunger" referred to Doc's lifelong lung disease.

Doc died from his illness in Glenwood Springs, CO at age 36. Wyatt was not actually there as shown in the various films and would not know of Doc's death for another two months.

Yes, Doc Holliday was a real dentist. Yes, he was a real gambler. Yes, he was a real gunfighter and he did play a huge part in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. He is believed to be buried in Linwood Cemetery overlooking Glenwood Springs, but the body was never exhumed.


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