EXPLORATIONS - Doc Holliday and the Old West
By Paul Thompson
Broadcast: Wednesday, April 21, 2004
This is Phoebe Zimmermann.
John Henry Holliday.
And this is Doug Johnson with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Many stories have been told about the old American West. Some are true. Many more are just interesting stories. Today we will try to tell the true story of one of the most famous and dangerous American gun fighters. His name was John Henry Holliday. He was better known as "Doc".
The little city of Glenwood Springs is deep in the Rocky Mountains in the western state of Colorado. The mountains here rise sharply out of the ground and surround Glenwood Springs.
A small burial area in Glenwood Springs is called the Pioneer Cemetery. You have to walk up a steep hill on an old dirt road to reach it. The walk takes about twenty minutes. Visitors can stop at several places along this walk to look at the city far below.
In the cemetery, large stones mark most of the burial places. Some of the stones look new. Many are more than one-hundred years old.
A dirt path leads to the back of the cemetery and one, lone, burial place. This one is the reason most people come to the Pioneer Cemetery. The stone over the burial place is colored red, and larger than most of the others. A small black metal fence surrounds the grave.
The name on the stone says "Doc Holliday… He died in bed." This man's real name was John Henry Holliday. He was called "Doc" because he was a doctor of dental surgery, a dentist. But he was best known as a gun fighter and gambler, a person who plays games of chance for money. Many people who knew him considered him the most dangerous man in the Old West.
It is extremely difficult to separate truth from the false stories that were spread about some of the more famous people in the Old West. Many of these famous stories are very interesting and exciting. But they are not true. Many of these made-up stories tell about the man who was Doc Holliday.
History experts say he was a very dangerous man because he was already dying when he came to the West. He knew he had the lung disease tuberculosis that causes a slow death. Many experts said he was not afraid of a gunfight. He thought a quick death from a bullet might be better than waiting to die a very slow, painful death from the disease.
Another interesting fact about Doc Holliday is that many history experts now believe he may have spread several of the stories that were told about him. He may have done this because it caused people to fear him. If they feared him, they would not cause him trouble. It was not difficult to find trouble in many towns in the American West. And disputes about who had won a game of chance were always a possibility for a professional gambler like Doc Holliday.
John Henry Holliday was born in the southern state of Georgia in eighteen-fifty-one. He was born into a family that included several medical doctors and dentists. Like most young men of the American South at that time, John Henry Holliday learned to ride a horse well. He learned to shoot several kinds of weapons.
He also was well educated. He learned math and science. He learned to read, write and speak Greek, Latin and French.
A young black woman who worked for his family taught him to play card games. John Holliday became a very good card player. He could easily remember which cards had been played in a game. This was very difficult to do. It helped him much later in life when he became a professional gambler.
In eighteen-seventy, John became a student at the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery in Philadelphia. He graduated in eighteen-seventy-two.
John Holliday was a tall man. He was thin and always dressed well. He was a quiet, friendly man who always smiled. People liked him. Doctor Holliday began working as a dentist in the southern city of Atlanta, Georgia. He soon began to show the signs of tuberculosis, the same disease that had killed his mother. His doctor said he would live longer if he went to a warm, very dry place -- perhaps the American West.
In eighteen-seventy-three, John Holliday said goodbye to his family and left Georgia on a train. He began his new life in the western city of Dallas, Texas.
Doctor Holliday tried to work as a dentist for about four years. He was not very successful. Many people did not want to be treated by a dentist they knew had tuberculosis. He spent a great deal of time drinking alcohol in a saloon. It was here that be became known as "Doc" Holliday.
Holliday traveled in Texas and Colorado for the next several years. He became a professional gambler. In eighteen-seventy-seven, he was living in the small town of Fort Griffin, Texas. Here he met a man who was to become one of his best friends. That man was a former law officer, gunfighter and gambler. His name was Wyatt Earp. Soon after meeting Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday killed a man during a card game.
The man had reached for a gun. Doc Holliday was much quicker using a long knife. He had to leave Fort Griffin and Texas very quickly.
The friendship continued between Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp. In Dodge City, Kansas, Holliday saved Earp's life late one night. A man drew his gun behind Wyatt Earp. Doc Holliday yelled a warning, drew his gun and shot the man.
Wyatt Earp had several brothers. They were a close family. Many experts believe that the Earp brothers were a replacement for the family Doc Holliday had left in Georgia. Wyatt and his brothers Morgan and Virgil remained close friends with Doc Holliday for the rest of their lives.
Doc Holliday had become well known in the West. He became even more famous after he followed the Earp brothers to the town of Tombstone, Arizona. In Tombstone he took part in the most famous shooting incident in western history.
The grave of Billy Clanton, and Frank and Tom McLaury.
That shooting incident in Tombstone is known as "The Gunfight at the O-K Corral." It took place on October twenty-sixth, eighteen-eighty-one. It involved Wyatt, Morgan and Virgil Earp and Doc Holliday. Virgil Earp was an officer of the law. He was on his way to arrest several men. Wyatt and Morgan went with him to help.
Doc Holliday joined them as they walked down the street. The men they were going to arrest were also brothers -- Ike and Billy Clanton and Frank and Tom McLaury.
As the two groups came together, Virgil Earp demanded that the Clantons and McLaurys raise their hands and surrender. They refused. No one knows who fired the first shot. All the men began shooting at once.
When it was over, Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury and Tom McLaury were dead. Ike Clanton had run away. Morgan and Virgil Earp were wounded, but they survived. Neither Doc Holliday nor Wyatt Earp was hurt.
Political enemies of the Earp Brothers wanted a trial. The Earp Brothers and Doc Holliday were arrested and tried. The jury found them innocent. It said they were trying to disarm a group of men who wanted a fight.
A few months later, an unknown gunman killed Morgan Earp. Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday began to hunt the killers. They killed several men known to have been involved in the murder of Morgan Earp.
No one really knows how many gunfights Doc Holliday took part in. No one knows just how many people died as a result. Some books say he was responsible for the deaths of as many as thirty men. But most experts say the number is closer to eight.
History books will tell you Doc Holliday was arrested several times. Most of the time he was arrested for playing illegal games of chance. He was also arrested after several shootings. Often the charges were dismissed because he was only defending himself. The few times he faced a criminal trial he was found to be innocent.
In the last years of Doc Holliday's life, the West had changed a great deal. The people there no longer wanted gunfighters or gamblers.
Doc Holliday may have won in games of chance and in several gunfights. However, he could not use his guns against tuberculosis. He died in his bed, in the little city of Glenwood Springs, Colorado on November eighth, eighteen-eighty-seven. He was thirty-six years old.
This program was written by Paul Thompson. It was produced by Mario Ritter. This is Doug Johnson.
And this is Phoebe Zimmermann. Join us again next week for another EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.