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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 243

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This is the grave of Doc Holliday.

Born in 1851 in Griffin, Georgia, John Holliday grew up during the Civil War and then left for dentistry school in Pennsylvania in 1870. When he finished, he moved to St. Louis and then Atlanta. He may have been involved in a scene of racial violence there, as there is a story about he and others attacking African-Americans for using a swimming hole that may have resulted in some deaths. It’s impossible to know how true this is, but it’s also entirely possible and there has been so much unreported but very real violence against black people through this nation’s history. Anyway, Holliday left Georgia again pretty quickly, moving to Dallas while still practicing his mouth arts.

However, Holliday had trouble making a go of it is as a dentist because of his tuberculosis, a disease he was diagnosed with shortly after finishing his dental degree and which had already killed his mother. He moved to Denver to try a better climate. He was also more interested in games of chance and living the rough frontier lifestyle. He nearly killed a man in Cheyenne, worked in the Bella Union in Deadwood for awhile (this is the gambling house/saloon/brothel in the show owned by Cy Tolliver), and then was nearly killed in Breckinridge, Texas after a fight with a gambler.

So Holliday is basically a thug. But there were lots of those in the frontier towns and he became friends with another, Wyatt Earp, in Dodge City, Kansas, when he moved there in 1878. Holliday once saved Earp’s life when he was playing cards in a back room when Earp charged in the front of a saloon and found himself surrounded with a bunch of armed guys. Holliday walked up behind the head of that gang and put his gun to his head.

Holliday and Earp both floated around for awhile. He tried to start a dentist practice in Las Vegas, New Mexico, but instead of arrested and fined for illegal gambling. Finally, in 1880, Holliday and the Earp brothers ended up in Tombstone, Arizona, where they again connected and where the Gunfight at the OK Corral took place. We don’t need to get into the details, but a bunch of people died, not only there but in the aftermath, including Morgan Earp. Holliday and others were wanted for murder. He spent most of the rest of his life in Colorado, where he narrowly escaped extradition to Arizona for his role in the violence. His tuberculosis continued to worsen, he shot another guy in Leadville but only wounded him, and finally died in 1887 of the disease in Glenwood Springs, where he hoped the curative waters would help him. He was 36 years old.

Doc Holliday is buried in Pioneer Cemetery, Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

If you would like this series to cover other Old West thugs, you can donate to cover the expenses here. I’ve already seen Virgil Earp. But Bat Masterson, who helped Holliday escape the murder charges in Arizona is buried in the Bronx and Wyatt Earp in Colma, California. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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