So, who was Doc Holliday really? Better yet, who was John Henry Holliday? Should these two people be regarded as one and the same? Reconsidering the words used to describe Doc at the beginning of this exhibit, which would you choose? Doc has been called many things, and portrayed in many different ways, so perhaps reviewing narrations from individuals that actually interacted with him can shed light on his true nature:

“Doc was a dentist whom necessity had made a gambler; a gentleman whom disease had made a frontier vagabond; a philosopher whom life had made a caustic wit; a long, lean, ash-blond fellow nearly dead from consumption, at the same time the most skillful gambler and the nerviest, speediest, deadliest man with a six-gun I ever knew.”
Wyatt Earp – San Francisco Examiner – August 2, 1896

“There was something very peculiar about Doc. He was gentlemanly, a good dentist, a friendly man and yet, outside of us boys, I don’t think he had a friend in the Territory. Tales were told that he had murdered men in different parts of the country; that he had robbed and committed all manner of crimes, and yet, when persons were asked how they knew it, they could only admit it was hearsay, and that nothing of the kind could really be traced to Doc’s account. He was a slender, sickly, fellow, but whenever a stage was robbed or a row started, and help was needed, Doc was one of the first to saddle his horse and report for duty.”
Virgil Earp – Arizona Daily Star – May 30, 1882

“He was always decently peaceable, though his powers when engaged in following his ostensible calling, furthering the ends of justice, made him a terror to the criminal classes of Arizona.”
Bob Paul, Sheriff of Pima County, Arizona
Rocky Mountain News – May 22, 1882

“I said to him one day: ‘Doctor don’t your conscience ever trouble you?’ ‘No, ‘he replied, with that peculiar cough of his, ‘I coughed that up with my lungs long ago.”
Col. John T. Deweese – Doc’s Lawyer – Denver, Colorado c. 1884-5

“Holliday had a mean disposition and an ungovernable temper, and when under the influence of liquor, was a most dangerous man. – Holliday had few friends anywhere in the West. He was selfish and had a perverse nature, traits not calculated to make a man popular in the early days on the frontier.”
Bat Masterson – Human Life – May 1907

“…a shiftless, bagged-legged character-a killer and professional cut-throat and not a whit too refined to rob stages or even steal sheep… He is the identical individual who killed poor, inoffensive Mike Gordon and crept through one of the many loopholes that characterized Hoodoo Brown’s judicial dispensation.”
Las Vegas Optic – July 20, 1881

“There is scarcely one in the country who had acquired a greater notoriety than Doc Holliday, who enjoyed the reputation of being one of the most fearless men on the frontier, and whose devotion to his friends in the climax of the fiercest ordeal was inextinguishable. It was this, more than any other faculty, that secured for him the reverence of a large circle who were prepared on the shortest notice to rally to his relief.”
Carbonate Chronicle – Leadville, Colorado
Doc’s obituary – November 14, 1887

“Doc Holliday was a native of Georgia and take him in all, he was possessed of the most daredevil and reckless bravery of any of his associates.”
C.P. Thomas, plainsman – Washington Post – 1906

Although these biographical snippets of Doc’s essence come from people that crossed paths with him during his lifetime, they too must contain their own biases. Depending on their specific relationships or interactions with Doc, each individual painted a slightly different character. In searching for evidence of Doc’s own assertions about himself, the record is tainted and near nonexistent. Doc’s own statements come down to us through others’ recollections or newspaper reports:

“I’m not traveling about the country in search of notoriety, and I think you newspaper fellows have already had a fair hack at me.”
Gunnison Daily-News Democrat – June 16, 1882

“If you fellows have been hunted from one end of the country to the other as I have been, you’ll understand what a bad man’s reputation is built on. I’ve had credit for more killings than I ever dreamt of…”
The New York Sun – June 1, 1886, reprinted in the Denver Daily Times and the Georgia Times


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The Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry is an auxiliary enterprise of the University of Maryland, School of Dentistry at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

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