May 2, 2024 | Brendan Da Costa

Dastardly Facts About Doc Holliday, The Wild West Gentleman

John Henry “Doc” Holliday was the dentist-turned-outlaw who gambled and gunned his way across the Wild West. But there was one enemy he couldn’t outrun.

1. He Was Really Just A Dentist

John Henry “Doc” Holliday was a Wild West gambler, gunslinger and sometimes lawman unlike any other. His best friend, Wyatt Earp, described him as “a dentist whom necessity had made a gambler; a gentleman whom disease had made a vagabond”. He took part in—and miraculously survived—some of the bloodiest feuds in the Old West.

In the end, however, he wasn’t quick enough on the draw to beat a lifelong feud with a terminal diagnosis.

Doc Holliday

2. He Was Well-Educated

Doc Holliday was born to Major Henry Burroughs Holliday and Alice Jane (McKey) Holliday in August of 1851 in Griffin, Georgia. His father, a distinguished veteran, was a well-respected man and ensured that his son received a classical education in Latin, mathematics and history. The life of an outlaw looked highly unlikely.

Then tragedy struck.

Portrait of Doc Holliday at age 20Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

3. His Family Fell Apart

By all accounts, Holliday came from a respectable family. Unfortunately, fate tore that family apart and changed the course of his life forever. Shortly after his 15th birthday, Holliday’s mother succumbed to tuberculosis along with his adopted brother. 

The losses devastated the young “Doc”. But not as much as what his father did next.

Screenshot of Val Kilmer with hat looking at camera - from Tombstone (1993)Hollywood Pictures, Tombstone (1993)

4. He Was A Prodigy

Within just three months of losing his adopted brother and mother, Holliday’s father remarried. The sudden change in his life left him with a deep sense of anger and injustice—just the kind of angst that would make for a lethal Wild West man. However, Holliday initially buried his woes in his studies. In fact, he was something of a prodigy.

Screenshot of Val Kilmer looking at camera - from Tombstone (1993)Hollywood Pictures, Tombstone (1993)

5. He Was Too Young To Be A Dentist

Holliday left his broken home to study dentistry, graduating from the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery at the tender age of just 20. In fact, the College had to hold onto Holliday’s diploma until he turned 21 as he was, technically, too young to perform dental surgery. 

Once he had his diploma in hand, however, he set his sights on something bigger.

Screenshot of Val Kilmer with hat looking at camera - from Tombstone (1993)Hollywood Pictures, Tombstone (1993)

6. He Had A “Mean Disposition”

Holliday was working in Atlanta and living with his uncle to save up for his own practice when fate intervened. Or, more accurately, when his “mean disposition and an ungovernable temper” took over. As rumor has it, Holliday and his friends came upon a group of black US Army servicemen on his uncle’s land by the Withlacoochee River.

That river would soon be running red.

Image of John Henry Holliday.Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

7. He Charged Into Battle

Holliday, being a proud son of the defeated Confederacy, couldn’t tolerate the intrusion of federal forces onto his family’s land. According to Holliday’s cousin, Susan McKey Thomas, Holliday “rode in on” the servicemen with his arm cannon raised. The frightened servicemen scrambled out of the water only for Holliday to open fire on them, fatally wounding two.

There’s another version to this story, though.

Screenshot of Val Kilmer standing outside - from Tombstone (1993)Hollywood Pictures, Tombstone (1993)

8. He Had To Flee His Home State

The Withlacoochee River incident is, allegedly, what prompted Holliday to flee Georgia. However, there aren’t any contemporaneous newspaper stories about the event, casting doubt on whether it ever actually happened at all. In fact, in all likelihood, there was another reason that Holliday fled his home state. A tragic reason.

Screenshot of Val Kilmer looking at side - from Tombstone (1993)Hollywood Pictures, Tombstone (1993)

9. His Physician Gave Him Some Bad News

Without any corroborating evidence for the Withlacoochee River incident, the real reason that Holliday left Georgia was probably a personal one. Around that time, Holliday learned the devastating news that he had contracted tuberculosis, likely from his mother years earlier. Under the advice of his physician, he sought out drier climes for his condition.

But he couldn’t outrun his health.

Screenshot of Val Kilmer laying sick in bed - from Tombstone (1993)Hollywood Pictures, Tombstone (1993)

10. He Was The Best Dentist In Town

Holliday left Georgia and eventually settled in Dallas, Texas. For a while he ran a successful dentistry business with his father’s friend, Dr. John A. Seegar. They even won an award at the County Fair for “Best set of teeth in gold” amongst others. However, no amount of trophies could improve Holliday’s deteriorating health.

Screenshot of Val Kilmer winking and looking at front - from Tombstone (1993)Hollywood Pictures, Tombstone (1993)

11. He Turned To Gambling

Holliday’s tuberculosis worsened and he frequently broke out into coughing fits during dental surgery (we certainly hope the patients’ mouths were not open). Slowly, his dental practice began to decline and Holliday turned to gambling to foot his bills. 

But, the longer he sat at poker and faro tables, sipping his troubles away, the more his temper flared up—with bloody consequences.

Screenshot of Val Kilmer playing cards - from Tombstone (1993)Hollywood Pictures, Tombstone (1993)

12. He Traded Bullets

While gambling in Dallas, Holliday had his first (confirmed) gunfight. After a dispute—for reasons that have since faded to history—Holliday traded bullets with a saloon keeper. Luckily, despite the barrage, neither man was injured in the exchange. However, Holliday’s next dispute ended in a gruesome injury and pools of blood.

Screenshot of Kirk Douglas standing in saloon - from Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)Wallis-Hazen, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

13. He Was Dangerous With A Blade

With the tensions in Texas mounting, Holliday followed his Lady Luck all the way to Denver, Colorado. However, even there, his temper got him into trouble. Holliday got into an argument with the infamous (and infamously tough) gambler, Bud Ryan. When things got heated, Holliday lunged at Ryan with a knife and “seriously wounded” him.

That wasn’t even his most savage attack.

Screenshot of Val Kilmer laying on the bed - from Tombstone (1993)Hollywood Pictures, Tombstone (1993)

14. He Beat A Gambler With His Walking Stick

Holliday bounced around the Wild West for about a year, eventually arriving in Breckenridge, Texas. Clearly, however, nothing had changed. After a disagreement with the gambler Henry Kahn during a game, Holliday beat the prominent gambler repeatedly with his walking stick. 

For once, Holliday would not be able to escape unscathed.

Screenshot of Kirk Douglas standing in saloon - from Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)Wallis-Hazen, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

15. He Nearly Met An Early End

Both Holliday and Kahn spent some time in the lock-up for their brawl. The authorities, it seemed, wanted to give the two hotheads time to cool down. But Kahn only grew angrier. Later that same day, after the authorities had released them, Kahn approached an unarmed Holliday and gave him his best shot—literally. Holliday survived but was grievously injured.

Thankfully, his real Lady Luck was just around the corner.

Screenshot of Val Kilmer looking at front - from Tombstone (1993)Hollywood Pictures, Tombstone (1993)

16. He Met His True Lady Luck

Once he recovered, Holliday traveled to Fort Griffin, Texas where he met the love of his life: Mary Katharine "Big Nose Kate" Horony. She was a “tough, stubborn, and fearless” Wild West working girl who, much like Holliday, had come from a respectable background. After a brief stint in Fort Griffin, they moved to Dodge City, Kansas to turn over a new leaf.

Then trouble walked in their front door.

Screenshot of Big Nose Kate (Kate Horony) talking with man outside - from One Day Only (2018/19)MAGFilms, One Day Only (2018/19)

17. He Wanted To Start A New Life

It seems like Holliday’s run-in with Kahn had him thinking twice about the outlaw life. He registered at a boarding house in Dodge City along with Big Nose Kate under the names Dr. and Mrs. John H. Holliday. He even ran an advertisement in the local paper for his dentistry services. As he waited for his dental practice to take off, he continued gambling.

Unfortunately, he rolled an ominous pair of snake eyes.

Screenshot of Big Nose Kate (Kate Horony) peeking from the porch - from One Day Only (2018/19)MAGFilms, One Day Only (2018/19)

18. He Was In The Wrong Place At The Right Time

In early 1878, Holliday found himself at a poker table in the infamous Long Branch Saloon when a fateful incident occurred. A posse of dangerous cowboys, led by Tobe Driscoll and Ed Morrison, stormed into town and began causing a raucous. When local lawman Wyatt Earp heard the commotion, he had to respond. Holliday unwittingly found himself in the crosshairs.

Interior of the Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City, Kansas - 	between 1870 and 1885Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

19. He Did Something Brave

Once Driscoll, Morrison and their posse entered the saloon where Holliday was gambling, they “vandalized the room, and harassed the customers”. Not long after that, Earp burst through the door, ready to enforce the law. However, the cowboys had the drop on the lawman and, before he could even draw his piece, he found nearly a dozen barrels pointed his way.

Then the good “Doc” did something unspeakably brave—or stupid.

Screenshot of Stacy Keach wearing hat and looking at side - from Doc (1971)FP Films, Doc (1971)

20. He Put His Barrel Where It Didn’t Belong

Holliday, sitting calmly in the back of the room as the scene unfolded, had briefly met Wyatt Earp in Fort Griffin, Texas. Recognizing his recent acquaintance, Holliday quietly got up from his table, pulled out his own revolver and put the business end of it up against Morrison’s head. No one knows what Holliday said to the outlaw but it clearly left an impression.

Screenshot of Kirk Douglas standing in saloon - from Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)Wallis-Hazen, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

21. He Had All The Makings Of A Real Outlaw

Morrison and his boys lowered their barrels, sparing Wyatt Earp, and carefully left the saloon. Earp, already a famous figure in the Wild West knew that he owed his life to Holliday and the legend of “Doc” began to spread even faster. He now had everything he needed to become a true Wild West outlaw: a bad reputation, an even worse temper, a quick trigger finger and a nickname.

He also had a few scores to settle.

Screenshot of Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster standing in saloon - from Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)Wallis-Hazen, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

22. He Wanted To Settle Old Scores

Prominent businessman and politician Miguel Otero recounted how Holliday liked to settle his personal vendettas. Otero claimed that he was present when Holliday burst into a saloon and challenged the barman, Charles White, to a duel to settle an outstanding argument. At first, White declined the duel. But that appears to have been just a bluff.

Of course, as an avid gambler, Holliday knew a bluff when he saw one.

Governor Miguel Antonio Prince, Wikimedia Commons

23. He “Scalped” His Enemies

According to Otero, after White refused Holliday’s duel, he ducked behind the bar before grabbing his piece and opening fire on Holliday. The two men exchanged a hail of bullets until Holliday, an increasingly efficient shooter, planted a bullet in White’s scalp. While there are no contemporary news reports of the incident, there was plenty more evidence of just how dangerous Holliday could be.

Screenshot of Kirk Douglas in Saloon looking at side - from Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)Wallis-Hazen, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

24. He Didn’t Respect The Army

Bat Masterson, another friend and associate of Wyatt Earp’s, also claimed to have first-hand knowledge of Holliday’s lethality. Masterson claimed that, while Holliday was passing through in Jacksboro, Texas, he got into an altercation with an unnamed US Army serviceman. As these disputes tended to in the Old West, things turned brutal.

Screenshot of Stacy Keach looking at front upset - from Doc (1971)FP Films, Doc (1971)

25. He Got Away With Everything

Masterson claimed that Holliday and this unnamed serviceman got into an exchange of bullets. Naturally, Holliday got the better of the situation and vanquished his opponent. There’s even a contemporaneous record of a Private Robert Smith who was gunned down by an “unknown assailant”. However, apart from Masterson, no one linked Holliday to the deed.

But the name “Doc” Holiday was on the tip of everyone’s tongue.

Screenshot of Val Kilmer wearing hat and looking at side - from Tombstone (1993)Hollywood Pictures, Tombstone (1993)

26. He Was More Myth Than Man

Whether the stories about Holliday swirling around the Wild West like a tumbleweed were true or not, what mattered was that people believed them. As Wyatt Earp’s brother, Virgil, said in an interview years later, most of the stories about Holliday were only “hearsay” for which no one had any evidence. But some of the bloodier stories were frighteningly true.

Tombstone factsTombstone (1993), Hollywood Pictures

27. He Had Trouble On His Doorstep

Holliday opened a saloon in Las Vegas, New Mexico with his long-term love interest, Big Nose Kate. But, as Holliday was enjoying a game of poker (and more than a few drinks), trouble erupted. A former US Army scout, Mike Gordon, caused a scene with one of Holliday’s saloon girls. Holliday would have been happy to let the incident go if Gordon hadn’t done what he did next.

Screenshot of Big Nose Kate (Kate Horony) arguingwith other man - from One Day Only (2018/19)MAGFilms, One Day Only (2018/19)

28. His Saloon Girl Got A Good Offer

Gordon and this unnamed saloon girl had, at some point in the past, been lovers. Desperate to win her back, Gordon tried to convince her to leave her job in the saloon and join him. When the woman refused, however, things took a turn for the worse. 

This is where two conflicting versions of events come out. Spoiler alert: neither of them end well.

Screenshot of Val Kilmer standing in saloon next to a woman - from Tombstone (1993)Hollywood Pictures, Tombstone (1993)

29. He Defended His Establishment

According to one version of events, Gordon became irate and stormed out of the saloon “shouting [profanities]”. This likely upset Holliday as it would have driven business away from his establishment. The other version of events is that Gordon stormed out of the saloon then spun around and began randomly firing into the establishment.

Holliday’s next move solidified his reputation as a stone cold slayer.

Screenshot of Kirk Douglas looking upset - from Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)Wallis-Hazen, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

30. He Laid Out A Serviceman

Regardless of what, exactly, Gordon was doing, Holliday handled the situation decisively. He calmly got up from his poker table, walked out of the saloon, leveled his revolver at Gordon’s head and, without a second thought, pulled the trigger. Gordon passed on the next day. Holliday had had just about all he could take of the saloon business anyway.

Then an old friend came calling.

Screenshot of Stacy Keach looking at side - from Doc (1971)FP Films, Doc (1971)

31. His Lover Crossed A Line

Holliday and Big Nose Kate received word from Wyatt Earp and his brothers about a silver rush out in Tombstone, Arizona. Tired of playing host in their own establishment, they decided to join their friends. But the couples’ troubles followed them. They fought constantly and bitterly until one day, Big Nose Kate crossed a line.

Screenshot of Big Nose Kate (Kate Horony) standing outside - from One Day Only (2018/19)MAGFilms, One Day Only (2018/19)

32. His Friend Staged A Heist

Shortly after Holliday and Big Nose Kate arrived in Tombstone, the town became the central focus of a stage coach theft gone horribly wrong. A small band of outlaws had carried out a fatal heist that had claimed the lives of two passengers. Authorities had only managed to identify Bill Leonard as one of the assailants.

Leonard, however, had close ties to Holliday.

Screenshot of Kirk Douglas laying outside - from Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)Wallis-Hazen, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

33. He Nearly Took The Fall For The Whole Thing

County Sheriff Johnny Behan and Oriental Saloon owner Milt Joyce were short on a list of suspects for the gruesome heist. But they had good reason for wanting to pin the whole thing on none other than Doc Holliday. For starters, Holliday was an old acquaintance of Leonard’s. Secondly, Behan and Joyce had a score to settle with Holliday.

Portrait of Johnny Behan - 1871Tombstone Courtesy of the Sharlot Hall Museum, Wikimedia Commons

34. He Had An Old Feud

Several months before the stagecoach heist, Holliday had gotten into a dispute with Joyce at the Oriental Saloon. Exactly what caused the initial argument is unclear, with various sources giving different reasons for the altercation. One thing all sources agree on, however, is Holliday did what he did best: lose his temper and pull the trigger on his revolver.

Screenshot of Val Kilmer looking at front - from Tombstone (1993)Hollywood Pictures, Tombstone (1993)

35. He Blew A Hole In His Opponent’s Hand

The argument between Holliday and Joyce turned bloody when, according to reports, Joyce began to raise a revolver at Holliday. Ever the quick-draw, Holliday pulled his revolver out of his holster in the blink of an eye and fired at Joyce. The bullet knocked Joyce’s piece out of his hand and left a gaping hole in his palm so bad that doctors later considered amputation.

Holliday wasn’t done yet.

Screenshot of Kirk Douglas looking at front - from Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)Wallis-Hazen, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

36. He “Fired” The Bartender

In an attempt to save Joyce from an even worse fate, the bartender at the Oriental Saloon tried to wrest Holliday’s revolver out of his hand. But Holliday had an iron grip on it. In the tussle, Holliday managed to fire off another shot, this time hitting the bartender in the foot. The fight only ended when Joyce knocked Holliday over the head with the handle of his revolver.

The bad blood between them only got badder.

Screenshot of Kirk Douglas walking at saloon - from Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)Wallis-Hazen, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

37. He Had A Lovers’ Quarrel

Months later, Joyce and his friend, County Sheriff Behan, saw an opportunity to get back at Holliday by pinning the stagecoach heist on him. There was just one problem. They didn’t have any evidence against him. That is, until Big Nose Kate turned up at the Oriental Saloon after a knock-down-drag-out fight with Holliday.

The “Doc” was about to learn that Big Nose Kate could stick her big nose where it didn’t belong.

Screenshot of Kirk Douglas reading a newspaper at saloon - from Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)Wallis-Hazen, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

38. His Girlfriend Turned On Him

Behan and Joyce plied Big Nose Kate with drinks all night until she couldn’t see straight. Then they convinced her to sign a statement, implicating Holliday in the horrible stagecoach heist. With their new “evidence,” Behan and Joyce clapped Holliday in irons and prepared him for the hangman’s noose. He would have hanged, too, if someone didn’t intervene.

Screenshot of Kirk Douglas in handcuffs - from Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)Wallis-Hazen, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

39. His Friend Saved His Life

When Wyatt Earp got wind of what was happening, he knew he had to act fast to save his friend. After all, Holliday had saved Wyatt’s life before. Earp managed to get Big Nose Kate to recant her statement and found “witnesses” who could attest to Holliday’s whereabouts on the day of the heist. Thanks to Wyatt, Holliday was free from the noose.

Clearly, however, his Lady Luck was no longer lucky. Holliday ended his relationship with Big Nose Kate, gave her a fat stack of cash and put her on a train out of town. But he still had a score to settle.

Portrait of Wyatt Earp - 1869American Experience: Wyatt Earp on WXXI-TV, Wikimedia Commons

40. He Got Mixed Up In Bad Business

On October 26, 1881, Holliday got the opportunity to pay back Wyatt Earp and his brothers for saving his skin. Virgil Earp, acting as a deputy U.S. marshal, deputized Holliday and asked him to help in disarming a group of outlaws, called the Cowboys, who had wandered into town. Holliday agreed. 

He had no idea what he was walking into.

Screenshot of cowboys hiding outside - from Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)Wallis-Hazen, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

41. He Drew First

Holliday and the other members of the Earp party found the Cowboys outside of Holliday’s boarding house. Believing that the Cowboys intended to do him harm, Holliday drew his revolver and opened fire on the stunned outlaws. What happened next has become the stuff of Old West legends and turned Holliday into a heroic figure.

Screenshot of cowboys hiding outside - from Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)Wallis-Hazen, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

42. He Dared His Enemies To Shoot

After Holliday drew his revolver, a horrible hail of bullets ensued. His first shot hit and fatally wounded Tom McLaury. McLaury’s brother, Frank, then yelled at Holliday, “I’ve got you now!” Holliday fired back, “Blaze away! You're a daisy if you have”. Both posses then openly fired on each other in a horrible incident that became known as the Gunfight at the OK Corral.

Holliday barely made it out alive.

Screenshot of Kirk Douglas hiding outside - from Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)Wallis-Hazen, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

43. He Got Two McLaurys For The Price Of One

The entire fatal fracas lasted less than a minute but by the time the last shot rang out, Holliday had more blood on his hands. Thankfully, it wasn’t his. In addition to Tom McLaury, Holliday had allegedly dispatched both Frank McLaury with a shot behind the ear and, possibly, Billy Clanton. However, even as the shots stopped, the feud had only just started.

Florence Lawrence factsShutterstock

44. He Sought Revenge

In retribution for the slaying of their friends, Cowboys outlaws (presumably, Frank Stilwell and Ike Clanton) attacked the Earp brothers. They ambushed and severely wounded Virgil Earp and finished off Morgan Earp only months later. Once again, Wyatt called on Holliday to help him seek revenge in what would become known as the Earp Vendetta Ride.

It’s just as bad as it sounds—Holliday unleashed terror on his enemies.

Image of Wyatt Earp - 1876Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

45. He Left A Trail A Bullet-Riddled Bodies

Holliday, along with Wyatt and his other deputies, formed a posse to take the injured Virgil to safety in California. However, they cut their path in blood and bodies. In late March of 1882, Holliday, Wyatt and other members of the Earp party tracked down and bumped off members of the Cowboys, leaving their bullet-riddled bodies behind.

Then the feud turned personal.

Screenshot of Stacy Keach riding a horse - from Doc (1971)FP Films, Doc (1971)

46. He Broke Up With His Bestie

For their actions in March of 1882, Holliday and Earp had to flee warrants for their capture. Their bloody deeds had left behind a trail of bodies that no lawman could ignore. And clearly, the tensions had gotten to the two best friends. While laying low in Albuquerque, they pair got into it after Holliday insulted Earp's woman.

Fortunately, they didn’t draw their revolvers on each other, but they did go their separate ways. Holliday, sadly, couldn’t hack it on his own.

Screenshot of Stacy Keach looking at side - from Doc (1971)FP Films, Doc (1971)

47. His Bestie Saved His Life—Again

Without the support of his best friend, Wyatt Earp, Holliday’s condition began to take its toll on him and he slowed his pace. In short order, the authorities caught up with Holliday in Colorado and were ready to send him to the noose. Despite their spat, however, it was Wyatt’s turn to save Holliday’s life once again.

Wyatt arranged with Masterson to have Holliday extradited to Colorado on “bunco” charges and ultimately released on bail. Of course, a simple brush with the law did nothing to stop Holliday from seeking revenge on his enemies.

Screenshot of Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster standing outside - from Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)Wallis-Hazen, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

48. He Was Settling Old Scores

Despite the fact that he was mostly flying solo and that his health was steadily declining, it’s possible that Holliday continued hunting down Cowboys and settling old scores. When the Cowboy outlaw Johnny Ringo, for example, turned up with a bullet hole in his head, rumors began circulating that Holliday had done the deed.

Ultimately, the coroner ruled that Ringo had done himself in. But, Holliday still had a temper—and fully-loaded revolver.

Screenshot of Stacy Keach looking at side - from Doc (1971)FP Films, Doc (1971)

49. He Didn’t Have Any Money

By 1884, Holliday’s health had taken a turn for the worse and he was running out of money. To get by, he had borrowed the small sum of $5 from William J. "Billy" Allen, a bartender at the Monarch Saloon in Leadville, Colorado. Instead of gratitude, it seems that Holliday only ever intended to pay Allen back with lead to the head.

Screenshot of Kirk Douglas looking at side - from Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)Wallis-Hazen, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

50. He Always Paid His Debts—With Lead

Allen demanded that Holliday pay back the loan by August 19 “or else”. With his health failing him, however, Holliday knew that he couldn’t get the money. More importantly, seeing as though he was so close to his own grave, he knew that he had nothing to lose. And he knew where Allen would be and when to settle their business.

Screenshot of Kirk Douglas riding a horse - from Gunfight At The O.k. Corral (1957)Wallis-Hazen, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

51. He Missed

On August 19, Holliday waited for Allen at Hyman’s Saloon, a favorite of the bartender’s. When Allen walked in, Holliday pulled out his piece and fired, but his illness had even taken its toll on his once impeccable aim. The bullet missed Allen and hit the doorframe behind him. Stunned, Allen turned to run but tripped and fell to his hands and knees.

Holliday pounced.

Screenshot of Kirk Douglas walking at saloon - from Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)Wallis-Hazen, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

52. His Second Time Was The Charm

Holliday seized on the opportunity. Standing almost directly over Allen, Holliday fired again. This time, he didn’t miss. The bullet entered through Allen’s upper right arm, between his shoulder and elbow, and tore through the entire thing, severing an artery. Allen stumbled to his feet, staggered into the wall and then collapsed into the arms of an onlooker.

Holliday was lucky given what happened next.

Screenshot of Kirk Douglas laying on the floor - from Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)Wallis-Hazen, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

53. He Was Free To Go

Unbelievably, Allen survived Holliday’s ruthless attack. The authorities charged Holliday for the incident and put him on trial. However, the jury found that Holliday had acted in self-defense, given that Allen had threatened him before. As such, Holliday was free to live out his final days. He just didn’t have many of those left.

Screenshot of Stacy Keach looking at front upset - from Doc (1971)FP Films, Doc (1971)

54. He Thought His Demise Was Funny

Holliday’s health declined rapidly after that. He eventually settled at Hotel Glenwood, hoping that the sulfur fumes would cure him. Suffice to say, the noxious gasses did not help his situation. As he drew his final breaths, he asked his nurse for a shot of hooch. When she declined, he remarked, “This is funny,” staring at his bare feet.

He had always imagined that he would pass away with his boots on, in a bloody hail of bullets.

Screenshot of Val Kilmer laying sick in bed - from Tombstone (1993)Hollywood Pictures, Tombstone (1993)

55. He Coughed Up His Conscience

Before losing his battle with tuberculosis, Holliday had made peace with both his friend, Wyatt Earp and his common law wife, Big Nose Kate. Despite the hard life he had lived, he expressed no regrets. A few years earlier, a reporter had asked him whether his bloody deeds and feuds weighed on his conscience. 

Holliday simply replied, “I coughed that up with my lungs, years ago”.

This is the Current Headstone for Doc Holliday - 2009Fred. Dupper, Wikimedia Commons

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Do you question the accuracy of a fact you just read? At Factinate, we’re dedicated to getting things right. Our credibility is the turbo-charged engine of our success. We want our readers to trust us. Our editors are instructed to fact check thoroughly, including finding at least three references for each fact. However, despite our best efforts, we sometimes miss the mark. When we do, we depend on our loyal, helpful readers to point out how we can do better. Please let us know if a fact we’ve published is inaccurate (or even if you just suspect it’s inaccurate) by reaching out to us at Thanks for your help!

Warmest regards,

The Factinate team

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