The last stop for Doc Holliday, in May 1887, was Glenwood Springs, Colo., a necropolis the old, familiar gamblers’ circuit had bypassed, as if by superstition. Holliday arrived aboard a stagecoach from Leadville, 75 miles to the south. He came to drink in the medicinal waters, but even more, to take advantage of the altitude. Doc Holliday–gunslinger, gambler, and occasional dentist–dies from tuberculosis. Though he was perhaps most famous for his participation in the shootout at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona.
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 skilful gambler and the nerviest, speediest, deadliest man with a six-gun I ever knew.
—Wyatt Earp, San Francisco Examiner, 2 August 1896
AGL d10, SMT d10, SPT d8, STR d6, VIG d4, PAR 5, TGH 3. Rank: Hero, Fate Chips 3, Wounds 3/I. Hindrances: Disease (Tuberculosis), Vengeful (Minor). Edges: Ambidextrous, Danger Sense, Elan, Gadgeteer, Improved Trademark Weapon (Colt Navy), Professional (Gambling), Quick, Quick Draw, Scholar, Trademark Weapon (Sawed-off Shotgun), Unique Edge: Gambler’s Luck. Skills: Fighting d6, Gambling d12+1, Healing d8, Intimidation d8, Language (French) d6, Language (Greek) d4, Language (Latin) d8, Medicine d10, Notice d12, Riding d8, Shooting d10, Stealth d6, Streetwise d10, Surgery (Dental) d10, Survival d8, Tracking d4. Attack: Knife, 1d4+1d6 STR; Colt Navy revolver, Cal .38, RoF 1, DAM 2d6+2; Sawed-off double-barrel shotgun, 12-gauge, RoF 2, DAM 1–3d6.
Immaculately dressed and possessing a cultivated Georgian accent, Doc Holliday is a slender, rakish man with a sharp tongue and a nasty cough. He tends the faro tables at the Bella Union Variety in Cheyenne—when he’s not playing poker at one of the Magic City’s many dive bars. Underneath his classical education lies a violent temperament; at the tender age of 25, Holliday has murdered three people, shot another, and stabbed a third. He is also fond of sporting girls, and not above cheating when the chips are down. Despite his many flaws, Doc Holliday considers himself a gentleman, particularly when matters of honor are concerned, and has been known to place himself in grave danger to provide assistance to the helpless. These contradictory sides of his character are often in conflict, and whether the mercurial Holliday responds to a situation with feckless selfishness or graceful charity is often impossible to predict.
John Henry Holliday was born in Griffin, Georgia on 14 August 1851. His father Henry Burroughs Holliday was a veteran of the Mexican-American War, after which he adopted an orphaned Mexican boy named Francisco Hidalgo and raised him as John’s brother. When the Civil War began, Henry Holiday served in the quartermasters corps of Georgia’s 27th Regiment. A veteran of Salkehatchie, Henry later claimed to have participated in the capture and subsequent lynching of General William Tecumseh Sherman, but a Yankee bullet shattered his leg and sent him back to civilian life as a pharmacist. Henry moved his family to the cotton town of Valdosta, Georgia, where he was eventually elected mayor. His son John attended the Valdosta Institute, receiving a classical education and setting his sights on a future medical career. In 1866, John’s mother Alice McKey Holliday died of tuberculosis; his father was remarried within months. Francisco Hidalgo died shortly thereafter, cut down by the same disease.
The Withlacoochee Shooting
Shortly after the death of his adopted brother, John took some friends to his favorite swimming hole along the Withlacoochee River. Finding the location inhabited by a pair of Negro boys, John ordered them to vacate the premises, and fired his Colt Navy revolver above their heads. One of the boys uttered something underneath his breath as he gathered his belongings, and a flash of pure rage explode inside John’s heart. He placed a bullet in the young man’s head, then watched coolly as his companion ran naked through the grass. Just as the other boy was almost out of sight, John emptied the cylinder into his back. This double murder infuriated the boys’ owner, a local cotton baron named Philip Joyce. He demanded full compensation for his “butchered property.”
Although the Hollidays paid Joyce in full, his anger at John remained, and he continued to threaten legal action. Henry Holliday thought it best of John remain out of sight. John’s cousin Robert Holliday had co-founded the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery in 1852, so John was smuggled to Philadelphia to continue his education. Playing the role of Union sympathizer, John graduated as Doctor of Dental Surgery in 1872. His thesis was on “Diseases of the Teeth.”
John Henry Holliday in 1872
Holliday had a mean disposition and an ungovernable temper, and under the influence of liquor was a most dangerous man. Physically, Doc Holliday was a weakling who could not have whipped a healthy fifteen-year-old boy in a go-as-you-please fist fight, and no one knew this better than himself, and the knowledge of this fact was perhaps why he was so ready to resort to a weapon of some kind whenever he got himself into difficulty. He was hot-headed and impetuous and very much given to both drinking and quarreling, and, among men who did not fear him, was very much disliked. Holliday had few real friends anywhere in the West. He was selfish and had perverse nature—traits not calculated to make a man popular in the early days on the frontier.
—Bat Masterson, 1907
Brief Medical Career
Doctor John Henry Holliday moved to St. Louis and worked as an assistant dental surgeon for four months. Upon receiving word that Philip Joyce had died, he returned to Georgia, and moved in with his uncle in Atlanta. Holliday was soon diagnosed with tuberculosis, and was advised to seek a drier climate. Traveling to the Republic of Texas, “Doc” again set up shop, winning several awards for the quality of his work. However, his patients were not pleased by his fits of coughing, and Holliday’s practice began to lose customers. Holliday became increasingly more depressed and erratic. He already possessed a reckless attitude and a sardonic sense of humor; now that his death was certain, these qualities became his defining characteristics.
Gambler On the Run
Forced to seek a supplementary stream of revenue, Holliday turned to gambling, an occupation well-suited to his increasingly fatalistic disposition. Finding himself attracted to larger and larger stakes, he was arrested for illegal gambling on several occasions, and in 1875 he exchanged fire with a crooked saloon owner named Charles “Champagne” Austin. Neither shooter was injured, but both were arrested, and Holliday was told that “the Republic doesn’t need some Georgia lunger stirring up trouble.”
Departing Dallas, Holliday made his way north, finding trouble in every town, camp, and outpost along the way. The worst of these incidents occurred in Jacksboro, a small town seventy miles northwest of Dallas adjacent to Fort Samuel Walker. A Texas dragoon accused Holliday of cheating at cards, and an argument ensued. After the dragoon insulted Doc’s mother, Holliday drew his revolver and shot him in the face. Just like the boys Holliday caught “trespassing” in his swimming hole, the man was unarmed; but gunning down a white solider was quite different than killing a pair of teenage slaves. This time, Holliday might hang.
Doc Holliday fled the Republic with a posse on his trail, losing them by crossing the border and changing his name to “Tom Mackey.” Evading the Texas Rangers, he made his way across the Coyote Confederation into Kansas. He settled for a spell in Denver City, finding work as a faro banker at John Babb’s Theatre Comique. Predictably, his sharp tongue was soon causing problems, and when a gambler named Bud Ryan provoked him, Holliday slashed his face with a knife and nearly cut his throat. Having burned another bridge, Holliday accepted Babb’s offer to work at his partner’s saloon in Wyoming Territory. He departed Colorado in early February 1876.
Having worn out his welcome in Georgia, Texas, Kansas, and Colorado, Doc Holliday currently resides in Cheyenne. He works at Tom Miller’s Bella Union Variety Theatre, dealing faro and playing poker on the side. Historically, it is likely that Holliday left Cheyenne around September 1876. Miller had already opened a sister saloon in Deadwood, and Doc Holliday reportedly followed soon after.
Hindrance: Disease (Tuberculosis)
Although Doc Holliday is a confirmed “lunger,” he is still a decade away from his expiration in a Colorado sanitarium. During any activity that requires an Action Card, if Holliday draws a spade between 2 and 5 in value, he must make a Vigor roll to proceed; otherwise he loses his action to a spasm of violent coughing. As Holliday’s disease progresses, this numerical range will increase incrementally until his death in 1887.
Hindrance: Vengeful (Major)
Underneath his calm demeanor, Doc Holliday nurses a mean streak that occasionally flares into shocking acts of violence. Any failed attempt to Intimidate or Taunt Doc Holliday forces him to make a Smarts roll. If the roll is successful, Holliday responds with devastating wit; if the roll is a failure, he responds with lethal force.
Unique Edge: Gambler’s Luck
Doc Holliday has exceptional luck at gambling. In any game of chance, Holliday may spend a Fate Chip to discard and/or redo any single hand, round, or roll. For instance, if Doc Holliday is playing poker and doesn’t like the results of the fifth “river” card, a Fate Chip forces the Marshal to discard the offending card and select a new one from the deck. Or, if Doc Holliday is playing roulette, a Fate Chip negates the results and grants a second spin of the wheel.
Having spent most of his life on the run, Doc Holliday has few notable possessions save his pair of Trademark Weapons.
Doc Holliday is never without his Colt Navy revolver. Given to him as a boy by his uncle John Stiles Holliday, Doc had the original .36 percussion revolver converted to fire .38 cartridges early in his outlaw career. The revolver is nickel-plated, and Doc swapped the original wooden grips for ivory.
1851 Colt Navy revolver, second model, serial number 3327. Richards & Mason cartridge conversion. Caliber .38, Range 10/25/100, Capacity 6, Rate of Fire 1, DAM 2d6+2. In Doc Holliday’s hands: Improved Trademark Weapon, +2 Shooting bonus.
Doc Holliday always travels with a small shotgun. With a shortened stock and sawed-off double barrels, the gun may be fired single-handedly, and has been rigged with a lanyard for easy concealment under his coat. Doc usually slings the shotgun below his faro table when he deals. The gun is quite worn, with Damascus steel barrels and twin “mule ear” hammers.
Double-barrel shotgun, sawed-off. 12-Gauge, Range 1/10/20, Capacity 2, Rate of Fire 2, DAM 1–3d6. In Doc Holliday’s hands: Trademark Weapon, +1 Shooting bonus.
Myth of Holliday’s Shotgun
Despite what is often depicted in the movies, Doc Holliday prefers using revolvers rather than shotguns. This enduring association between Doc Holliday and shotguns derives from the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral, when Doc was handed a “street howitzer” by Wyatt Earp. Since then, every dime novel, Hollywood movie, and Deadlands profile feels obligated to place a shotgun in Holliday’s hands! (Well, at least the one I describe above is historic…!)
Perhaps the most famous gun owned by Doc Holliday is a Remington derringer, an 1866 “over and under” model plated in nickel and equipped with mother-of-pearl grips. Given to him as a present by Big Nose Kate in 1881, “To Doc from Kate” is inscribed on the backstrap. Although this exact derringer is anachronistic for an 1876 setting, the model itself was in wide circulation. Perhaps Kate’s gift was meant as a replacement for a similar derringer lost by Holliday sometime before Tombstone?
Remington derringer. Caliber .41, Range 2/5/10, Capacity 2, Rate of Fire 1, DAM 1d6+1d8. In Doc Holliday’s hands: Trademark Weapon, +1 Shooting bonus. Notes: This small weapon may be concealed from a casual search by making an opposed roll of Holliday’s d10 Streetwise skill vs. the searcher’s Notice skill. Its particularly small size gives Holliday a +2 on his roll.
Other Notable Guns
In 1876, Doc Holliday was also believed to own his father’s wartime LeMat, a battered Henry repeater, and a standard 1873 Winchester rifle. None of these firearms is a Trademark Weapon, and the Marshal may use the standard statistics for each.
In 1876, Doc Holliday is still largely unknown, and has yet to visit Dodge City, meet Wyatt Earp, or settle in Tombstone. As described in this profile, the Doc Holliday of Deadlands 1876 is a cunning gambler, a melancholy rake with an acid wit and a penchant for violence. The son of a Confederate soldier, Doc Holliday is unapologetically pro-Southern, and has a virulent racist streak, particularly when fueled by his lethal temper. Despite that, he loved his Mexican brother, despises bullies, and has a reputation for kindness among the socially dispossessed, particularly prostitutes.
A controversial figure even in his own time, Doc Holliday may be included in a Deadlands campaign as a troublesome ally, a deadly adversary, or a player character. Of course, a Marshal is free to adjust Holliday’s biographical details to fit his own campaign, whether casting Doc Holliday as a murderous villain or the faithful sidekick of Western cinema. As usual, the truth is likely somewhere in the middle. Although Doc Holliday spent most of 1876 in Cheyenne, he may be located anywhere in the Old West with very little effort; particularly Denver, Custer City, or Deadwood. For Deadlands campaigns set after the Centennial, Doc Holliday’s biography may be expanded to include his friendship with the Earp brothers and his tumultuous relationship with Hungarian prostitute Mary Katherine “Big Nose Kate” Horony, who later became his common-law wife.
Doc Holliday in New Mexico, 1879
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 Holliday’s Lawyer
Whether he wears a white, black, or gray hat, Doc Holliday is an important figure in western folklore. However, many popular histories of Holliday are filled with biographical contradictions, wild speculation, and apocrypha taken for fact. This includes Bat Masterson’s famous 1907 profile, a hatchet piece that portrays Doc Holliday as a drunken psychopath. This Deadlands 1876 biography attempts to tread the middle ground, generally sticking to the historical record but embracing certain embellishments in the John Ford “print the legend” tradition. Obviously, some changes have been made to accommodate the alternate timeline of Deadlands 1876. For instance, the historical Henry Holliday was not wounded in the fictional Battle of Salkehatchie, and Doc did not have to “smuggle” himself to Pennsylvania for an education. Philip Joyce is also fictional, as Georgia was historically undergoing Reconstruction during this period. There are two significant “embellishments” which deserve further explanation, as both are derived from Bat Masterson’s article, and neither is backed by compelling historical evidence. These are Holliday’s murder of the African-American boys along the Withlacoochee, and his shooting of the soldier in Jacksboro.
The Swimming Hole Incident
The Withlacoochee incident likely occurred sometime between 1866–1867, although some accounts place it shortly after Holliday returned to Georgia in 1872–1873. According to most sources, Doc Holliday was unhappy to find former slaves using the “white” swimming hole, particularly after they had been ordered to find a new location. Angered at their refusal to obey, the young John Holliday cleared the swimming hole by firing his revolver over their heads. Some accounts claim that Holliday was accompanied by friends, others maintain he was showing the location to his uncle. Bat Masterson, however, accused Holliday of discharging a shotgun into a group of boys, killing two and wounding several others. While it’s obvious that Holliday was no exemption from virulent nineteenth-century racism, historians have found no evidence to back up Masterson’s accusations of murder, and he remains the only source for that particular version of the tale. The “swimming hole incident” has become a controversial part of the Doc Holliday legend ever since. My own fictionalized history of this “alternate” Doc Holliday combines both versions into one horrible act.
The Jacksboro Shooting
Bat Masterson’s profile accuses Doc Holliday of a second double-murder. Masterson alleges that Holliday was forced from Dallas because he shot and killed a “white man of some local prominence.” Escaping to Jacksboro, Holliday got in a fight with a solider from Fort Richardson and shot him during a game of poker. These stories were denied by Doc’s friends, and the only historical evidence supporting them is sketchy at best. There are no records of a killing in Dallas; but records show that a private named Robert Smith was killed around Fort Richardson by an “unknown assailant.” Doc Holliday’s Deadlands 1876 profile ignores the alleged murder in Dallas, but retains the shooting in Jacksboro, transforming the dead U.S. solider into a Texas dragoon.
So why are these murders included in Doc Holliday’s Deadlands profile at all? The answer is simple. Deadlands 1876 is a game of horror, and I wanted a darker, more conflicted Doc Holliday, one who drops corpses in the wake of his violent outbursts. I should also mention that Holliday’s hometown of Valdosta is no stranger to racial terrorism, and Lowndes County was the site of the May 1918 lynchings that claimed the life of Mary Turner. If the Marshal prefers a version of Doc Holliday with a less despicable history, he is free to side with the historical evidence, and dismiss these acts of wanton slaughter from the gunslinger’s résumé.
My primary source was Gary Roberts’ critically-acclaimed biography, Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend. Fish game gambling near me. I also drew from Bat Masterson’s 1907 hatchet piece, “Doc Holliday as Told by Bat Masterson.” Allen Barra’s article Doc Holliday’s Racist Killing? in True West magazine provided a thoughtful rebuttal to Bat Masterson’s more serious allegations. For a more positive spin on Doc Holliday, I consulted R.W. Boyle’s Doc Holliday Live! site. Boyle is a Doc Holliday impersonator, and his site provided most of my information regarding Holliday’s guns. Doc Holliday’s Wikipedia page was also helpful, but is quite disorganized, and contained some inaccuracies that a certain Deadlands writer may have quietly corrected
I am obligated to mention Val Kilmer’s iconic portrayal of Doc Holliday in Tombstone. Any Marshal who doesn’t toss the words “daisy” and “huckleberry” into Holliday’s conversational idiom is failing his duty! Although the movie is dated in a 90s kind of way, and Josephine Marcus is woefully underwritten, it’s actually a decent western that manages to keep the facts (mostly) straight. Also, the cast features every badass actor ever, from Charlton Heston and Robert Mitchum to Terry O’Quinn and Michael Rooker! (And of course Kurt Russell, worth the price of admission alone.)
The “official” take on Doc Holliday as a Deadlands NPC is found in Shane Lacy Hensley’s The Quick and the Dead, updated in Steven Long’s Law Dogs. The vanilla rules cast Doc Holliday as a Hexslinger, one possessing arcane powers against the Harrowed. While the writers acknowledge Doc’s violent streak, they gloss over the uglier aspects of his personality. For instance, they embrace Masterson’s account of the swimming hole incident, but absolve Doc of any racial motivations, even as they up the body count: “He left Georgia after he shot three men for using his ‘private’ swimming hole.” Indeed.
Although the photograph used in the banner is widely believed to be Doc Holliday, only two famous photographs of Holliday are actually confirmed—his graduation photo from 1872, and the signed photo from 1879. Boyle includes an illuminating discussion of Doc Holliday photographs on his Doc Holliday Live! site. Boyle’s site is also the source of my information and images for Holliday’s sawed-off shotgun and Remington derringer. The nickel-plated Colt revolver is not actually Holliday’s, but was a “best-fit” image borrowed from Collectors Firearms.
Author: A. Buell Ruch
Last Modified: 13 May 2019
Email:quail (at) shipwrecklibrary (dot) com
PDF Version: [Coming Soon]
Among the early practitioners of dentistry, none quite captures the imagination as much as John Henry Holliday, better known as Doc Holliday. Doc Holliday was a man whose legendary status arose most notably, when he gained the friendship of Wyatt Earp and his brothers, who were by his side fighting in the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Ariz.
John Henry (“Doc”) Holliday was born August 14, 1851, in Griffin, Georgia to a wealthy family. After losing both his mother and adopted brother to tuberculosis, Doc went on to attend the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery, where he graduated in 1872.
Shortly after graduating with a dental degree, Doc began work as a dentist in the office of Dr. Arthur C. Ford in Atlanta, Ga. It wasn’t long after starting his practice that he came down with tuberculosis, the same disease that claimed his mother and brother. He consulted a number of doctors, and all of them predicted a short future. They did say, however, that he would do better in a dry climate. So Holliday packed up and headed west. His first stop was Dallas, Texas.
In September 1873, he moved to Dallas, where he opened a dental office with fellow dentist, Dr. John A. Seeger. The office was located at 56 Elm Street, about four blocks east of the site of today’s Dealey Plaza. By all accounts, Holliday was a competent dentist with a successful practice. He was also an award-winning dentist. Some of the exhibits he prepared for dental school were entered at the Annual Fair of the North Texas Agricultural, Mechanical, and Blood Stock Association at the Dallas County Fair by Holliday and his dental partner Dr. Seeger. Holliday took all three awards – “best set of teeth in gold,” “the best in Vulcanized rubber” and “the best set of artificial teeth and dental ware.” His prizes were a plate and five dollars for each display, which was quite a tidy stipend for 1873.
Not long after starting his practice in Dallas, the violent coughing attacks, caused by the tuberculosis, started occurring, and always at the most inopportune times, such as in the midst of filling a tooth or while performing an extraction. Due to his disease, his practice started to decline and Doc had to find other means of earning a living.
He soon discovered that he possessed a natural ability for gambling and realized it was a far more lucrative source of income. The thin and weakened doctor also realized gambling was a dangerous profession, therefore he started honing his skills with a six-shooter. He quickly gained a reputation as word of this nearly 6-foot-tall, gun fighting dentist spread like wildfire.
Holliday’s first accounted gunfight was on January 2, 1875. Doc and a local saloon-keeper had a disagreement that quickly turned violent. While several shots were fired, neither Doc nor the saloon-keeper was struck and both men were arrested by Dallas police, as reported by the Dallas Weekly Herald.
Soon Holliday left Dallas and went on the move. He relocated to Fort Griffin where he was initially introduced to Wyatt Earp. Doc and Wyatt became friends for what was to be the rest of Doc’s life. He later followed Earp to Tombstone, Arizona, where in October 1881, they became the two most famous faces in what is regarded as the most legendary battle of the West: the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which also cemented Holliday’s status as a legend.
In 1882, Holliday fled Arizona and returned to the life of a western drifter, gambler, and gunslinger. By 1887, his hard living had caught up to him, forcing him to seek treatment for his tuberculosis in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, where he died in his bed at only 36 years old.
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