Of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday

Were Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp really friends? I wondered and did some research. Original sources show that in the Wild West the line between outlaw and town marshal were sometimes blurry. Such was the case with John Henry “Doc” Holliday and Wyatt Earp. Holliday was born 1851 in Georgia. His mother died of tuberculosis shortly after his 15th birthday. The disease would take other family members and finally Holliday as well. He was educated at the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery and practiced for a short time as a dentist. When Holliday was diagnosed with tuberculosis he headed west. He found he had a talent for cards. Perhaps his tuberculosis made him a fatalist, but whatever the reason Doc Holliday wasn’t afraid to fight with guns or knives. He drifted about the West earning a bloody reputation until, in Shanssey’s saloon in Fort Griffin, Texas, he met the only woman who mattered to him: Big Nose Kate, a doctor’s daughter who had become a frontier dance hall woman and prostitute. In the same saloon he soon met Earp.

Earp rode in from Dodge City, Kansas, on the trail of a train robber. They hit it off. Doc even helped Wyatt hunt for the bandit. Doc later rode to Dodge City to play cards with Earp; however, he discovered that Wyatt had gone to a new silver strike in a place called Tombstone, Arizona. Doc followed Earp there. All of the Earp brothers were bound for Tombstone, too. Morgan was coming in from Montana, Wyatt and James from Dodge City, and Virgil from Prescott, Arizona.

When they arrived they found that a gang in Tombstone had things their way. This gang resented the arrival of the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday. Old Man Clanton, his sons, Ike, Phin, and Billy, the McLaury brothers (Frank and Tom), Curly Bill Brocius, John Ringo, and more were soon to famously butt heads with the Earp family and Doc Holliday.

Events exploded in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. The gunfight took place at about 3 p.m. on Wednesday October 26, 1881, in Tombstone. On one side was the law—Virgil, Morgan, and Wyatt Earp, and Doc Holliday. On the other side was gang the Cowboys—Ike Clanton, Billy Claiborne, Billy Clanton, and Tom and Frank McLaury. The shooting lasted about 30 seconds. Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne ran from the fight unharmed. Billy Clanton and both McLaury brothers were killed.

Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday would later ride together against the Cowboys in what is known as the “Earp Vendetta Ride.” The best movie that follows the complex series of gun battles and personalities is Tombstone (1993) with Kurt Russell as Wyatt and Val Kilmer as Doc; however, no movie has been completely honest about the historical events. But then, a lot of the history is in dispute. What we do know is that for better or worse, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday had such a profound friendship it passed into legend.