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dentist, gambler, gunfighter
John Henry Holliday was born into a wealthy family in Griffin, Georgia, on August 14, 1851. His father moved the family to Valdosta, Georgia, in 1864, and John received his secondary education at Valdosta Institute. His mother died of tuberculosis on September 16, 1866, leaving him devastated, and John began getting into trouble not long after. When John's activities began reflecting badly on the family, his father sent him off to the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery, from which John graduated in 1872; he opened a dental office in Atlanta that same year.
Diagnosed with tuberculosis soon after starting his practice, Holliday decided to move to a drier climate out west. He opened a practice in Dallas, Texas, in March of 1873, but his constant cough turned off patients and he soon turned to gambling for his income. Knowing his life was destined to be short, he soon gained a reputation for being a very successful card player who was also quick to take offense and prone to violence. On January 1, 1875, he was arrested after trading gunfire with a saloon-keeper and fined (neither man was injured), and he decided to move his practice to Denison soon after. After being found guilty and fined for illegal gambling in Denison, Holliday decided to leave Texas. He subsequently spent time in the Dakota and Colorado territories before returning to Texas.
Holliday was living in Fort Griffin, Texas, when he first met Wyatt Earp, in 1877. The two men became friends, and Earp began telling Holliday about the great opportunities the cowtown of Dodge City, Kansas, presented to successful gamblers. That spring, Holliday was arrested for murder after stabbing a man who had drawn a pistol on him. Although he had acted in self-defense, the man he killed had been well-liked in town and Holliday did not think he would get a fair trial. Rather than take a chance, he, with help from his mistress, escaped from custody. By the spring of 1878 he was in Dodge City, where he renewed his friendship with Earp and opened a dental practice. As one of only two fully licensed doctors in town Holliday had little trouble getting patients, but his persistent cough still made it difficult to keep patients and once he had gotten all of the money he could from the cowboys bringing cattle to market he decide to move on again. It is believed that this was the last time Holliday ever practiced dentistry.
By the fall of 1878, Holliday was part owner of a saloon in Las Vegas, New Mexico Territory. There, he shot a man who had been yelling at one of the saloon girls. After learning that he would be arrested for the killing, he decided to return to Dodge City. Once there he discovered that Earp had already left for Tombstone, Arizona Territory, and decided to try and catch up with his friend there. It was in Tombstone that he, Earp, and others had their famous shootout at the O.K. Corral, on October 26, 1881. Arrested for murder but subsequently acquitted, Holliday and Earp went on a rampage of several month,s during which they were deemed responsible for the shooting and killing of several enemies and outlaws.
By May of 1887, Holliday was desperate for relief from his tuberculosis and had taken up residence at a sanatorium near Glenwood Springs, Colorado. He died there on November 8, 1887.
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This page was last updated on September 23, 2017.