Doc Holliday Essay

This essay has a total of 3569 words and 14 pages.

Doc Holliday




American West, Term Paper

“Doc” Holliday: A man in search of normality.
John Henry Holliday, perhaps one of the most legendary gunfighters of the west, lived in
reality a life built on necessity and simply followed it and made due with the blows that
were dealt to him. Born August 14, 1851 to Alice and Henry Holliday, John Henry Holliday
entered the world already at a disadvantage with a serious birth defect. The defect known
as a cleft palate and a partially cleft lip, basically made suckling his mother’s breast
impossible. Dr. John S. Holliday, John’s uncle and an accomplished surgeon, delivered
John, cleared his air passages, and taught his mother the proper way to feed the him due
to the defect. With out the aid and instructions of Dr. Holliday, John could have easily
choked to death as was common with children that had this genetic defect. Ironically one
of the tools to feed the young child effectively was a shot glass, which in many ways
never left his side. At only eight weeks old John was under the careful care of his uncle
once again. Dr John Holliday, along with family friend Dr. Crawford Long, operated on
John’s mouth and lip with success. This was only the beginning of a turbulent childhood
that was anything but typical.

Instead of playing around without a care in the world like most toddlers, John spent
almost all of his time in speech therapy in an effort to correct what otherwise would have
been a terrible impediment. His mother, Alice Holliday, was the chief therapist and
attacked the problem with gusto. Her determination at alleviating the impediment rubbed
off on the young child, and John therefore worked hard at improving his speech. By the
age of four the impediment was barely noticeable. Yet John’s childhood was not only
speech therapy, playing with his cousin Robert was his favorite activity and would persist
to be for most of his young life.

John Holliday’s adolescence was influenced by two main factors, his mother and southern
society. Like most children John had a special bond with his mother, but coupled with his
need of constant attention due to his speech therapy and the routine absence of his father
due to business and political affairs, that bond became much stronger than typical. Alice
home schooled John until his therapy ended, doing such a good job that when he started
school he was way ahead of his classmates. Conversely after years of practical solitude,
except for the occasional recess with Robert, John was behind socially and was therefore
quite shy and reserved with the other students at the academy. The shy and quiet boy was
about to get a crash course on social behavior, when the passing of John’s grandfather
brought four of his young aunts and uncle into his household. Although spoiled by them,
the quiet times of being at home with just him and his mother were over.

The Holliday’s were true Southerners in both philosophical attitudes and genetic lineage.
From birth John was surrounded by the virtues and attitude that exemplified a true
southern gentleman, in the form of his father Henry Holliday. In true form to this code
of southern males of the time, Henry Holliday accepted a presidential appointment into the
Confederate Army from Jefferson Davis to serve in the Georgia Volunteer Infantry. Henry
prior to the Civil War had taught his son to handle revolvers, rifles, and shotguns.
Although only ten years old John became the “man of the house” and with weapons ready at
all times was well prepared to defend it. This was not necessary for long however, as
Henry Holliday resigned his commission after a little more than a year due to chronic
diarrhea. In that year Henry Holliday spent with the Confederate army, he realized that
in fact the Yankees were coming, and therefore sold what he had in Griffin, Georgia and
moved south to just outside Valdosta, a small town named Bemiss. The move most likely
saved both his assets and his life, since General Sherman and the bluecoats went right
through Griffin in their “march to the sea.” All together, some fourteen members of John
Holliday’s family fought in the Civil War, surprisingly all returned home safely.
Although Reconstruction would prove almost as difficult as the War.

While the rest of the south was trying to cope with the entry of the Northerners, John
Holliday’s main dilemma was more personal. Since the move to Bemiss, Alice Holliday, his
mother, had taken ill and would steadily decline in health until her death in September of
1866 of tuberculosis. This drove John into a serious depression, which was only mildly
retarded by the consoling of his Uncle John. This show of sympathy and concern for John
by his uncle helped to create what would form into a long lasting almost parental
relationship. His father, Henry Holliday, did not help matters much by remarrying only
three months after his mother’s death to a neighbor simply eight years John’s senior.
This formed a wedge between John and his father, causing John to hide in his studies, thus
becoming even more reclusive and shy, with little time for extracurricular activities.

In the late 1860’s, John Holliday shot a weapon in anger for the first time at a number of
blacks that had gathered at a white swimming hole. He fired over their heads in an
attempt to scare them off. His father felt this was sufficient enough reason to warrant a
trip out of town to visit his uncle, John Holliday. John welcomed the change of scenery,
as well as, the opportunity to visit his uncle and cousins.

During this hiatus Dr. Holliday, John’s uncle, stressed and emphasized the importance and
the value of a formal profession and education. John’s first instinct was to become a
doctor, following in the footsteps of his uncle. Dr. Holliday, however, dissuaded this in
view of improper licensing that had made the medical profession disreputable. He then
planted the seed of possibly attending dental school in John’s mind. John returned to
Bemiss to discuss this prospect with his father, even though in actuality he had already
made up his mind to become a dentist.

Soon there after, John and a few of his buddies decided that blowing up the Freedmen’s
Bureau, a section of the Reconstruction Policy, was a good idea. Valdosta’s citizens were
able to dissuade John and his crew, but none the less Henry Holliday used this as a
catalyst to send his son off to dental school. In 1870, John Henry Holliday, after paying
$105 in tuition and fees, was officially enrolled in the Pennsylvania College of Dental
Surgery. This began John’s profession period of his life.

Following his graduation in March of 1872, Doctor John Henry Holliday left Philadelphia
and headed south, back to Atlanta, Georgia. There, he moved in with his Uncle John and
his cousin Robert. Robert and John were together again except, this time, young men
carousing the bells of Aristocratic Atlanta instead of toddlers playing games in Griffin.
John’s uncle took him in as his own son and gave him every opportunity that was available
to his own children. Included in these opportunities was the introduction of Dr. Arthur
Ford. Dr. Ford would later be John’s partner in dental practice.

During this time, Robert also decided to pursue a dental career. His father had promised
Robert and his nephew, John, to financial support their very own dental practice upon
Robert’s graduation. In early 1873, this became a shattered dream when John was diagnosed
with pulmonary tuberculosis, the cause of his mother’s death. The prescription, at the
time, for such diseases, was a combination of dry climate, prolonged rest, and moderate
alcohol consumption. John “Doc” Holliday thus moved west to Texas expecting to return to
Atlanta fully recovered to live out the dream of his family dental practice.

John was met in Dallas by his new dental partner, Dr. John Seegar. John quickly impressed
Dr. Seegar and his new patients with a combination of Southern manners, good looks, and
superior dental work. Initially, an influx of people into Dallas provided plenty of work.
Nevertheless, a recession hit in December of 1873 and his health declined, creating a
constant cough. Needless to say, this was not good for business. With his newly acquired
extra time, John “Doc” Holliday took to the saloons.

Dallas’s faro bankers welcomed the newcomer with open arms. John quickly discovered the
similarities between faro and an old slave game named “Skinning”. Due to his mathematical
mind and his card playing education received from Sophie Walton, a former slave of his
uncle, Doc quickly became a skilled gambler. What began as a subsidization of the income
he received from dentistry, evolved into professional gambling. Although he would often
attempt to return to dentistry, his dental tools were often further from him than a deck
of cards.

In May of 1874, John Henry Holliday was arrested for the first time, of an eventual
seventeen times, for gambling. This led to the destruction of his partnership with Dr.
Seegar. Because he was aware of his tarnished reputation as a gambler, Doc started to
dress in a very gentlemanly and formal manner. This was the beginning of his
transformation into his “western” personality.

Although he looked the part of a well-mannered gentleman, John was able to defend himself
from physical and mental harm. Thanks to his father and Uncle John, his effectiveness
with firearms was impeccable. His impressive gambling style was mostly attributed to his
earlier sessions with Sophie, but western skill of alcohol tolerance was self-taught.

With this newfound persona, Doc left Dallas and relocated to Denison, Texas. Denison,
with a population of 5000, was known as “the lowest of the low places of Texas” thanks, in
part, to its large number of dance and whorehouses. He often traveled by train back to
Dallas to visit friends and to, of course, gamble. On one such occasion, celebrating the
New Year of 1875 in Dallas, Doc Holliday exchanged gunshots with Charles Austin, the
operator of the St. Charles Saloon. Neither man was hurt, both men were arrested, yet
only Doc Holliday was charged with a crime, specifically, assault to murder. Charles
Austin was believed to have had political clout that allowed him to allude the charge.
None the less, Holliday appeared in court to have the jury find him not guilty. He then
moved back to Denison.

Soon after, he became bored of Denison and boarded a stagecoach for Denver, Colorado.
Along the way, he stopped at Fort Griffin which, at the time, was the center of a
flourishing cattle industry. Approximately two thousand hunters and cowboys annually
visited Ft. Griffin. Their money and existence attracted gamblers and prostitutes alike,
quickly giving Ft. Griffin the reputation as the craziest town in Texas. Doc’s stay was
cut short when he was again arrested for gambling which was more than likely, a sign of
showing a newcomer unwelcomeness rather than upholding the law. Holliday got the point
and swiftly left Fort Griffin.

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