Doc Holiday: Stories, Trivia, And Facts You Didn't Know About The Gunslinger

By | August 25, 2020

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Shootout show with gunslingers "Wyatt Earp" (left) and "Doc Holliday" at "Tombstone Village," Arizona. (Photo by Peter Bischoff/Getty Images)

The infamous shootout at the O.K. Corral has become part of our romanticized version of the Old West, where lawmen were the good guys but outlaws were the heroes of folklore. Doc Holliday has become one of those legends, but behind the slick action movies was a real-life man who led an extraordinary life at a pivotal time in American history.

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Graduation photo of John Henry Holliday from the Pennsylvania School of Dental Surgery in March 1872. (Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons)

The Early Years

John Henry Holliday was born a long way from Tombstone in Griffin, Georgia on August 14, 1851. He was born with a cleft palate that required corrective surgery, and his mother, who had lost her first child shortly after its birth and feared that something would happen to young John, rarely left his side. As he grew older, Holliday's speech was impacted by the birth defect, but his mother spent countless hours working with him on his speech, patiently correcting his pronunciations until all traces of his impediment were gone.

Unlike other gunslingers, who often became outlaws after surviving abusive and impoverished upbringings, Holliday had a great childhood with a loving and financially stable family. His father earned his living as a druggist, and his mother doted on him, teaching him the perfect manners of a Southern gentleman. He was an excellent student with a passion for science and math who read every book he could.

When his loving mother died of tuberculosis in 1866, Holliday turned to his studies to help him cope with his heartache, soon enrolling in the dentistry program at the University of Pennsylvania. Upon his graduation in 1872, he returned to Georgia to practice dentistry for a short time, but the Wild West called to him.