Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Wyatt Earp: Knight With A Six-Shooter

Doc Holliday

"Doc had but three redeeming traits. One was his courage...The second was his sterling loyalty

...The third was his affection for Wyatt Earp."

Bat Masterson, lawman

When Dave Rudabaugh robbed a Santa Fe Railroad construction camp in November,1877, Wyatt was issued an acting commission as U.S. Deputy Marshal to pursue the outlaw out of state. He followed Rudabaughs trail for 400 miles through antelope grass and vegas toFort Griffin, Texas, where the weather turned hot but the trail ice cold.

Figuring the cowboy had probably stopped for a drink on the lam, Wyatt visited the largest saloon in town, Shansseys. Owner John Shanssey said Rudabaugh had been there earlier in the week, but didnt know where he was bound. He directed Wyatt to a gambler named Doc Holliday who had played cards with his prey; perhaps he could tell him something.

Doc Holliday (University of Oklahoma)
Doc Holliday
(University of
Oklahoma)

Wyatt at first scoffed at the idea of even bothering to hunt out Holliday, who had a self-advertised hatred for lawmen. John Henry Holliday was a character born from an overdone dime novel, a scowling cynic whose life in the West consisted of one gunfight after another. A one-time dentist from Georgia (thus the name "Doc"), Holliday had come West to cure a tuberculous cough. Instead, he surrendered his practice for the card game. An ace gambler, he couldnt be bested. He drank several quarts of whisky a day and it was said that the more he drank the better he played and the better he shot, even as he coughed his lungs up. He didnt cheat; he didnt have to; but he was constantly being accused of it. And guns usually finished the arguments.

When Wyatt found him that evening at Shansseys, however, he was remarkably surprised at Docs verbosity. As far as he knew, Doc believed that Rudabaugh had back-trailed to Kansas. This information, which Wyatt wired back to Bat Masterson (now sheriff of Ford County), was instrumental in apprehending Rudabaugh.

Thus began a friendship that lasted until Docs death a decade later. At that time, Wyatt would write, "I found him a loyal friend and good company. He was a dentist whom necessity had made a gambler; a gentleman whom disease had made a vagabond; a philosopher whom life had made a caustic wit; a long, lean blonde fellow nearly dead with consumption and at the same time the most skillful gambler and nerviest, speediest, deadliest man with a six-gun I ever knew."

After meeting Wyatt in Fort Griffin, Doc showed up in Dodge City with his female shadow, a Cyprian bearing the unglamorous moniker "Big Nose Kate" Fisher (real name Mary Katherine Harony). They resided at Deacon Coxs Boarding House as "Mr. and Mrs. J. Holliday". The gambler frequented the Alhambra and was a regular at Wyatts faro tables. People thought it strange that their marshal was pal to a lowlife like Doc Holliday, but Wyatt let them whisper. As long as Holliday respected Wyatts position and kept the law in Dodge City, there was no reason to disregard him.

One night, Doc saved Wyatts life.

As ever, being marshal meant stepping on toes. Occasionally, owners of those toes "got likkered up" and tried to step back. Such as when someone shot at Wyatt while he was watching Eddie Foys vaudeville act at the Comique Theatre in July 78; a bullet narrowly missed him. Another time, a bullet whizzed past his face from a dark alley off First Avenue.

A few weeks after these incidences, Ed Morrison, whom Wyatt humiliated in Wichita, rode into Dodge with a desperado named Tobe Driskill and about 50 Texans to rush the town. They shot the Deadline sign to pieces and galloped down Front Street, hooting, guns blazing, blowing out shop windows. Entering the Long Branch Saloon, they proceeded to vandalize its trappings and harass its customers. Wyatt, not realizing what was happening, ran through the front door and face to face into a score of awaiting gun barrels. Although his sidearms were in his holster, reaching for them meant certain death.

Morrison stepped forward and sneered. "Pray and jerk your gun!" he growled. "Your time has come, Earp!"

Before Morrison could finish his play, however, another voice rang out from behind him. "No, friend, you draw or throw your hands up!" It was Doc, his revolver to Morrisons temple. He had been in a back room, his card game interrupted by the havoc out front. "Any of you bastards pulls a gun and your leader here loses whats left of his brains." The Texans firearms clattered to the floor.

"If anyone questions my loyalty to Holliday, theres my answer," Wyatt responded thereafter. "The only way anyone could have appreciated the feeling I had for Doc after the Driskill-Morrison business would have been to have stood in my boots at the time Doc came through the Long Branch doorway."

 

 

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