Normally in these articles, I attempt to stay away from those characters of the old west who have been the subject of dime novels of the time, or who have become such legends that their true identity has become murky through the retelling of common tales until any truth about their actual personalities and exploits has become questionable.
Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday, while actually playing major roles in various tales, have become “bigger than life” in many senses. Retelling their well-known exploits serves little purpose here. Still, some value might be had by re-placing them in stories told by others who actually knew them well and would have little to gain by telling what they knew about how these men actually lived and died.
Such a person is Bat Masterson. Bat served in a number of capacities as a lawman between the years of 1850 and 1900. He knew Wyatt and Doc. He was not close friends with them — not buddy-buddy so to speak – but he knew them both as acquaintances and adversaries. He stated in a book:
“While he never did anything to entitle him to a statue in the Hall of Fame, Doc Holiday was nevertheless a most picturesque character on the western border in those days when the pistol instead of law determined issues.”
He describes Doc quite well: “Physically, Doc Holliday was a weakling who could not have whipped a healthy fifteen-year-old boy in a go-as-you-please fist fight, and no one knew this better than himself.” He was slim of build and sallow of complexion, standing about five feet ten inches, and weighing no more than 130 pounds. Still, Holliday seemed to always be picking a fight with someone and, so, seeming to go from one scrape to another and one town to another.”
After getting into trouble for gunning down some black men at a swimming hole in Georgia and not feeling any sorrow for the deed, Doc took his family’s advice and rode off to Dallas, Texas. He hung up his sign: “J.H. Holliday, Dentist” but he didn’t do much dental work there. Gambling was the principal and best-paying job in town and Doc was much better at it than fixing teeth. But his real enjoyment, it appears, came from conflict. In Dallas violence was the name of the game, and it didn’t take long for Doc to take aim at a prominent citizen of the town. He left Dallas in a hurry and eventually landed in Denver. It seems the dentist found that migrating to the edge of the frontier meant leaving the past behind. Because of conflicts in Denver he moved to Dodge City, Kansas. This is where Bat Masterson met the dentist/gambler. Bat sized him up pretty accurately: “It was easily seen that he was not a healthy man for he not only looked the part but he incessantly coughed it as well.”
It was in Dodge City that Doc Holiday met Wyatt Earp and the two men traveled to Arizona together. Bat noted: “His whole heart and soul were wrapped up in Wyatt Earp and he was always ready to stake his life in defense of any cause in which Wyatt was interested. He aided the Earp brothers in their street fight in Tombstone, against the Clanton and McLowery brothers, in which the latter two were killed, along with Billy Clanton.”
Doc died in Glenwood Springs, Colorado a few years afterwards. He was still under a bond to answer for highway robbery and never did answer for the killings in Georgia or Texas. (Quotes by Bat Masterson from “Famous Gunfighters of the Western Frontier” p. 35)