Writer’s Corner: Researching down a rabbit holePosted: February 21, 2022
I just took a short trip to Glenwood Springs, Colorado; one of many that I have taken in search of the truth about Doc Holliday; a curiosity that began while doing research for Delilah back in 2016. At the time, I found evidence connecting Doc Holliday with the mining camp of Leadville, where that story ends up, and I used that in my story line to give it authenticity. I learned a lot about John Henry (Doc) Holliday, but I also found a lot of facts which are conflicting, and those conflicts have tickled at my brain ever since.
Many of the facts which are not to be disputed are John Henry Holliday’s birthplace and date: Griffin, Georgia on August 14, 1851. In addition it is known that he attended the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery, but before he could get his practice well established, he was diagnosed with consumption, what we know of today as tuberculosis, ruining a promising career when no one wanted to be treated by “a lunger”, so headed out west to be a gambler, which was considered a legitimate way to earn a living in those days, similar to that of a professional poker player today, as differentiated from a gambler.
But it wasn’t until the 1881 events in Tombstone Arizona and the “shoot-out at the O.K. Corral”, involving Doc Holliday and the infamous Earp brothers that his noteriaty grew into legendary proportions. months to seek relief from the reported health benefits of the natural mineral hot springs and vapor caves located there. In those days there were close to fifty hot springs running up and down the banks of the Grand River (now known as the Colorado River), as this was before Walter Devereaux purchased the townsite of Glenwood Springs and secured funding to build The Hotel Colorado and The Hot Springs Pool, as well as the city’s first power plant in 1892.
Glenwood Springs is where Doc died in 1887. It is there that he was supposedly buried, although there are claims that the hillside cemetary was flooded and several graves were washed out into the streets below and bodies scattered, so that no one really knew whose bodies were reburied where, leaving the exact location of Doc’s final resting place a bit of a mystery. A more recent addition to the cemetary is a sign suggesting that because he was destitute and could no longer hold a job as a dealer in one of the saloons, that he may have been buried further up the hillside in the pauper’s graveyard where many were buried with no headstone. I find this assertion to be highly unlikely, and assume this sign was made in an attempt to deter vandalism.
Sign at the bottom of the trailhead to the hillside Linwood Cemetary in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
When talking to the locals, I learned that vandalism has been a problem for the cemetary and particularly for the grave of the infamous dentist, gambler and gunman, and the headstone which currently marks Holliday’s alleged gravesite in the Linwood Cemetary is the third headstone to mark the spot. The one prior to this one is displayed in Bullock’s Store, where the basement houses The Doc Holliday Museum with an interesting collection said to be connected to the man, as well as the only surviving pieces of the original building, which was destroyed in a fire in a 1945 fire. The building is in the loction where The Hotel Glenwood stood, Doc spent the last six months of his life, in a room on the third floor, destitute and dying of consumption. It is rumored that, broke and unable to work due to his failing health, and according to Bill Kight of the Glenwood Springs Historical Society, it is rumored that a friend, Walter Devereaux and his longtime companion, Mary Katherine Horony-Cummings, also known as Big Nose Kate, cared for him during his last days and were at his side when he died. (Glenwood Springs: The Official Insider’s Guide 2021-22, “Get to Know Doc Holliday”, by Bill Kight)
These are pictures of the older headstones that have since been removed from the Linwood Pioneer Cemetary. You can tell how old they are because of the grainy quality of the photos. The one on the right is now on display at Bullock’s Store. There was too much snow to make the trek up to the hillside cemetary on this trip, so I wasn’t able to get a picture of the current headstone.
A few doors down on the block from Bullock’s is Doc Holliday’s Saloon. I couldn’t find any evidence that there was any real connection to Doc here, but they serve good food and historical atmosphere make it a favorite of mine whenever I visit Glenwood Springs. It’s a great place to relax and enjoy a rib-eye sandwich and a game or two of billiards. Nobody said a research trip has to be all work and no play.
It seems a little bit ironic that Glenwood plays up the association with Doc and Leadville doesn’t, knowing that he spent much more time in Leadville than Glenwood Springs, where Doc visited in hopes of improving his health to make his last days a bit more comfortable. Another irony of this move was that the moisture of the waters and the steam, as well as the altitude, would have actually been detrimental to his failing health, which is why Doc did better in the desert atmosphere of Arizona, but he was forced to flee and seek sanctuary in Colorado, due to being wanted for murder after the Tombstone affair. (Gary L. Roberts, True West Magazine, “Doc Holliday’s Lost Colorado Years”, June 2013)
The story of Delilah takes place during the time when Doc would have been in Arizona, but Doc had visited Leadville prior to that and so he received a mention in my book, although he wasn’t present in the story. Delilah takes place in a very small time in Colorado’s vast history which I used bits and pieces of in my story, but there is much more history that the story didn’t cover, so don’t be surprised if Doc Holliday shows up in person in one of the books in the Women of the West Adventure Series, which Delilah may soon become a part of, now that I’ve spent all this time down a research rabbit hole.