The Mysteries of John Henry “Doc” HollidayPosted: February 13, 2023 Filed under: Historical Inspiration, research, Western | Tags: Colorado, Doc Holliday, Glenwood Springs, history, Kaye Lynne Booth, Old West, Writing to be Read Leave a comment
Doc Holliday – The Man
John Henry Holliday, was a man of many talents. Born and raised in Georgia, he practiced dentistry, earning him the handle of “Doc”. He contracted tuberculosis while caring for his ailing mother before her death, and eventually had to give up his practice, as no one wanted to let “a lunger” work on their mouth for fear of contracting the disease. He came west, trying to take up dentistry, but supplementing his income with gambling, often dealing cards at the local faro tables. He was a heavy smoker, and a heavy drinker, with a hot temper and considerable skill with a gun, earning him a reputation as a notorious outlaw andl killer, as well.
He left his mark in frontier towns such as Dodge, Kansas; Tombstone Arizona; and Leadville, Colorado, but he spent his final days in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
Doc Holliday’s Final Days
John Henry Holliday traveled to Glenwood Springs from Leadville, where he had resided for the previous year and a half, to see if the mineral baths, which at that time were scattered up and down the canyon, could improve on his failing health, as he struggled with tuberculosis, which he’d contracted while caring for his ailing mother, who died of the same disease.
Holliday worked at one of the saloons in town as a faro dealer for a short time, probably about a month, following his arrival in Glenwood Springs, but he was soon too ill to keep the job. He did a few odd jobs to pay the rent on his room, but was eventually too sick to climb the stairs to his second story lodgings at the Hotel Glenwood, (which burnt in 1945), so thereafter was confined to bed. The photo below is believed by some to be Doc in his final days at the Hotel Glenwood. It is displayed in the Doc Holliday Museum, in the basement of Bullock’s western store, which now sits where the hotel was in 1887.
Too sick to earn a wage, Doc may have found himself on the street were it not for his friendship with Walter Deveroux, one of the town’s leading citizens, who would later build the hot springs pool. Deveroux stood by Doc in his last days, bringing nourishment when he could no longer leave his second story room, and contacted Doc’s long time companion, Kate Elder, (Mary Katherine Harony-Cummings), also known as Big Nose Kate, requesting that she come to Glenwood Springs and help to care for the ailing Doc. (The same Big Nose Kate who had traveled with Doc for several years and had saved him from a mob in Fort Griffin, Kansas, ten years earlier, in 1877).
Doc’s Final Resting Place
There is some question about Doc’s final resting place. According to signage at the beginning of the trailhead for the Linwood Cemetary, the organization of the hillside cemetery, which requires a steep walk up the trailhead to reach, was rather haphazard to begin with, and graves were placed wherever a spot could be found. Then heavy rains came along and washed the cemetery and many of the graves and caskets down the hillside, which then had to be re-interred. It is said that it was such a mess that no one could tell who was who, and so graves were mismarked and some headstones may not actually have anything lying beneath them.
Others claim that he was buried in the pauper’s cemetery which lies above the main cemetery, Potter’s Field, and still others claim his body was shipped back to Georgia, where his family buried him in an unmarked grave. Any of these stories could be true: Doc died penniless, so may have been buried in an unmarked grave in Potter’s Field; or his friends in Glenwood Springs, who assisted him during his last days could have paid for his burial; or his family could have paid to have his remains shipped back to Georgia. Vandalism may have caused these various claims to spring up as efforts in misdirection, and only those present in Glenwood Springs at the time would know which is true, and they aren’t telling.
There have been three different headstones for Doc Holiday’s grave in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. The one above is supposedly the original grave marker, which had to be removed due to vandals. It can be found today on the floor of Bullock’s western store, where Doc spent his last days in one of the rooms above. Below is the headstone which is currently found in the Linwood cemetery. In the hillside cemetery the current headstone is protected from vandalism by a barred fence which look a little like a jail cell. Doc was never a friend of the law, so perhaps this is a fitting end for the notorious gambler.
Doc may have died penniless, but he was wealthy in friendships. Kate did come to care for him, gathering firewood to sell from the nearby hills, to help to pay his expenses, and caring for him when he no longer had the strength to care for himself. It’s not every man who had friends of such devotion. Kate arranged to send Doc’s dental equipment and other belongings back east to his family members, although they were pillaged before they arrived at their destination. It says a lot for Doc’s character that he had loyal friends like Kate and Deveroux.
John Henry Holliday died in Glenwood Springs on November 8, 1887 at the age of 36.
Not only did the mineral baths not improve his health, they most likely exacerbated it, with the moist air surrounding the pools, and he died less than two months later, penniless. In the Doc Holliday Museum, located in the basement of Bullock’s Store, they display the picture below, surmising that it might be Doc in his final days, taken in his second story room in the Hotel Glenwood above, which was the although they do not state this as fact.
Carla Jean Whitley (3/10/2017) To Doc From Kate – But Who Was Kate? Post Independent. Retrieved from https://www.postindependent.com/news/local/to-doc-from-kate/
Maggie Van Ostrand (2017) Katie Elder a.k.a. Big Nose Kate, Her True Story. Goose Flats Graphics & Publishing. Retrieved from Southern Arizona Guide: https://southernarizonaguide.com/katie-elder-her-true-story-by-maggie-van-ostrand/
Joseph A. Williams. The Real Story of Doc Holliday and Big Nose Kate. Old West. Retrieved from https://www.oldwest.org/doc-holliday-big-nose-kate/
Big Nose Kate – Doc Holliday’s Sidekick. Legends of America. Retrieved from https://www.legendsofamerica.com/we-bignosekate/
(2/28/2022). Couples with History: Glewood Springs Loves Stories. Glenwood Springs Blog. Retrieved from https://visitglenwood.com/blog/2022/02/couples-with-history-glenwood-springs-love-stories/
Doc Holliday in Glenwood Springs. Glenwood Springs blog. https://visitglenwood.com/history/doc-holliday-in-glenwood-springs/
The True Story of Katie Elder. Notes from the Frontier. Retrieved from https://www.notesfromthefrontier.com/post/the-true-story-of-katie-elder
Doc Holliday: A High Roller Brought Low. Hotel Colorado blog. Retrieved from https://www.hotelcolorado.com/blog/doc-holliday-a-high-roller-brought-low
Death Spot of Doc Holliday. Roadside America. Retrieved from https://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/35312
Patrick McGuire (1/24/2022) Where is Doc Holiday Buried? Colorado Uncovered. Retrieved from https://www.uncovercolorado.com/doc-holliday-grave-location/
For Kaye Lynne Booth, writing is a passion. Kaye Lynne is an author with published short fiction and poetry, both online and in print, including her short story collection, Last Call and Other Short Fiction; and her paranormal mystery novella, Hidden Secrets. Kaye holds a dual M.F.A. degree in Creative Writing with emphasis in genre fiction and screenwriting, and an M.A. in publishing. Kaye Lynne is the founder of WordCrafter Quality Writing & Author Services and WordCrafter Press. She also maintains an authors’ blog and website, Writing to be Read, where she publishes content of interest in the literary world.
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