A Look Into Wyatt Earp And Doc Holliday’s Relationship

Most know legendary lawman Wyatt Earp (above) from his time as a peace officer for the cities of Wichita and Dodge City around 1875, and his participation in an infamous gunfight in Tombstone, Arizona (via National Geographic). It was during this time, however, that Wyatt Earp would meet former dentist and professional gambler Doc Holliday on the Texas gambling circuit in the late 1870s. The pair would become friends, together surviving the 30-second gunfight that was to become known as the shootout at the O.K. Corral (via History) in 1881.

Wyatt Earp was born in Monmouth, Illinois on March 19th, 1848, the fourth child of seven. The Earp family planned to move to California a year after Wyatt was born with the intention of buying a farm. The journey was short-lived; they only make it 150 miles from Monmouth, due to Wyatt’s sister becoming deathly ill. The family instead bought farmland close to Pella, Iowa. At the tender age of 13, Wyatt attempted several times to run away to join the Union army during the Civil War. Each time, however, his father, Nicholas, brought Wyatt home. After spending much of his childhood between the states of Illinois and Iowa, the Earp family finally made it to California (via History) in 1864.

Born John Henry Holliday in March of 1851 (via PBS.org), “Doc” Holliday was a dentist working in the south circa 1870. Bat Masterson, another Old West peace officer, called Holliday “a most dangerous man” (Robert DeArment, “Bat Masterson: The Man and the Legend“).

Friends at arms

After developing a nasty cough, Holliday was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Given one year to live, Holliday headed out west — it was believed that the drier climate there would ease his symptoms and prolong his life. As the disease progressed, he relied less on dentistry and more on gambling to get by.

In 1877, while tracking down a gang that robbed a Sante Fe Railroad construction camp, Earp arrived at Fort Griffin, Texas. Wandering into a local bar, he ran into a time-worn, well dressed man with a terrible cough dealing cards. Doc Holliday offered Earp a seat, but he refused (via True West Magazine), instead choosing to interrogate Holliday about the robbery.

A few years later, as Wyatt Earp explained it, Holliday saved his life in 1878. According to True West Magazine, while dealing with another matter altogether, an unnamed assailant drew a revolver behind Earp’s back. Before the man could fire, Holliday shouted out a warning to Earp, drawing his own firearm. Before Earp had a chance to turn around, Holliday fired, killing the assailant. As Earp characterized it, “On such incidents as that are built the friendships of the frontier” (via True West Magazine).

The pair remained friends, joining up again in Arizona and participating together in the legendary fight at the O.K. Corral in 1881. In 1887, Doc Holliday died of tuberculosis in a room at the Hotel Glenwood in Glenwood Springs, Colorado (via Glenwood Springs Colorado). He was 36.

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