Doc Holliday: Was he as good with a gun and a knife as he was portrayed in the movie “Tombstone”? Movies are to entertain, not necessarily to educate.

doc holliday tombstone movie gunfight true west magazine
Doc Holliday

No he wasn’t, but then neither was Johnny Ringo nor were most of the other so-call “shooting stars of the silver screen.” Movies are to entertain, not necessarily to educate. There are a number of stories out there on Doc that have no provenance including that knife fight. Doc’s skills with a pistol are also questionable and so was his pistol of choice. There’s no provenance that he carried ivory-gripped, nickel-plated Model 1877 Colt Lightning/Thunderer double-action revolver. Allegedly, he also carried an ivory-gripped Colt Single Action Army model in a hip holster. There’s only one Colt definitely documented as having been used by Doc.  It’s a cap-and-ball Model 1851 Navy Colt revolver with a standard 7½-inch barrel Doc’s uncle gave him after the Civil War. He carried it until 1874.

Historians believe that John Henry Holliday was in five confirmed shooting affrays in his fifteen years in the West. On New Year’s Day in 1875, Doc and Charles Austin fired their pistols within Dallas city limits. Neither man was hurt.

When Doc was 25, he was attacked and seriously wounded by Henry Kahn after a quarrel during a card game. Doc’s recovery took five months and he needed a walking stick off and on for the rest of his life.

In October 1880, Doc got into an argument with Johnny Tyler. Saloon owner Milt Joyce broke it up by tossing Doc out into the street. He armed himself and returned to the saloon, emptied his revolver, hitting Joyce in the hand and a bartender in the big toe.

October 26th, 1881 during the street fight near the OK Corral. Doc, using a Wells Fargo shotgun, killed Tom McLaury. He also shot Frank McLaury in the chest. He was grazed in the hip during the fight.

There was a fight in Leadville in 1884 with Billy Allen. Allen threatened to kill him over an unpaid five dollar loan. When Allen came after him, Doc, fearing for his life, pulled his pistol, at close range and fired. The best he could do was hit Allen in the arm.

These are facts I’m not knocking Doc, I like the guy, but as a gunfighter he is overrated. He has been credited with carving up gambler Ed Bailey almost to death in a card game in Fort Griffin, Texas in 1878, even though there is little evidence the incident actually happened.

It’s the same with the so-called greatest gunfighter and thoughtful, intellectual, Johnny Ringo who read and quoted Shakespeare. Hogwash. These stories generally arise after a person is dead and gone.

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