Look closely at the street scene from Silver City, New Mexico. Notice the skinny cat standing by the third stagecoach window, right hand in pocket, left hand on lapel. Could that man be John Henry “Doc” Holliday?
He does not appear to be throwing up blood, drunk, cranky or ready to draw down, but the man in the photo certainly resembles the revered gunfighter who participated in the 1881 Gunfight Behind the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona.
We know the Earp party, including our favorite tubercular dentist, spent the night in Silver City, New Mexico, on April 15, 1882, while fleeing Arizona after Wyatt Earp’s Vendetta Ride. A Wells Fargo historian confirmed that the man sitting atop the coach, holding an envelope, is the Wells Fargo agent in Silver City, G.M. Huffaker. Some historians believe that Wells Fargo was helping Earp evade the law.
The Silver City Museum, which owns this image, sent the photo to us to investigate. A notation in the museum’s collection stated the picture was taken “sometime between May 1881 and September 1882.”
We donned our Pinkerton hats and began poking around.
Old West photo collector Robert G. McCubbin took a look and dumped cold water on the Holliday possibility. Comparing it with the full-length shot of Holliday taken in Prescott, Arizona, he says the mustache doesn’t match and the chin is more pointed in the Prescott photo. He concludes the stagecoach group “could be anyone of that period,” adding that Holliday probably would not have allowed himself to be photographed while on the run.
Gary Roberts, Holliday’s biographer, says, “…while, for historical reasons, I would like this to be a photo of the vendetta posse, I have to conclude that there is insufficient evidence to confirm that it is.”
What about the purported date for this photo? The stagecoach rests in front of the Meredith-Ailman building. Was that bank around in mid-April 1882?
Yes, the bank was around, but the building looked different then. Susan Berry, retired director of the Silver City Museum, helpfully plowed through old newspapers and found evidence that she believes places the photo after April 1882.
The New Southwest reported that a street lamp was placed in front of a building two doors north of the Meredith-Ailman building in early July 1882. The far right side of the picture shows the street lamp, which wouldn’t have been there in April.
The same newspaper reported, on July 29, the installation of large gilt letters above the doorways on the new iron front of the Meredith-Ailman building. Those gilt letters are present in this photo.
The photo, Berry concludes, was taken no earlier than late July 1882. It probably was shot before November 14, when the bank re-opened, and it was taken before May 11, 1883, when the Higbee building (next door to the bank and hidden by a tree) got a second story.
Although this is a fantastic period photo, our skinny guy is not our famous gunfighter with his posse. Such results can break the hearts of the most stalwart of latter-day Pinkertons. But we won’t give up. Only two confirmed adult photos of Holliday exist and those are not enough for a man of such legend.
We want more and vow to keep looking. If you’re out there, Doc, hold fast. We’ll find you.
Tucson-based Leo W. Banks drinks a toast to Doc Holliday whenever he visits the Palace Saloon in Prescott, Arizona.