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Doc Holliday: A man in search of normality. John Henry Holliday, perhaps one of the most legendary gunfighters of the west, lived in reality a life built on necessity and simply followed it and made due with the blows that were dealt to him. Born August 14, 1851 to Alice and Henry Holliday, John Henry Holliday entered the world already at a disadvantage with a serious birth defect. The defect known as a cleft palate and a partially cleft lip, basically made suckling his mothers breast impossible. Dr. John S.
Holliday, Johns uncle and an accomplished surgeon, delivered John, cleared his air passages, and taught his mother the proper way to feed the him due to the defect. With out the aid and instructions of Dr. Holliday, John could have easily choked to death as was common with children that had this genetic defect. Ironically one of the tools to feed the young child effectively was a shot glass, which in many ways never left his side. At only eight weeks old John was under the careful care of his uncle once again. Dr John Holliday, along with family friend Dr. Crawford Long, operated on Johns mouth and lip with success. This was only the beginning of a turbulent childhood that was anything but typical. Instead of playing around without a care in the world like most toddlers, John spent almost all of his time in speech therapy in an effort to correct what otherwise would have been a terrible impediment.
His mother, Alice Holliday, was the chief therapist and attacked the problem with gusto. Her determination at alleviating the impediment rubbed off on the young child, and John therefore worked hard at improving his speech. By the age of four the impediment was barely noticeable. Yet Johns childhood was not only speech therapy, playing with his cousin Robert was his favorite activity and would persist to be for most of his young life. John Hollidays adolescence was influenced by two main factors, his mother and southern society. Like most children John had a special bond with his mother, but coupled with his need of constant attention due to his speech therapy and the routine absence of his father due to business and political affairs, that bond became much stronger than typical.
Alice home schooled John until his therapy ended, doing such a good job that when he started school he was way ahead of his classmates. Conversely after years of practical solitude, except for the occasional recess with Robert, John was behind socially and was therefore quite shy and reserved with the other students at the academy. The shy and quiet boy was about to get a crash course on social behavior, when the passing of Johns grandfather brought four of his young aunts and uncle into his household. Although spoiled by them, the quiet times of being at home with just him and his mother were over. The Hollidays were true Southerners in both philosophical attitudes and genetic lineage. From birth John was surrounded by the virtues and attitude that exemplified a true southern gentleman, in the form of his father Henry Holliday.
In true form to this code of southern males of the time, Henry Holliday accepted a presidential appointment into the Confederate Army from Jefferson Davis to serve in the Georgia Volunteer Infantry. Henry prior to the Civil War had taught his son to handle revolvers, rifles, and shotguns. Although only ten years old John became the man of the house and with weapons ready at all times was well prepared to defend it. This was not necessary for long however, as Henry Holliday resigned his commission after a little more than a year due to chronic diarrhea. In that year Henry Holliday spent with the Confederate army, he realized that in fact the Yankees were coming, and therefore sold what he had in Griffin, Georgia and moved south to just outside Valdosta, a small town named Bemiss. The move most likely saved both his assets and his life, since General Sherman and the bluecoats went right through Griffin in their march to the sea. All together, some fourteen members of John Hollidays family fought in the Civil War, surprisingly all returned home safely.
Although Reconstruction would prove almost as difficult as the War. While the rest of the south was trying to cope with the entry of the Northerners, John Hollidays main dilemma was more personal. Since the move to Bemiss, Alice Holliday, his mother, had taken ill and would steadily decline in health until her death in September of 1866 of tuberculosis. This drove John into a serious depression, which was only mildly retarded by the consoling of his Uncle John. This show of sympathy and concern for John by his uncle helped to create what would form into a long lasting almost parental relationship. His father, Henry Holliday, did not help matters much by remarrying only three months after his mothers death to a neighbor simply eight years Johns senior.
This formed a wedge between John and his father, causing John to hide in his studies, thus becoming even more reclusive and shy, with little time for extracurricular activities. In the late 1860s, John Holliday shot a weapon in anger for the first time at a number of blacks that had gathered at a white swimming hole. He fired over their heads in an attempt to scare them off. His father felt this was sufficient enough reason to warrant a trip out of town to visit his uncle, John Holliday. John welcomed the change of scenery, as well as, the opportunity to visit his uncle and cousins. During this hiatus Dr. Holliday, Johns uncle, stressed and emphasized the importance and the value of a formal profession and education.
Johns first instinct was to become a doctor, following in the footsteps of his uncle. Dr. Holliday, however, dissuaded this in view of improper licensing that had made the medical profession disreputable. He then planted the seed of possibly attending dental school in Johns mind. John returned to Bemiss to discuss this prospect with his father, even though in actuality he had already made up his mind to become a dentist. Soon there after, John and a few of his buddies decided that blowing up the Freedmens Bureau, a section of the Reconstruction Policy, was a good idea. Valdostas citizens were able to dissuade John and his crew, but none the less Henry Holliday used this as a catalyst to send his son off to dental school. In 1870, John Henry Holliday, after paying $105 in tuition and fees, was officially enrolled in the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery. This began Johns profession period of his life. Following his graduation in March of 1872, Doctor John Henry Holliday left Philadelphia and headed south, back to Atlanta, Georgia. There, he moved in with his Uncle John and his cousin Robert. Robert and John were together again except, this time, young men carousing the bells of Aristocratic Atlanta instead of toddlers playing games in Griffin.
Johns uncle took him in as his own son and gave him every opportunity that was available to his own children. Included in these opportunities was the introduction of Dr. Arthur Ford. Dr. Ford would later be Johns partner in dental practice. During this time, Robert also decided to pursue a dental career.
His father had promised Robert and his nephew, John, to financial support their very own dental practice upon Roberts graduation. In early 1873, this became a shattered dream when John was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis, the cause of his mothers death. The prescription, at the time, for such diseases, was a combination of dry climate, prolonged rest, and moderate alcohol consumption. John Doc Holliday thus moved west to Texas expecting to return to Atlanta fully recovered to live out the dream of his family dental practice. John was met in Dallas by his new dental partner, Dr. John Seegar. John quickly impressed Dr. Seegar and his new patients with a combination of Southern manners, good looks, and superior dental work.
Initially, an influx of people into Dallas provided plenty of work. Nevertheless, a recession hit in December of 1873 and his health declined, creating a constant cough. Needless to say, this was not good for business. With his newly acquired extra time, John Doc Holliday took to the saloons. Dallass faro bankers welcomed the newcomer with open arms. John quickly discovered the similarities between faro and an old slave game named Skinning. Due to his mathematical mind and his card playing education received from Sophie Walton, a former slave of his uncle, Doc quickly became a skilled gambler.
What began as a subsidization of the income he received from dentistry, evolved into professional gambling. Although he would often attempt to return to dentistry, his dental tools were often further from him than a deck of cards. In May of 1874, John Henry Holliday was arrested for the first time, of an eventual seventeen times, for gambling. This led to the destruction of his partnership with Dr. Seegar. Because he was aware of his tarnished reputation as a gambler, Doc started to dress in a very gentlemanly and formal manner. This was the beginning of his transformation into his western personality. Although he looked the part of a well-mannered gentleman, John was able to defend himself from physical and mental harm.
Thanks to his father and Uncle John, his effectiveness with firearms was impeccable. His impressive gambling style was mostly attributed to his earlier sessions with Sophie, but western skill of alcohol tolerance was self-taught. With this newfound persona, Doc left Dallas and relocated to Denison, Texas. Denison, with a population of 5000, was known as the lowest of the low places of Texas thanks, in part, to its large number of dance and whorehouses. He often traveled by train back to Dallas to visit friends and to, of course, gamble. On one such occasion, celebrating the New Year of 1875 in Dallas, Doc Holliday exchanged gunshots with Charles Austin, the operator of the St.
Charles Saloon. Neither man was hurt, both men were arrested, yet only Doc Holliday was charged with a crime, specifically, assault to murder. Charles Austin was believed to have had political clout that allowed him to allude the charge. None the less, Holliday appeared in court to have the jury find him not guilty. He then moved back to Denison. Soon after, he became bored of Denison and boarded a sta ....
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