One of Valdosta’s most notable residents, John Henry “Doc” Holliday, is well-known in the folklore of the American Old West as a famous gunfighter.
Holliday spent a large portion of his childhood in Valdosta and has many family ties to this area (His father was Henry Burroughs Holliday, former mayor of Valdosta). Some of his distant relatives still live in Lowndes County today.
Doc Holliday was born on August 1, 1851 in Griffin, Georgia to Henry Burroughs Holliday and Jane McKey Holliday. The family moved to Valdosta in 1864 where his mother died of tuberculosis in 1866, a loss that profoundly impacted the young Holliday. He was one of the first students at the Valdosta Institute, a private school that provided strong classical education in mathematics, grammar, history, Latin and French.
In 1870, Holliday entered the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery. He graduated two years later at the age of 20. After graduation, he spent some time in Valdosta as an apprentice of Dr. Lucian Fredrick Frink. In 1872, he moved to Atlanta to practice dentistry.
Before finding fame out west Doc Holliday actually worked as a dentist. Several years ago one record of Doc Holliday’s work in Valdosta was found in an official Lowndes County document. It states:
To J.H. Holliday, Dr.
filling 6 teeth…………………………………..$18.00
Extracting 3 teeth…………………………………..$ 3.00
Oct. 18th, 1871: J.H. Holliday
Like his mother, Doc Holliday suffered from tuberculosis. The more arid climate of the western United States offered some relief from the symptoms and therefore forced Holliday to move west. He first settled in Dallas, Texas, setting up a dental practice with fellow Georgian John A. Seegar.
Doc in the Old West
Due to an indictment for gambling, along with other trouble with the law, Holliday moved many times throughout the west and often used an alias while he built a reputation as a gambler and gunslinger.
The event for which Doc Holliday is most widely known is the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral between outlaws Billy Clanton, Tom and Frank McLaury and lawmen Virgil, Morgan and Wyatt Earp who were aided by Doc Holliday. Holliday had become friends with Wyatt Earp in Dodge City, where he defended Earp against a group of cowboys trying to kill him.
Although the gun battle is reported to have lasted less than a minute and was unknown to the larger American public for a number of years, it is now one of the most popular objects of romanticized “Wild West” culture in the United States. This popularity can be traced back to a 1931 biography of Wyatt Earp by author Stuart Lake, an account which as since been confirmed as heavily fictionalized. The gun battle has also been popularized by films such as 1957’s Gunfight at the OK Corral and 1993’s Toombstone, among others.
Doc Holliday succumbed to his tuberculosis on November 8, 1887, at the age of 36. It is reported that his last words were “this is funny.”
Local historians Susan McKey Thomas (A Holliday relative) and Albert S. Pendleton have written a book called In Search of the Hollidays which chronicles the story of both the Holliday and McKey sides of his family.
Doc Holliday and Gone With the Wind
What do Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone With The Wind, and famous Valdostan Doc Holliday have in common?
Mitchell based the character of Melanie Hamilton on her third-cousin Martha Ann “Mattie” Holliday. Martha became Sister Melanie after joining the Order of the Sisters of Mercy and becoming a nun. Sister Melanie was first cousin and close friend of John Henry “Doc” Holliday, a famous gambler and gunfighter of the old West. Doc Holliday had no living siblings and he and Sister Melanie maintained a correspondence throughout his life. From Jonesboro, Martha Holliday (Sister Melanie) with her mother and siblings took refuge in Valdosta on Henry B. Holliday’s (Doc’s father) farm from October 1864 until the end of the Civil War.
Philip Fitzgerald, the uncle-in-law of Robert Kennedy Holliday (one of Doc’s uncles) was the great-grandfather of “Gone with the Wind” author Margaret Mitchell. Of the eight children born to Robert Kennedy Holliday and his wife was one Martha Anne “Mattie” Holliday, Sister Mary Melanie.