Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend, by Gary L. Roberts (2006).
The final meeting between Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday occurred in the lobby of Denver’s Windsor Hotel in the summer or fall of 1885.
Wyatt and his wife, Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp, were staying at the Windsor as part of a business trip. In May 1885 Wyatt had become a partner in the Fashion Saloon in Aspen, Colorado.
In the lobby of the hotel, they were in conversation with Tom (Thomas J.) Fitch, the brilliant attorney who had successfully defended the Earps and Holliday in Judge Spicer’s court during the preliminary inquiry into The Gunfight.
Doc had learned that Wyatt was staying at the Windsor and took the opportunity to see his old friend once more. Josephine Earp recalled …
“An exclamation from my husband caused me to look up. There, coming toward us, was Doc Holliday, a thinner, more delicate-appearing Doc Holliday even than he had been in Tombstone.
I have never seen a man exhibit more pleasure at meeting a mere friend than did Doc. He had heard that Wyatt was in town, he said, and had immediately looked him up.
“When I heard you were in Denver, Wyatt, I wanted to see you once more,” he said, “for I can’t last much longer. You can see that.”
Doc came over and chatted with us for a few minutes, and then he and Wyatt walked away to speak privately, Doc on visibly unsteady legs.
They sat down at a little distance from us and talked at some length, though poor Doc’s almost continuous coughing made it difficult for him to say anything. Wyatt repeated their conversation to me later.
Doc told Wyatt how ill he had been, scarcely able to be out of bed much of the time. Wyatt was touched. He remembered how Doc had once saved his life (in Dodge City).
My husband has been criticized even by his friends, for being associated with a man who had such a reputation as Doc Holliday’s. But who, with a shred of appreciation, could have done otherwise? Besides my husband always maintained that the greater part of the crimes that were attributed to Doc were but fictions created by the woman with whom he lived at times when she was seeking solace in liquor for the wounds to her pride inflicted during one of their violent disputes. (Clearly a reference to Katherine “Big Nose Kate” Horony.)
The old friends laughed and cried together and Wyatt thanked Doc again for saving his life back in Dodge City. Doc had a persistent cough and was unsteady on his feet as he gamely walked away, frail, grey and gaunt.
Wyatt’s sense of loyalty and gratitude was such that the world had been all against Doc, but that he should have stood by him out of appreciation for saving his life.
“Isn’t it strange,” Wyatt remarked to Doc that day in Denver, “that if it were not for you, I wouldn’t be alive today, yet you must go first.”
My husband was deeply affected by this parting from the man who, like an ailing child, had clung to him as though to derive strength from him.
There were tears in Wyatt’s eyes when at last they took leave of each other. Doc threw his arm across Wyatt’s shoulder. “Good-bye old friend,” Doc said. “It will be a long time before we meet again.” He turned and walked away as fast as his feeble strength would permit.
Only a short time after this we heard that he had died.”
John Henry Holliday died in Glenwood Springs, CO on November 8, 1887. In the last year of his life he suffered horribly from the late stages of tuberculosis. He had literally wasted away.
Doc was buried somewhere in the Linwood Cemetery overlooking the town of Glenwood Springs. Funeral expenses were paid from a collection taken up among the town’s gamblers, saloon owners, and other locals with whom Doc had made friends in the last months of his life.
Of the event, the Denver Evening Times wrote a single line: “Doc Holliday died in Glenwood on the 8th with his boots off.”
The man was dead, but his legend lived on. How that legend came to be is the subject of Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend by Gary L. Roberts, Emeritus Professor of History, Abraham Baldwin College (GA).
As much as Professor Roberts’ book is the biography of the famous gambler / gunfighter, it’s greater value to the armchair historians of the Old West is the broad sweep and rich texture found in his descriptions of the times and places in which men like Holliday lived.
As a professional historian, Roberts teases the facts from the legends so that we can understand the reality of the life & times of Doc, and Wyatt, and Tombstone.
This is no boring history tome. It’s imminently readable. I had a hard time putting it down.
For more about the Old West as it occurred in Southern Arizona, click on this link to our Local History section of SouthernArizonaGuide.com. Among other historical features, you will find our Gunfight At The OK Corral: A Timeline Without The Legend and a short article about the Earp Vendetta Ride.