Considering how many people out there are scared shitless by root canals and tooth extractions, holding the dubious moniker of "history's most fearsome dentist" isn't exactly a hollow accolade. Plying his trade at a time when oral surgery resembled something out of the darkest chronicles of the Medieval Inquisition, Dr. John Holliday, DDS was a man desensitized to even the most horrific bloodshed and violence. In his short, eventful life wandering the American West in search of adventure, danger, and untreated cavities, the man known only as "Doc" would make a name for himself as one of the country's deadliest gunslingers.
Born in Georgia in 1852, young John Holliday came down with a severe (and at the time untreatable) case of Tuberculosis soon after graduating from Dental School, and was given a couple months to live. Hoping that the warm, dry climates of the Wild Wild West would prolong that "couple months" into something a little more substantial, Doc decided to move out to Texas and spend what little time he had left on this Earth being completely fucking awesome all of the time and shooting motherfuckers in the face whenever he damn well felt like it.
Holliday was a dentist by trade, but it turns out that it’s very difficult to practice dentistry when you suffer from an incurable, highly-contagious, highly-noticeable disease like TB that makes you constantly look and sound like you’re about to hack up a black lung at any moment. Apparently patients don't like it when sick doctors cough infectious diseases directly into their mouths. Go figure.
Well Doc had to pay off his probably-astronomical student loans somehow, so he eventually decided to say, "fuck it," and settled into the life of a professional gambler and gunfighter. He bounced around the West, stopping in lawless places like Dallas, Cheyenne, Dodge City, Leadville, Tuscon and Tombstone, getting into fights, sexing up hot babes, joining badass posses, and drinking all the opium-laced whiskey he could pack into his increasingly infrequently-utilized doctor's bag.
The way Doc saw it, he was already going to die, so why not go down with guns blazing on the field of honor? He was a man with nothing to lose, so he just went completely balls-to-the-wall like a wild man all the goddamned time. He got into fights, jumped at every opportunity to fire his six-shooter at varmints, horse thieves, and cattle rustlers, and never backed down from any man, any life-or-death situation, or any drink for any reason. His antics got him arrested on 17 different occasions, but he never served any serious jail time, which is also pretty fucking awesome.
Here's an example of why you didn't fuck with Doc if you knew what was good for you. At one point during his colorful career, Holliday owned and operated a saloon in Las Vegas, New Mexico. One of the babes that worked there had a crazy ex-boyfriend who had just been discharged from the Army, and this guy wanted her to stop working as a Hooters Girl and getting ogled by a bunch of middle-aged perverts. When she told him to go violent hump a chainsaw, he got pissed, went outside the saloon, and started shooting out this windows with his pistol. Doc didn’t even fucking flinch. He calmly put down the beer mug he was polishing, drew his Colt Peacemaker revolver, sauntered outside, and dropped the punk with one shot. Then he probably went off and slept with the dead guy’s ex-girlfriend just to be a dick.
While he was generally on the "posse" side of the Old West's flavor of badass vigilante justice, there was also some evidence indicating that Doc was once involved in a big-time stagecoach robbery in 1879. Allegedly, he stole $26,000 in gold bullion from a Wells Fargo wagon (in terms of inflation this is probably like two bajikizillion dollars in today’s money) and got away with it. This could be a wild rumor, however – one time a saloonkeeper in Tombstone named Mike Joyce accused Doc of being involved in the robbery, so Holliday busted into the dude’s bar in the middle of the day and opened fire, popping Mike in the hand and hitting some random d-bag patron in the foot with forty-five calibers of hot lead. It’s tough to say whether Doc was just that offended that he’d been implicated in a Grand Theft Stagecoach, or if he was just the sort of motherfucker who busted bitches in the eye when they talked shit about him behind his back. It could really go either way.
As far as his 1337 gunfighting sk1llz0rz went, Doc was lightning-fast on the draw, but by all accounts he wasn't really a great shot – a theory that probably can be bolstered by the fact that he opened fire on a guy in a crowded saloon and somehow managed to put a bullet into the boot of an innocent bystander on the other side of the room. One can only assume this was a by-product of his rampant laudanum addiction and near-constant state of drunkenness. Of course, most of the time Doc's beer goggles double-vision didn't really matter, because in his most famous gunfights he was usually packing a totally sweet double-barrel twelve-gauge that bore a striking resemblance to the Super Shotgun from the Doom games - a fearsome weapon of face-melting destruction that basically liquidated pretty much anything it was pointed in the general vicinity of.
Of course, the most famous Doc Holliday shotgun-blast insanity took place during the Gunfight at the OK Corral in 1881. Doc's buddy Wyatt Earp and his brothers had started some shit with the Ike Clanton gang, so the Earps decided to show them what it was like to suck on a half-dozen large-caliber bullets. Doc always had his friends' backs, and he went along for the ride, showing up at the showdown with the aforementioned one-man arsenal of cowboy-vaporizing asskickery. When the firing started, Doc ventilated Tom McLaury's abdomen with a nice heaping charge of buckshot at close range. Tom's brother Frank took a potshot at Doc, hitting the Avenging Dentist in the side, but Doc spun, dropped the shotgun, quick-drew his Colt and returned fire, hitting Frank in his bitch neck and killing him on the spot.
Even though Doc Holliday had personally fucked up two members of their gang at the OK Corral, Clanton and his boys didn't get the memo that he was fucking awesome, and they decided to get some kind of lame revenge. They killed Morgan Earp in a vicious 2Pac-style drive by on the streets of Tombstone, so Wyatt and Doc did what they did best – got fucking ripshit pissed off – and went out to show the Clanton Gang the proper way to exact bloody vengeance on your deserving enemies. Together they rode through the West hunting down the men responsible for Morgan's death one by one and gunning them down on the spot like a posse of Old West Punishers with no remorse and no mercy. In one of the few confirmed killings from the Vengeance Ride, they chased some dipshit through a train station and shot him down in the middle of the day – the Sherriff later found 20 bullets and a charge of buckshot lodged in the guy’s corpse. Nobody knows for sure how many men were killed by Wyatt and Doc during their freak out hell ride, but knowing what I know about Doc Holliday, my somewhat-educated guess would be is that it was a lot.
Despite his crazy life as an face-kicking kill-maniac who went out of his way looking for fights, the gunfighting alcoholic gambling dentist with a short fuse died peacefully in his bed in 1887 at the age of 35, one of the Old West's most interesting and hardcore badasses. His life is now the stuff of the best Old West legends.
"My fight's not with you, Holliday."
"I beg to differ, sir. We started a game we never got to finish. 'Play for Blood,' remember?"
"Oh that. I was just foolin' about."
Meyers, John. Doc Holliday. Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1955.
O’Neal, Bill. Encyclopedia of Western Gunfighters. Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1991.
Patterson, Richard M. Historical Atlas of the Outlaw West. Big Earth, 1984.