Friday, December 30, 2011

Writing about Doc Holliday

I’m not exactly sure when my dad first became interested in John Henry Holliday, better known as Doc Holliday, friend of Wyatt Earp and participant in the gunfight at the O. K. Corral, but in his unpublished memoirs Growing Up South Georgian, Dad says it was 1972 when he thought about writing a Lowndes County Historical Society newsletter about Doc.  Doc has relatives in my hometown Valdosta, Georgia—my parents’ friend Susan (Susie) McKey Thomas is Doc’s cousin.  Doc’s mother Alice Jane McKey was the sister of Susie’s grandfather William H. McKey.

Doc Holliday book coverThe Book

After Dad approached Susie about writing a newsletter about Doc Holliday, they began researching.  After a while, they realized they had enough information for a short book which became In Search of the Hollidays: The Story of Doc Holliday and His Holliday and McKey Families [1].  (The copy to the left is the cover of the 2008 version with addendums.)  They self-published it under the name Little River Press in 1973.  I remember my dad spending what seemed like ages and ages researching the Holliday family.  He would talk about it constantly and would excitedly tell us about every new thing he and Susie discovered.  I have to admit that I engaged in a few eye-rolls back then  when he wasn’t looking (I was young and naïve).  I didn’t fully appreciate the work (and the obsessiveness!) that goes into researching family history and into writing a book like this until I started delving into my own family history and began thinking of writing a book about my maternal grandfather William Liming Redles (I’ve written all of one paragraph). 

In the foreword of their book, Dad and Susie write about the process of their research—some of the people they interviewed and corresponded with, documents they found, the difficulty sometimes in even finding information, and the effort taken in separating truth from fiction.  In the end, they still had some unanswered questions.  Their bibliography lists the records they used to tell the Holliday and McKey family stories which includes newspapers, court records, family papers, city directories, state and national archives, census records, correspondence, published historical collections, and nonfiction books about Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp.

The Hollidays in Valdosta

(The information below, unless otherwise noted, is from Pendleton and Thomas 2008 [2].) 
The son of Robert Holliday and Rebecca Burroughs, Henry Burroughs Holliday(Doc’s father) was born in Laurens County, South Carolina, in 1819.  The family later moved to Fayette County, Georgia.  After serving in the Mexican War, Henry Holliday adopted Francisco Hidalgo, a Mexican boy orphaned by the war, and brought him to Georgia to raise.  Shortly after returning to Georgia, Henry married Alice Jane McKey, the daughter of William Land McKey and Jane Cloud, on January 8, 1849, in Fayette County, Georgia [3].

Holliday 1850UnitedStatesFederalCensus

The above is the Holliday household in 1850 in Griffin, Spalding County, Georgia[4].  Henry, Alice Jane, and Martha Eleanora Holliday, and Francisco Hidalgo—Henry’s adopted son. (Doc’s sister Martha Eleanora died in infancy before Doc was born.)

Serving as a major in the Civil War, Henry Holliday received a medical discharge in 1862.  In 1864, he moved his wife Alice Jane and 13-year-old son John Henry (Doc) from Griffin, Georgia, to a farm north of Valdosta, Georgia, near Bemiss in Lowndes County.  Doc’s mother died two years later from tuberculosis when Doc was about 15 years old.  She is buried in Sunset Hill Cemetery in Valdosta.  Two months later, Major Holliday married Rachael Martin, the 23-year-old daughter of his neighbor.  Both the death of his mother and sudden remarriage of his father had a great affect on Doc.  After Major Holliday’s remarriage, the family moved into Valdosta to a house at 405 East Savannah Avenue.  Known locally as “the Doc Holliday house,” this house is still standing.  It was moved several years ago to a residential neighborhood off of Jerry Jones Road.  It was restored and added onto for use as a family home.  (A 1986 article in the Milwaukee Journal has some information about the house.)

Holliday 1870UnitedStatesFederalCensus

The above is the 1870 Lowndes County, Georgia, census: Henry, Rachel (Doc’s stepmother), and John (Doc) Holliday, and Lizie Traup (no mention in the census of Lizie’s relationship to the Hollidays) [5].

Major Holliday was a prominent citizen of Valdosta and something of a horticulturalist.  He served as mayor of Valdosta for several terms.  Doc attended the local school—the Valdosta Institute.  He graduated in 1872 from the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery in Philadelphia and practiced dentistry in Valdosta and in Atlanta.  He headed out West around the end of 1872 or early 1873 for his health; like his mother, he had tuberculosis.  To use a cliché…The rest is history.

Holliday John 1880UnitedStatesFederalCensus

John Henry (Doc) Holliday is listed in the above 1880 census (“J. H. Holliday”) for Prescott, Yavapai County, Arizona [6]. Note his occupation--“dentist.”

Doc Holliday died on November 8, 1887, in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, from tuberculosis.  He is buried there in Linwood Cemetery.  Major Holliday died a few years later in 1893.  Records indicate he is buried in Sunset Hill Cemetery, but the location has not been confirmed (burial records were lost in a fire).  He might be on the plot of his brother-in-law William D. Martin in a grave marked “C. S. A.”  A government marker was placed there a few years ago with the Martin family’s permission.


In his memoirs, Dad says that he and Susie never stopped researching Doc and never stopped selling copies of their book.  Over the years, my dad would read other books about Doc, and other authors would contact him and Susie for information.  We’d watch all the movies we could find (more than once) and discuss which ones we liked best.  Tombstone with Val Kilmer as Doc was my dad’s favorite of the movies (mine, too).  My mom bought and framed a Tombstone movie poster for him.  I liked it so much that I had to get one, too.  Dad sent Val Kilmer a copy of the book and was pleased to receive a “thank you” letter from him (even though he figured it was probably from Val’s agent).  Dad said it was the only response he received from anyone in the movie industry to whom he’d sent an unsolicited copy of the book. 

I’ll never forget this line from Tombstone that Val Kilmer’s Doc says to Johnny Ringo, “I’m your huckleberry” (warning: violence in the youtube clip).  I’d never heard that expression before, and after years of wondering, I finally looked it up.  Apparently it means something along the lines of “I’m the man for the job.”  Excuse me while I go watch Tombstone again.


An online article that my dad and Susie wrote about Doc Holliday:

For further reading online, see the Georgia Encyclopedia:  John Henry (Doc) Holliday (1851-1887).
[1] Albert S. Pendleton, Jr. and Susan McKey Thomas.  In Search of the Hollidays: The Story of Doc Holliday and His Holliday and McKey Families.  Line drawings by Earle Sinclair McKey, III (originally published by Little River Press, Valdosta, Georgia, 1973.  Reprinted by Lowndes County Historical Society, Valdosta, Georgia, 2008).
[2] See footnote 1 above.
[3] Dodd, Jordan. Georgia Marriages to 1850 Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 1997.  Original data: Electronic transcription of marriage records held by the individual counties in Georgia.
[4] 1850 United States Federal Census.  District 68, Pike County, Georgia; Roll: M432_80; Page: 215B; Image: 442.
[5] 1870 United States Federal Census.  Valdosta, Lowndes, Georgia; roll: M593_163; Page: 318A; Image: 19; Family History Library Film: 545662.
[6] 1880 United States Federal Census.  Prescott, Yavapai County, Arizona; Roll: 37; Family History Film: 1254037; Page 447D; Enumeration District: 026; Image: 0122.


  1. Hi! I'm Victoria Wilcox, longtime friend of Susie Thomas, and author of the upcoming "Southern Son: The Saga of Doc Holliday." My new website,, has a section on Holliday family history. Would love to link to your website, with your permission. Love family history -- even when it's not my own family!

  2. Catherine PendletonJuly 9, 2012 at 9:50 PM

    Hi Victoria,

    You may certainly link to my website :) I got your email, so I'll reply to that also. I love to read about other folks' family history, too!