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Delay Diploma in Dentistry Destroyed Doc

by Melissa Medved Davidson 11 months ago in investigation

How five months changed a mans life.

Delayed Diploma in Dentistry Destroyed Doc

Five short months changed the course of history for the young man, born John “Doc” Henry Holliday, in Griffin, Georgia. Venturing hundreds of miles north to attend the best Dental College in the country in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Holliday proved his dental mastery in March of 1872. Unfortunately, he was forbidden from officially graduating until he reached the age requirement of twenty-one. Rather than work for another dentist until his birthday in August, Doc decided to travel the world, in hopes of finding the perfect place to open his own dental practice.

To understand the path Doc’s life took, it is helpful to know that his hometown was a quaint place, with a population of just over 1200 people. Highly intelligent and adventurous, he was an exceptional lad with an abundance of both time and energy on his hands—a combination which proved dangerous for him. He craved bigger adventures and new faces. When he arrived in the large city of St. Louis, he was greeted by a rowdy population of over 300,000 people. The excitement and opportunities of this city were overwhelming, the sky was the limit. Dentistry on hold, Doc was intrigued by an open position for a saloon operator. Ironically, the position, which would earn him fast cash, had an immediate starting date, and did not have a required age of twenty-one.

It was in this pivotal moment that his lifestyle took a drastic turn. As the oak doors of the dental college closed, the swinging saloon doors opened. Settling happily into his new role, Doc learned quickly that money was as easy to come by as the ladies of the town in St. Louis.

The weapons, alcohol consumption and gambling that took place in the saloon attracted a harder crowd that Doc was accustomed to in Georgia. It was a necessity to obtain a firearm for protection in the rough city. He embraced that part of the culture with ease and quickly rose to the occasion by becoming notorious once again-- this time not for his intelligence and dentistry, but for his skills with a six gun. Intoxicated shootouts, murderous showdowns, and gambling rage rapidly replaced the dreams of owning his own successful dental practice.

This behavior was not exclusive to St. Louis, Doc’s travels to Texas and various other states brought more of the same lifestyle. As time passed, his courage and confidence soared. He eventually became known as a deadly gunfighter and skilled gambler with a short fuse. Though all of this, Doc struggled with “consumption” or modern-day tuberculosis, a common illness of the time, which took his mother’s life when he was only fifteen. That tragic loss in his life was devastating to Doc because he had a close relationship with his mother. He was the first child she gave birth to that lived. Despite his sensitive nature and his ill heath, the lifestyle he entered lead him along the path of becoming a ruthless killer. He remained a man that the intelligent feared and the brave wanted to conquer. His family back in Georgia would have never imagined the transformation that took place so quickly.

Doc’s skill in dentistry remained despite his gambling and drinking. He would remove teeth for people in the saloons. Not exactly the reputable practice his friends and family believed he would operate, but he used the skills nonetheless on those who crossed his path. Friends spoke highly of his skills in dentistry, gambling and the use of a gun.

Storytellers write various accounts about Doc. Some considered him a heartless, reckless killer, armed and dangerous. He was even given the title “deadly dentist.” Friends who knew him well, Mary Katharine Horony, affectionately known as Big Nose Kate” and the well-known Wyatt Earp offer another perspective of the man whose life was altered by his birthday. They considered him a kind man with a short fuse and an eye for gambling, but having similar demeanor, they were less intimidated by him overall. Kates fiery temper and stubborn streak were a match for Doc’s. Being a lawman, Wyatt was not shaken easily either and found himself a close partner of Doc’s for many years. In fact, he thought of him as a gentleman.

Once Doc’s illness progressed and his wild nature had settled, he tried his hand at opening a dental practice in Dodge City, Kansas. He offered a money back guarantee to provide customers security his work was legitimate and his reputation as a killer was secondary to his love of dentistry. However, when his companion Wyatt was in peril with some gunslingers, Doc was quick to act and killed two men outside of his dental practice. Once again Doc and Wyatt were on the move and headed for Tombstone, Arizona. A city well known for the gunfighter.

It was not long after they settled in Tombstone that a group of men decided they would eliminate the infamous Doc Holliday in a gun fight. Despite Wyatt warning the men about Doc’s skills, they eagerly embarked upon the challenge which would become famously known as the shootout at the O.K. Corral. The three men were killed in a gun exchange, a result Wyatt cautioned them about days before.

At age 36, only five short years after the gun battle, Doc Holliday died. He had lost his biggest battle with Tuberculosis on November 8, 1887, with Wyatt by his side. One cannot help but wonder how the story of this talented young man would read, if he had been granted his dentistry diploma without delay. Would he have remained in Georgia working alongside friends and family as a dentist? Or would he have traveled to the big city to open a dental practice, able to avoid the temptations of money and liquor which lead him on a quite different path? We will never know, but what we do know is in five short months one’s life can change drastically and tragically.


About the author

Melissa Medved Davidson

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