Everyone knows the story of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the OK Corral. It’s possibly the most iconic story out of the “wild west.” But there are many more stories yet untold. I’ve been following the trail of this one for a while. Doc Holliday. Wyatt Earp. Bat Masterson.

Afternoon walk - Tombstone

Where did they meet? How did Doc Holliday — legitimately a D.D.S.(doctor of dental surgery) and apparently a good one — wind up best friends with Wyatt Earp and his brothers? How did this polite, educated gentleman become a gunfighter and a gambler? When did Bat Masterson get into the mix?

The "Dodge City Peace Commission", June 1888. (L to R) standing: W.H. Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, W.F. Petillon. Seated: Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Frank McLain and Neal Brown.

The “Dodge City Peace Commission”, June 1888. (L to R) standing: W.H. Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, W.F. Petillon. Seated: Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Frank McLain and Neal Brown.

John Henry “Doc” Holliday (August 14, 1851 – November 8, 1887) became a gambler and gunman out of necessity.

Not quite the killer his reputation made him out to be, Doc’s reputation was part truth, mixed with a lot rumor and publicity. Often credited with killing people he never met, the rumors were fueled by Holliday’s own publicity.

He wasn’t fond of killing people. Being a notorious gunman made it less likely he’d be challenged. He was famous for shooting opponents in the hand or foot, thus ending a duel without killing anyone.

Stagecoach in Tombstone

Doc Holliday was otherwise known as a mild-mannered, well-bred southerner who would have rather been a dentist. Except for being tubercular. Tuberculosis is a career ender for a dentist.

Exactly how he met the Earp brothers and with which of the many Earps did he connect first? Lots of speculation, but no evidence that can stand up to scrutiny. When and where did Bat Masterson come into the mix?

Bat Masterson is a great character. He pops in and out of the story, shows up in the nick of time to pull someone’s iron out of the fire, then disappears back to his own story. Sounds like a supporting actor Oscar to me.


The OK Corral has been done to death. Can I convince someone to write this story? No zombies, no werewolves, no vampires. Let’s keep it all human, in the just-before-the-turn-of-the-century west.

Interesting Factoid: Doc Holliday was a cousin by marriage to Margaret Mitchell, author of “Gone With the Wind.”

There is history for which the facts are known. We don’t know who said what, but we know the players, dates, locations. Documentation exists.

Much — maybe most — history is not straightforward. There is no evidence. No indisputable documentation or trustworthy testimony. You might as well print the legend because that’s all you’ve got.

Sometimes, you can pick your favorite version of the tale. Or write your own. One is as true as another.

Categories: American history, History, Movies, Myths and Fables

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

14 replies

  1. Every depiction of Wyatt Earp portrays him as a humorless chap. With some guns. And a badge. Maybe that’s what it took to get things done back then.
    Versions of Doc vary – except that he was a loyal pal to Wyatt.
    Only one thing seems for certain: they weren’t an ordinary bunch of guys. In their case the “Legend” could be the truth.


    • One of the reasons I keep going back to the trail on this is that I have to ask — Which legend? There are so many, so varied, so contradictory. You can choose the legend you like best and it is probably at least partly true, as true as any other version.

      Doc and Bat were much better documented than Wyatt. Doc went to college. There are records, a family history. He was a person with a past and roots. Bat went on to be a newspaper writer and lived a long, interesting life, dying at his desk at the NY Herald. So there’s a lot known about him, too.

      Wyatt was shadowy, possibly a lot less important in life than in myth AFTER his death. Yet he was a connecting link to a lot of other people and history. I love this stuff 🙂


  2. Love the photos! I enjoyed your post too. I’ve often thought those questions too. I really enjoy the history and friendship between Wyatt, Doc and Bat. A lot of the best stories are from Dodge City. I think that was a relatively happy period in their lives. I’m guessing they hoped it would continue when they moved to Tombstone and it wasn’t to be.


  3. It is quintessential American Wild West Lore for me. I agree, it would be nice just to have some good ol’ American stories – no zombies, no vampires, no CSI…..


  4. I should have cheated and should have pretended you were post #3 in my reader. I found wild west stories fascinating from an early age on. Wyatt Earp has always been my favorite.


  5. Bat Masterson became a sports writer in New York and died at his desk. Great photos of Tombstone. Did you make it over to Boot Hill or see the world’s largest rose bush?

    Liked by 1 person

    • We tromped all over Tombstone. It was — even for Tombstone in August — extremely hot. 124 and slightly less in the shade, so we visited boot hill, then headed back to the shade. I wore a big had ALL the time. I see why they covered the sidewalks. Brains cook in your skull at those temps.

      We LOVED Tombstone. I was read to move there, except for there being no dependable source of water, no medical facilities, and it being unbearably hot. Otherwise, we were ready 🙂 The OK Corral was so LITTLE. Figured on something more grand, you know?

      Liked by 1 person

    • Rick, I don’t think we made it to Boot Hill or the rose bush. But the mind is playing tricks on me these days. I do remember stopping in an old general store and finding battered magazines featuring articles about Jack Elam, Morgan Woodward and Jack Lambert. I was absolutely fascinated!! On one of our retro channels, I’ve found episodes of “Bat Masterson” and ” The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp”. I sing the Wyatt intro out loud. I met Hugh (Huge) O’Brien back in the late 80’s, I think. He was promoting a boy’s club thing. Anyway, I loved just sitting there with “Wyatt” O’Brien. He was very genial. But at one point he said, “My girdle is killing me..”. That is true, Pilgrim.


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