HOLLIDAY, EARP, AND MASTERSON – Marilyn Armstrong

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 — wound 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 of 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.

copy-75-vintage-tombstonenk-005.jpg

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 a history for which the facts are known, but we don’t know who said what or when, What we know are the players, dates, and locations. Documentation exists about that, but not about what they really did. Or how they behaved together. Whether they were really friends, or lovers … or casual friends when they happened to meet.

You might as well print the legend.

On the other hand, once you realize the facts don’t form a solid story, you can pick your favorite version of the tale. Or write your own. At some point, when you get into Western mythology, your version might be as good (and as true) as any other.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Opinionated writer with hopes for a better future for all of us!

22 thoughts on “HOLLIDAY, EARP, AND MASTERSON – Marilyn Armstrong”

    1. I have read so many books about these people and while everyone agrees on births and deaths and marriages, after that, “history” diverges wildly depending on the agenda of the writer. I used to think history was “neutral.” Like news. But it isn’t neutral. Historians have opinions and when they write books, they are putting forth their opinions. With research.

      But research — unless the subject kept a diary — only covers the main events. The marriages, births, deaths, wars, injuries, diseases. In between was life … and we can conjecture based on whatever evidence we have, but we can’t prove relationships. I want to know what they really SAID to each other 😀

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      1. My bed time movie last night was, “Wichita” (54/Allied Artists)Prod: Walter Mirisch. Joel McCrea stars as Wyatt Earp who comes into Wichita “..just looking for a job.” He rejects the law badge offer several times until drunken cowboys bent on “treeing” the town – kill a 5 year boy.
        An earnest young newspaper reporter, Bat Masterson, signs on as Earp’s deputy. His first lawman gig.
        As the rowdy cowboys (Jack Elam, Robert J. Wilke, Race Gentry, etc) vow to destroy Wichita, Earp is joined by his brothers, Morgan and James (Peter Graves and John Smith). In the final reel, the Cowboy’s ramrod (Walter Sande), backs down after an innocent woman is killed in a crossfire. One cow puncher (Lloyd Bridges) wants to shoot it out with Earp because his pal was killed (in a fair gunfight with Earp). Bridges picked the wrong day to give up sniffin’ glue, “Earp. I gonna kill you! You killed my pal. I’m gonna kill you, you hear me? Don’t try to just wing me. One of us is gonna die–right here”. Okay, there’s the gunfight and Lloyd Bridges’ irate cowpuncher is headed to his last roundup.
        In the closing scene, Earp marries the sweet, prim Mayor’s daughter (Vera Miles). As they gallop of in their honeymoon buggy, Tex Ritter sings “The Ballad of Wichita”.

        – An Allied Artists Production — In Warnerscope

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  1. I don’t think the definitive Movie about Tombstone has been made yet ? Maybe it never will. Might require an inspired Mini Series: Game of Tombstones .. or something. I get to play Doc. I know how to cough and play cards.
    I so want to go back there again, but I don’t Rose is up for it. I do hope to go to Sante Fe one day. I think that might be a fun trip.

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      1. It was really hot when we were there and I know it wasn’t Summer – we wouldn’t do that. I talked to one lady resident and she said she regarded 100 F as a nice day. We ordinary humans can’t do that.

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        1. It was 124 when we were there which even for Tombstone is exceptionally hot. Even for Garry who normally loves hot weather (I do not, although if it isn’t humid, I’m OK). We were there in August, so it was definitely HOT! And yet we enjoyed it. We just stayed out of the sun as much as possible. THAT’s why they have covered sidewalks — to keep the sun off people so we won’t collapse from heat!

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          1. I didn’t notice that many shops had air conditioning. But they must have?? A lot of them have their their doors wide open though. So if you were hoping to run from one air conditioned place to another – that probably wasn’t going to happen.
            We went exploring the town and came to ‘Wyatt Earp’s House and Gallery.’ Wyatt wasn’t in so we decided to abuse the premises. Wyatt’s horse wuz giving me the evil eye so’s I hid behind the hitching post. After that we shameless went ’round back .. and out pops Bat Masterson !! I think he was just using it for a dressing room? or maybe he lives there? Bat was a nice chap – allowed us a pic. Says he dresses up and goes around town. He didn’t seem to be packing a gun though. Not sure he gets paid for doing this or not or if it’s just for fun?
            Quite a day we had.
            https://myfavoritewesterns.com/tag/bat-masterson/

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      1. Alas, hardly any Westerns being made these days. But I still believe that most Actors and Directors want to make one at some point in their career so …

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    1. I think you might have a little competition for that role 😀 But I’ll vote for you. Oh, wait. I can’t vote. But I’ll ROOT for you. We are actually watching Tombstone right now 😀

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      1. Some great scenes in that Movie. Kilmer is great as the Doc. For a long time I was wondering where I had seen Michael Biehn (Ringo). Then it twigged on me: ‘Alien’.

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  2. One of the interests we both have in common.Although being a Brit, the stories of the Earp clan etc. always interested me and their characters. I wish I could have visited the actual places to see how it was.

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    1. They were quite a family. Sometimes lawmen, often criminals, horse and cattle thieves … and frequently sued in courts. Wyatt’s wife wrote a lot of their “history” and she made a lot of it up as she went along. It’s still interesting, but exactly what happened and who did what is complicated. The one thing that comes through consistently is the friendship between Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp. They WERE friends. Why? Who knows?

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    1. Our whole western “history” is more myth than history. Even including written records, no one kept diaries and there were no recorders so you’d know what people really said or behaved. We can guess, but it’s just a good guess based on what we think we know. But a lot of stuff wasn’t true when it was “written” and hasn’t gotten more accurate over the years. It definitely ISN’T the westerns we watch on TV, though pieces of them may be truer than others … but who really knows? I need a time machine!

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    1. Oh, it completely changed his life. He was set for a relaxed life among the wealthy southern folk … but that sure isn’t how it went. It was interesting realizing while he was apparently a dead shot, he didn’t LIKE shooting people so he did his best to avoid it.

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