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.
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 lethal gunfighter and gambler? When and how did Bat Masterson get into the mix?
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 (he was a very good shot), mixed with rumor and publicity. Often credited with killing people he never met, the rumors were fueled by Holliday’s own personal publicity. The more dangerous he seemed to be, the less likely it was he’d be called out to really fight.
He wasn’t fond of killing people. He was famous for shooting opponents in the hand or foot, thus ending a duel without killing anyone.
Other than as a gunfighter and gambler, Doc Holliday was a mild-mannered, well-bred southerner who was a pretty good 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 rewrite the story just one more time? Without zombies, werewolves, or vampires? Make it all human, in the just-before-the-turn-of-the-century west. Use the facts as we know them and make up the rest.
Interesting factoid: Doc Holliday was a cousin by marriage to Margaret Mitchell, author of “Gone With the Wind.”
We know some of the facts, but we have no way of knowing who said what or to whom. We know the players, dates, and locations. There’s documentation for that, but not how they felt or what they said when no one else was listening, or for that matter, how they met.
In the end, you might as well print the legend.
Yet, after you realize the facts don’t really form a coherent or cohesive story, you can pick your favorite version — or write your own. At some point, when you get into Western mythology, your version could be as good and possibly as true, as any other.