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Ford County Historical Society
Dodge City, Kansas

John Henry "Doc" Holliday, D.D.S.

August 14, 1851 - November 8, 1887

Arrives in Dodge City

(from Doc Holliday: A Family Portrait, by Karen Holliday Tanner, 1998)

...Upon arrival at their destination, the trail bosses doled out the accumulated pay to the restless cowboys, who wasted no time heading into Dodge City with their new wealth burning holes in their pockets. they were seeking whiskey, women, and, of course, the excitement of the gaming tables. Always keeping a watchful eye for new areas of opportunity, the young Doc Holliday was also lured to theses same gaming tables.

Prior to leaving Fort Griffin, Texas, Wyatt S. Earp had told his new friend John Henry about the activity of Dodge City. Doc asked many questions and obviously liked Wyatt's responses. When Doc was faced with the need to leave Texas, Dodge City beckoned. After traveling northward, he and Kate [Haroney, a.k.a., "Big Nose": Kate] arrived in Dodge in the spring of 1878.

John Henry secured a room for them at the Dodge House. Located on the northwest corner of Railroad and Front Streets, it was considered the finest hostelry in the city, containing fifty rooms, a restaurant, and a bar. It also had facilities for buying, selling, and boarding horses, the "best billiard parlor in the city," and a "first class laundry." Maintaining his reputation, John Henry continued to dress immaculately, each day wearing a freshly laundered, starched, and ironed shirt, usually pastel in color. He customarily finished off his attire with a cravat held in place by his diamond stickpin and a gray coat. Once again, Doc established a dental practice that helped him maintain his sense of professionalism, which remained an important part of his self-image. The town was very much in need of his services.

Professional men were at a premium in Dodge City. There were three doctors in town but only one of them, Dr. Thomas L. McCarty, actually had attended a medical college and had a degree. Occasionally, when the heavy workload caused by the arriving cowboys became to great, the doctors were assisted by William S. Tremain, M.D., post surgeon at the nearby Fort Dodge. Because of the rapid growth of the town, the three local doctors were forced to do more than just try to heal the sick and wounded. McCarty served as the town coroner, and one of the others specialized in diseased animals as well as people. All three doctors practiced dentistry when needed. Now, with the arrival of J.H. Holliday, D.D.S., Dr. McCarty shared with the newcomer the distinction of being the only two men in town who could legitimately call themselves doctor. Coincidentally, they both had received their professional education in Philadelphia. Tom McCarty, twenty-nine years old, was only two years older than John Henry and had come west to Dodge City in 1872, the year before Doc had left Atlanta. Their similar educational backgrounds and their proximity in age made it very comfortable for Dr. McCarty to refer dental patients to John Henry. McCarty was an influential man in the community.

Living in the Dodge House, Doc was able to practice both of his trades -- dentistry during the day and playing cards at night. The dodge House gained local notoriety for the dances that it regularly held and was considered to be the social center for many community activities.

Though it also had gaming, Doc frequented many of the other establishments as well. Among the regular patrons of the many sporting houses were members of the local law enforcement clique. It was in these places that Doc became acquainted with the sheriff and marshals of the areas -- including the Masterson brothers, Ed, Bat, and Jim.

John Henry and the Mastersons were often seen at the gaming tables befriending cowboys with newly filled pockets. Doc easily helped them to empty those pockets while, at the same time, he developed a lasting relationship with many of the local peace officers.

The springtime brought increased activity to the citizens of Dodge as they geared up for the anticipated arrival of the estimated thirteen hundred cowboys. John Henry decided to capitalize on the potential and remain in town through the summer of 1878. On June 28 the Dodge City Times carried the following announcement:

DENTISTRY: J. H. Holliday, Dentist, very respectfully offers his professional services to the citizens of Dodge City and surrounding county during the summer. Office at Room No. 24, Dodge House. Where satisfaction is not given money will be refunded.

In the fall of 1878, Doc's health problems were causing him increasingly greater concern, so he and Kate left Dodge City bound for Las Vegas, New Mexico Territory, on the Santa Fe Trail, well known as a haven for people with tuberculosis.

Also see: John Henry HOLLIDAY Family History: Old West Kansas Families

(© 1998, Karen Holliday Tanner, author; used with permission.)

"Big Nose" Kate Elder
Lawmen of Dodge City and Ford County, KS
W. B. Bat Masterson biography

Dodge City History Cowboy Capital
Kansas History

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