WTXL Road Trip: Exploring Doc Holliday's history in Lowndes County

Doc Holliday
Posted at 6:10 PM, Jun 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-21 06:34:36-04

VALDOSTA, Ga. (WTXL) - Everyone from Dennis and Randy Quaid to Val Kilmer has played him in the movies, and believe it or not, John Henry "Doc" Holliday is from our neck of the woods!

"There's not a whole lot known about him," said Lynn Thomas. However, if there's one person who knows about Holliday, it's Thomas. Thomas is Holliday's third cousin.

He still remembers the day he found out they're kin, saying: "I went to a movie at the old Valdosta Theatre here and there was a movie playing. One of the characters in it was a guy named Doc Holliday and I was fascinated by the character.

"I thought one of the best things he did, he was throwing cards into a hat. Just pitching one right after another and they all went in," added Thomas. "As a young boy, I thought that was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. So I go home and I tell my mother what was in the movie and I said 'There was this guy named Doc Holliday.' She says 'You know you're related to him, don't you?' I almost keeled over!"

Born in 1851 in Griffin, Georgia, Holliday and his family moved to Valdosta 1864.

It's a story Donald Davis, Executive Director of the Lowndes County Historical Society and Museum, knows well.

"This was during the Civil War and it was a big turmoil with the Battle of Atlanta," said Davis. "They actually wanted people to leave and Doc Holliday's father, Major Holliday, bought land here and then brought his family. So they came here as Civil War refugees."

Although it's not in the family anymore, Doc Holliday's childhood home still stands in Valdosta. The current owners have changed some parts of the house and added on, but you can still see parts of the original structure-- a reminder of the rich history here.

"Doc Holliday's father eventually became the Mayor of Valdosta and actually formed in many ways a base of leadership to begin our community," said Davis.

Doc Holliday spent a handful of his younger years in Valdosta, even attending the now-torn-down Valdosta Institute, a primary school for young boys. But it's what Holliday went on to do after leaving Valdosta that's made him so infamous.

In 1870, Holliday moved to Philadelphia to attend the University of Pennsylvania Dental School. He came back to the south to practice dentistry for awhile, but then, at the age of 23, moved to Dallas, Texas.

That's because, in 1873, Holliday found out he had tuberculosis. Historical experts believe he moved to Texas because he thought he'd live longer and fare better in the drier air.

Soon, dentistry took a backseat to gambling, drinking, and fighting-- staples of life in the Old West. Holliday also played a major role in the famous "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" in Tombstone, Arizona.

"I think that's what kind of jump started him if you will into the national consciousness and the newspapers seized on it and it went all over the country," said Thomas. "All of a sudden, he became a celebrity. The outlaw that basically was a good guy and actually did more good than he did bad. People are kind of attracted to that, I think.

"He was no saint!" Thomas added. "He drank, I think so some degree to deaden the pain from the tuberculosis. He gambled, he stayed in the saloons where the smoke you could cut with a knife. The man didn't get decent enough sleep and he lived for 15 years in a situation like that!"

Holliday finally succumbed to his TB 1887, but his gun-slinging ways have remained a fascination for many, cementing his legend in Wild West lore.

"We've had people come through here from even as far as Germany doing documentaries on Doc Holliday and the Wild West," said Davis.

"The connection is definitely there and I think a lot of people are kind of proud of that," said Thomas.

You can find out more about Doc Holliday's history in Valdosta by visiting the Lowndes County Historical Society and Museum.  You can also check out the museum's online exhibit here