DOC HOLLIDAY’S FAMILY AFFAIR

DOC HOLLIDAY’S FAMILY AFFAIR

“I was in love once. My first cousin. She was… We were both so…
She joined a convent over the affair.
She was all I ever wanted.”

Doc & Wyatt's Last Game

Doc & Wyatt’s Last Game

Those are Doc Holliday’s words in his tragic but touching final scene from the film “Tombstone,” the cult classic that made Doc lovable and relatable again after a generation of his being cast as a movie villain. In Kevin Jarre’s brilliant version of the West’s most famous gunfight, gambling dentist Doc Holliday is lawman Wyatt Earp’s most loyal friend – and the heart of the whole story. Partly that comes from Jarre’s own script which gave Doc so many quotable lines. Partly that comes from actor Kurt Russell’s generous editing of the filming script that cut out many of Wyatt’s lines in favor of a focus on Doc. For as every follower of Westerns knows, if you have a sympathetic Doc Holliday, you have a hit movie.

But what about that iconic final scene, as Doc confesses his young love and then dies? Was that Jarre’s dramatic invention or Russell’s addition? Or was it based on something from Doc Holliday’s own life?

Ashley & Melanie: The fictional Doc & Mattie?

Ashley & Melanie: The fictional Doc & Mattie?

According to old Holliday family stories, the young romance between Doc and his first cousin really happened – and may have been one of the reasons he left Georgia. The girl was Martha Anne “Mattie” Holliday, daughter of Doc’s uncle Robert Kennedy Holliday. Doc (then just John Henry Holliday) grew up in the little city of Griffin, Georgia, while Mattie grew up in Jonesboro, thirty miles or so up the road. Although the families were a bit separated in those horse-and-buggy days, they gathered together whenever they could, often at the home of Doc’s medical doctor uncle, John Stiles Holliday, in nearby Fayetteville. Mattie was eighteen months older than John Henry, but the two were close as children and remained close – and reportedly even had a romance when they were teens. While we might not consider cousins as appropriate sweethearts, in 19th century America cousins did sometimes fall in love and marry. As Margaret Mitchell says in the classic novel of the Old South, Gone With the Wind: “The Wilkes and Hamiltons always marry their own cousins.” She was referring, of course, to Ashley Wilkes (Scarlett O’Hara’s crush) marrying his cousin, Melanie Hamilton.

Olivia De Havilland as Melanie Hamilton in "Gone With the Wind"

Olivia De Havilland as Melanie Hamilton in “Gone With the Wind”

And that’s where the story of Doc and his cousin Mattie crosses into the story of Gone With the Wind, for Mattie Holliday was also cousin to author Margaret Mitchell, and became the real-life model for the fictional Melanie Hamilton. Mitchell even borrowed Mattie’s name, and not just the initials M.H. In her later years, Mattie Holliday became a nun and took the name Sister Mary Melanie, and was known as Sister Melanie Holliday. And could it be just a coincidence that the name Melanie comes from a Catholic saint named Melania who married her own first cousin? Catholics were more restricted in their marriage choices and not allowed to marry “in the first degree” (meaning a first cousin), only in the more distant “second degree” (meaning a second or less related cousin) — what became known as “kissing cousins.” When Saint Melania discovered her error she left her husband and took religious orders, entering a convent. Did Catholic Mattie Holliday have the same dilemma, loving her own first cousin but not being allowed to marry him?

Saint Melania

Saint Melania

We’ll never know the personal thoughts and private emotions of Doc Holliday and his beloved cousin Mattie, but we do know that they remained close through the years and kept up a correspondence throughout his travels in the West. When he died in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, the local paper recorded:

“He had only one correspondent among his relatives – a cousin, a Sister of Charity, in Atlanta, Georgia. She will be notified of his death, and will in turn advise any other relatives he may have living. Should there be an aged father or mother, they will be pleased to learn that kind and sympathetic hands were about their son in his last hours, and that his remains were accorded Christian burial.”

Letters from a lost love?

Letters from a lost love?

His personal belongings, and their letters to one another, were sent to Sister Melanie in Georgia and kept in the Holliday family for many years. After Sister Melanie’s own passing the letters were often shared at family gatherings – until her younger sister burned them to keep them private. But did she find and burn them all? Or might there still be some of those letters remaining as written proof of Doc’s lasting affection for his cousin Mattie? It’s one of the mysteries that makes Doc Holliday remain one of our most fascinating – and romantic – of Western legends.

Fun Links:
Filming Script for the movie “Tombstone”
True West Magazine article on the Tombstone script
Gone With the Wind Tour
31 Kissing Cousins
Kissin’ Cousins: Melanie Hamilton and Ashley Wilkes

Doc Holliday & Dr. Long: Bringing Life to a Legend

Doc Holliday & Dr. Long: Bringing Life to a Legend

Doc Holliday is one of the great legends of the Wild West, his life an epic adventure that’s been told and retold in literature and film. But without the help of another legendary doctor, he might never have seen the Wild West at all.

According to one old family story, John Henry Holliday was born with a cleft palate that threatened his life and required a dangerous surgical procedure – the surgery performed by his medical doctor uncle, John Stiles Holliday, assisted by the Holliday’s relative Dr. Crawford Long, who pioneered the use of ether anesthesia in surgery (see links below).

Cleft lip and palate will develop very early in-pregnancy

Cleft Palate Baby

A cleft palate occurs during pregnancy, when the two halves of the baby’s mouth do not connect and grow together as they were designed to do.  It’s that joining together that makes a suture line down the roof of your mouth and gives your lips that pretty bow shape.  If that joining doesn’t happen, a baby is born with a “cleft” – a gap in the roof of the mouth that opens up into the sinuses.  If the cleft continues into the lip and up into the nose, it’s what is known as a “harelip”…Continue reading

Doc Holliday and the Ghost of Ed Bailey

Doc Holliday and the Ghost of Ed Bailey

Doc Holliday in Prescott, Arizona Territory

Doc Holliday in Prescott, Arizona Territory

In the opening scenes of the movie “Tombstone,” Wyatt Earp asks his brother Virgil if he happened to see anything of Doc Holliday while he was in Prescott on his way to Tombstone.  Virgil replies, “Yeah.  He had a streak when we left, him and Kate.”  The scene soon cuts away to show Holliday sitting at cards in a saloon, with a monumental painting of a nude woman on the wall behind him and his elegantly dressed Hungarian mistress, Kate Elder, at his side. On the green baize table in front of him are the scattered paraphernalia of poker: paperboards, poker chips and silver coins, a gold pocket watch.  And across the table, his anger seething, sits gambler Ed Bailey who is clearly losing this hand.

“Why, Ed Bailey,” says Doc in his best gentlemanly Southern drawl while he gives a tap to the pearl-handled pistol in his pocket, “are we cross?”

“Them guns don’t scare me,” replies Ed Bailey darkly.  “‘Cause without them guns you ain’t nothin’ but a skinny lunger.”

“Ed, what an ugly thing to say.  I abhor ugliness. Does this mean we’re not friends anymore?  You know, Ed, if I thought you weren’t my friend, I just don’t think I could bear it.”  And to show his cordial intent, Doc pulls out his pistols and lays them down on the table with the coins and the poker chips.  “There.  Now we can be friends again.”Continue reading

GRAVES IN THE GARDEN – Doc Holliday’s Family & The Civil War

GRAVES IN THE GARDEN – Doc Holliday’s Family & The Civil War

Mary Anne Fitzgerald Holliday, Mattie’s mother

Mary Anne Fitzgerald Holliday, Mattie’s mother

Although John Henry “Doc” Holliday grew up in Georgia during the Civil War as the son of a Confederate officer, the closest he got to the action himself was seeing troops marching through his hometown of Griffin, location of two Confederate training camps. When his father returned home early from the war on a medical discharge, the family left Griffin and moved south to the little village of Valdosta, close by the Florida border and far from the advancing Yankee army. But other members of the family had a much closer view of the war, and their stories became part of his childhood memories – like the story of his Uncle Robert Kennedy Holliday (father of Cousin Mattie) who served under General Longstreet at Gettysburg, and Rob’s wife, Aunt Mary Anne Fitzgerald Holliday, who was home with the children in Jonesboro when Sherman’s Army marched south from Atlanta. With an army approaching and the road “filled with bluecoats,” Mary Anne took her children away to her uncle’s plantation for safety. The following comes from Mattie in her “Memoirs of the Holliday Family in Georgia”:Continue reading

FIRE AND ICE: Doc Holliday in Philadelphia

FIRE AND ICE: Doc Holliday in Philadelphia

John Henry Holliday, Dental School Portrait

John Henry Holliday, Dental School Portrait

It’s been one of the worst winters on record in the eastern United States: epic snowfalls in Boston, thunder snow in New York, fire and ice in Philly. With a temperature of 3 degrees in the City of Brotherly Love and a wind chill of 16 below, firefighters had a challenging job containing a blaze in a three-story medical building on Locust Street. By the time the fire was contained, icicles hung from the end of the fire hoses and the building the firefighters saved was covered in ice.Continue reading

The Face Behind The Fireplace

The Face Behind The Fireplace

Willis Swint was six years-old when his family moved from their hometown of Milner, Georgia to Jonesboro in Clayton County, and into an antebellum cottage across from the tracks of the Macon & Western Railroad. That was in 1933, during the Great Depression, and hobos riding the rails often stopped at the house looking for a meal and maybe some work to pay for another day of hard living. But the old house was used to strangers coming by through the years, from Yankee soldiers during the Civil War to young recruits during two World Wars. Willis liked to think about all the old house had seen, as he spent his growing up years there, finally moving out when he married and started his own home.

Willis Swint

Willis Swint

He was an older man himself when he moved back to the house on the railroad tracks, hoping to preserve the home and his family’s history. But it was another family’s surprising history that Willis discovered when he and his wife Beverly returned and began renovations on the 150 year-old property – the family of Western legend, Doc Holliday. In an old safe left in the house, they discovered a pile of deeds to the property reaching back to the 1860’s when the home was known as the “Holliday Office House.” The owner then was Captain Robert Kennedy Holliday, uncle of the famous Doc Holliday, and father of Doc’s rumored first love, Mattie Holliday. The home was Captain Holliday’s office, and a place that young Doc would have known and likely visited.Continue reading

I’m Your Huckleberry

I’m Your Huckleberry

Tombstone

Tombstone

Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp

The films “Wyatt Earp” and “Tombstone” both had scripts by Oscar nominated writers. Wyatt Earp’s Lawrence Kasdan was nominated for “The Accidental Tourist,” “The Big Chill,” and “Grand Canyon.” Tombstone’s Kevin Jarre won for “Glory.” But only “Tombstone” brought us a whole new dialogue for the men of the OK Corral. Although there is enough conversation to carry the story, the script is filled with great one-liners that have become classics over the twenty years since the film was released. And Doc Holliday had some of the best lines.Continue reading

Bringing Doc Holliday Home

Bringing Doc Holliday Home

John_Henry

John Henry Holliday

John Henry Holliday wasn’t always Griffin, Georgia’s favorite son.  For generations, he was the black sheep of his hometown, the good boy gone bad who was rumored about behind his back.  How could a young man of such promise turn out so poorly?  Surely, his parents had raised him better than to spend his life as a killer and a drunk.  The Hollidays were, after all, fine Southern folk who been some of the pioneers in the area and helped to put Griffin on the map.  His mother’s family, the McKeys, were large landholders with a plantation along Indian Creek and several business buildings in town.  And weren’t they kin to the Elijah Cloud family who owned half of north Georgia and claimed Stone Mountain as their own private property?  And although his father, Henry Holliday, came from somewhat less prosperous circumstances – wasn’t his own father a tavern keeper over in Fayetteville? – Henry had made something of himself as a landholder, too, and been clerk of the first county court in Griffin before moving to South Georgia when the Yankees came through.  No, one couldn’t blame John Henry’s folks for not teaching him his responsibilities.  His mother was a refined, religious woman and his father had served honorably in three wars.  Yet somehow John Henry had turned out all wrong, wandering from Georgia to Texas and the frontier west to make his fame and infamy in gun battles and gambling halls.  That sort of story made for entertaining novels and movies, but it didn’t suit the reputation of a Southern town like Griffin. Continue reading

Tucson, Trainyards, and Festival Tents

Tucson, Trainyards, and Festival Tents

Photo by Steve Nguyen / The Daily Wildcat

Tucson, Arizona, is a small city with a big blue sky and wonderful warm temperatures when the rest of the country is still shivering from a too-long winter.  So we were glad to get away from chilly Atlanta in March to sunny Arizona and the Tucson Festival of Books, an annual celebration of all things literary, with author speakers and signers and over 100,000 eager readers.

Historic Train Depot, Tucson

Historic Train Depot, Tucson

Tucson is also the place where Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday left their days as lawmen and became outlaws.  They had come to Tucson honestly enough, escorting Virgil Earp and wife to the California-bound train after the murder of Morgan Earp by the cowboys in Tombstone.  Virgil had been attacked a few months earlier and was still recovering from a crippling gunshot wound; now it was clear that Arizona was too dangerous for the Earps, and Virgil would need to do his recuperating elsewhere.  Was it only a coincidence that Frank Stilwell, one of the suspects in Morgan’s murder, was at the train station, too, skulking around the tracks?  Wyatt Earp didn’t wait to find out.  According to some stories, Wyatt put a shotgun to Frank’s belly and blew him to hell.  The coroner’s report on the body of Frank Stillwell, found the next morning along the railroad tracks, doesn’t support that single-shooter scenario, placing the blame on an assassination-style attack by several assailants, including Doc Holliday.  According to witnesses, they had “never seen a man so shot up.”Continue reading

Haunted by History

Haunted by History

I had the honor this past week of speaking at the historic City Library in Provo, Utah. Of course, I love sharing my stories anywhere, but I especially love events in historic places, because I love old buildings. They carry such a sense of the history that has happened in them. You can almost feel it in the old bricks, the old stones, the old beams. I can’t help but wonder about the people who have been there but are gone now. Funny how fast the people come and go through life, and how long the buildings that housed them last.Continue reading