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 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

Doc’s Last Cold Days

Doc’s Last Cold Days

danger-ice-on-road

Atlanta Ice Storm

We’re having an ice storm in Atlanta. Sounds strange, here in the usually balmy American South, but not all that unusual. Ice shuts down the city every ten winters or so, starting as cold rain that freezes when it hits anything below 32 degrees: bridges, overpasses, stone stairways, iron gates and rails, roofs, tree limbs, power lines. Eventually everything is covered in ice, looking very pretty but making for dangerous driving or even walking, as the ground is a skating rink and those ice-laden trees and power lines give way under the burden and come crashing down like shattered glass. Continue reading

Doc’s Holliday in New Orleans

Doc’s Holliday in New Orleans

Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street

The river city of New Orleans has been called one of the most haunted places in America. It certainly is full of spirits — especially the kind found on the French Quarter’s Bourbon Street, lined with bars and restaurants and other, less reputable, places of entertainment. If Doc Holliday had visited the Crescent City, Bourbon Street would surely have been one of his favorite haunts…

On the Exhibit Floor

On the Exhibit Floor

I was in New Orleans for a somewhat more businesslike purpose, attending the Southeast Independent Booksellers Alliance Convention, where authors and publishers present their books for the new season, and where I was showcasing “Inheritance” and “Gone West” which comes out next spring. But what I really wanted to see was the hotel where Doc Holliday likely stayed on his own visit to New Orleans.

Continue reading

Doc Holliday’s Florida Getaway

Doc Holliday’s Florida Getaway

masterson_bat

Bat Masterson

Mattie Holliday, Doc’s cousin and rumored sweetheart, was quoted as saying, “He was a much different man than the one of Western legend.”  He was also a lot more interesting, with travels that took him far beyond the OK Corral.  But did Doc take a Florida beach break, as well?  That’s the surprising direction the research goes, as historians continue to explore the unanswered questions of why – and how – Doc Holliday left Georgia.  And one of the most intriguing of the answers comes from someone who knew Doc personally:  Dodge City lawman Bat Masterson.

Withlacoochee-rivee

Withlacoochee River

In his later years, Bat became a reporter and did a series of stories about the famous characters of the American West, including an article about Doc Holliday.  The story, published in 1907 in a Boston, Massachusetts magazine, tells a tale of murder and escape set during the troubled times following the Civil War.  According to Bat, there was a swimming hole on a little river near to the south Georgia village where Doc Holliday was raised, and where he one day came across some black boys swimming where he thought they shouldn’t be.  He ordered them out of the water and when they refused, he took a shotgun to them, causing a massacre.  His family thought it best that he leave the area, and he moved to Dallas, Texas.  Although the report of a massacre isn’t likely, there are some interesting points to Bat’s story: Holliday did, in fact, live in a little village in South Georgia, the town of Valdosta, near where there is a river named the Withlacoochee, along which Doc’s family owned some land.  And when Bat’s story was published and the family later asked about it by another reporter, they said that Holliday fired over the boys heads, not at them – but they did not deny the shooting.Continue reading

St. Louis and the Southern Son

St. Louis and the Southern Son

In this 20th anniversary year of the movie “Tombstone,” which gave us Val Kilmer’s iconic Doc Holliday and his “hot-blooded Hungarian devil” of a mistress named Kate Elder, it seems appropriate to celebrate their love affair – or at least trace its origins. Which, according to Kate, were something different than the movies might lead us to believe.

Kate Elder in the movie <em>Tombstone</em>

Kate Elder in the movie Tombstone

The real Kate was, indeed, Hungarian, but had lived most of her young life in the Mississippi River town of Davenport, Iowa, not Budapest. Her given name was Maria Katarina Horoney, the daughter of a Hungarian doctor who had fled his home country during political upheavals there. When her father and mother both later died in a fever epidemic, young Kate left home and traveled down the Mississippi to St. Louis, where she met a young man named John Henry Holliday – or so she said in her memoirs years later. But as everyone knew Doc Holliday had never been in St. Louis, her story was discounted for decades and largely ignored by historians. More likely, she met Holliday in the rowdy trail town of Ft. Griffin, Texas, where he also first met lawman Wyatt Earp, and was just trying to give herself a more respectable past.Continue reading