Designing Doc Holliday

Designing Doc Holliday

One of the last—but most important—elements of book publishing is the design of the cover. A self published author may have complete control over cover design, while a traditionally published author (like yours truly) has a whole art and marketing department to do the work. With many creators taking part in the process, the final product may not reflect the author’s first intent, while still satisfying bookstore buyers and distributors.

The World of Doc Holliday History & Historic ImagesSuch is the case in the cover of my new pictorial biography: The World of Doc Holliday: History & Historic Images. In my mind, since the book was inspired by Doc’s railroad travels across the country, a cover featuring an antique train would have been perfect. The first mock-up of my own suggested design combined both a train on a high trestle and a photo of Dr. John Henry Holliday taken in Prescott, Arizona, shortly before he moved to Tombstone, and sent to his family back home in Georgia—an elegant image of a traveling man in the era of the iron horse.

The Life and Legend Doc HollidayOnly problem with my design suggestion was that the photo had already been prominently used on Dr. Gary Robert’s seminal and scholarly biography, Doc Holliday: The Life & Legend. The publisher didn’t want to confuse bookstore buyers or readers, so we had to let that great photo go. But what to use, instead?


Doc HollidayThere are only a few well-documented photos of Doc, and none from his time in Tombstone or after. The only other family photo with clear provenance (trail of ownership) had been taken in Philadelphia when he was in dental school in 1871-72. Often referred to as the Graduation Photo, there is no actual indication of when during those years the photo was taken—it may have been when he first arrived in the city or anytime between then and when he left. And as a cover photo for this book about his adventures, he looks a little young and inexperienced for our well-traveled Doc.

Doc HollidayAnother option might have been this photo that claims to be Doc in Dallas in 1873 and is one of my favorites: a much retouched and darkened image of a mustached man with the Holliday-family-trait attached earlobes and a penciled notation on the back, “J.H. Holliday, Dallas, 1873.” The photo comes from the Vincent Mercaldo (1850-1945) collection of more than 2,000 classic Western images, now housed in the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming. Mercaldo was an artist as well as a collector and could have done the retouching/darkening on this photo himself. The photo has no other provenance besides that penciled ID on the back, but was accepted for years and certainly could be him—though one family member declared that it positively was not Doc with no proof other than her own word for it, and she lived a couple of generations after him and never actually saw him.

Doc HollidayAn image lacking provenance but with a good chance of being the real deal is this famous photo of a mustached man that appeared with a Bat Masterson article about Doc Holliday in “Human Life” Magazine in 1907. The photo appears to have been cropped for the article, and may have come from a larger, group photo. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know who was in that group? Unfortunately, we don’t know the whereabouts of the original, but the fact that Bat allowed its use with his article lends credence, and the fact that Wyatt’s later biographer, Stuart Lake, also used the photo in his Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal, makes it even more likely. Lake captioned it: “This photograph, made by C. S. Fly in Tombstone, 1881, was the only one Doc Holliday ever had taken.” Lake may have been right about the Camillus Fly attribution (making the photo even more historic) but he was wrong about it being the only photo Doc ever had taken.

Kansas Historical Society Doc HollidayJohn Myers Myers Doc HollidayThis retouched version of the C.S. Fly photo comes from the collection of Texas photographer Noah Rose (1874-1952) who made images of the people and places of the Southwest and added to his own work photos from other collections. By 1930, he was selling prints of his collection and supplying images to magazines. His Album of Gunfighters contained 300 pictures of outlaws and lawman of the West—including this image. Called the “Rose Photo,” it adds a curl to Doc’s now-dark hair, a narrow-trimmed mustache, and a drawn-in suitcoat. This is the image that inspired the cover of John Myers Myers 1955 bio, Doc Holliday.



John Meyers Meyers Doc Holliday1950 RPPC Postcard Reprint Photo of Doc Holliday DentistThe English edition of Myers book, published in 1957, used an artist-drawn full-length version of the Rose Photo, with Doc wearing a side-slung holster and an ivory-handled pistol. Another artist-rendered version of the Rose photo shows him in the same pose as the English Myers book, but now holding a derby hat instead of fingering a pistol. And it was that drawing that my publisher’s design team chose for the cover of my new book, The World of Doc Holliday: History & Historic Images. Although it’s not a photograph of John Henry Holliday, as I would have preferred, the drawing was inspired by an actual photograph accepted by both Bat Masterson, who knew Doc personally, and by Wyatt Earp’s first biographer. So, with its own historical lineage, the image now seems a fitting choice for a book filled with historic images from the world of Doc Holliday. And, happily, the cover design still includes an antique train!

The World of Doc Holliday History and Historical Images


Interesting Links:

Buffalo Bill Historical Center:
Doc Holliday by Bat Masterson:
Doc Holliday Live/Doc Photos:
Camillus Fly: Frontier Photographer

Click the book cover below for more info or to order.

The World of Doc Holliday: History & Historic Images
Southern Son
Dance with the Devil
Dead Man's Hand