Doc's involvement in the OK Corral incident brought him more notoriety than any of his other exploits. The aftermath continued for months and followed him out of state. Only with the help of his good friend Wyatt, was he able to avoid the gallows that Behan would surely like to bring forth.
Aftermath of the Gunfight at the OK Corral
The better class of citizen supported the marshals while the town's newspaper The Nugget wrote a scathing article about the Earps and Doc Holliday portraying them as murderers. As the following hearing progressed, it went from a charge of misuse of power in which the only principal defendant should have been Virgil Earp; to a focus on the actions of Wyatt and Doc. The Nugget presented the cowboys as hardworking men and the attack upon them unprovoked; furthermore, the newspaper accounts of the incident indicated that the men were basically unarmed.
Ike testified that Wyatt and Doc had come to him separately to plead their case regarding their part in the robbery of the Wells Fargo stage and had begged him to use his influence to obtain a guarantee of silence by the other robbers. When they died, it was then Ike who knew too much and thus Wyatt and Doc were intent on keeping him quiet and that was the sole purpose of the gunfight at the OK Corral. Fortunately for Doc and the Earps, they had a good lawyer who debunked Ike's statements and the key points laid out by The Nugget with key witnesses. Doc was never called to testify, and Virgil testified by written deposition due to his wounds. Wyatt was the last to testify for the defense. The case then went to Judge Spicer to determine if the Earps and Doc would be released or tried for murder.
Judge Spicer laid out his report in detail and in the end, freed Doc and the Earps. While justice was served, many of the citizens of Tombstone were still entrenched in the version laid out by The Nugget and the outlaws themselves vowed vengeance on any who were involved in the support of the freedom of the Earps and Doc. They had a list of men to be assassinated if they stayed in Tombstone and of course Doc Holliday and the Earps were on the top of the list. In addition, Judge Spicer, the lawyer, the mayor, and the two main witnesses for the defense were on the list.
The Old West Outlaws Seek Vengeance
As is well known, the outlaws were true to their threats. Several altercations approached shootouts between Doc and Johnny Ringo, but someone always intervened. One night though, Virgil Earp was walking down the street and was ambushed by three gunmen. His left arm was shattered and he was also hit in the thigh. Ike Clanton was the favored candidate for being one of the shooters but it is not known for certain who the three ambushers were. Following this ambush, Behan tried to get Wyatt and Doc arrested and charged a second time for the murder of Billy Clanton the McLowry brothers. A warrant was issued from Contention City, but when Wyatt and Doc showed up with their lawyer, the case was thrown out.
Shortly after, the citizens of Tombstone went over the head of Sheriff Behan and straight to the territorial administration for help in fighting the criminal faction in town. As it turned out, the result was Wyatt Earp was appointed charge of a special United States Marshal posse and empowered the posse to clean up the county. Arrest warrants for Curly Bill, Johnny Ringo and the others were passed on to Wyatt. Wyatt deputized Turkey Creek Jack Johnson, Sherman McMasters, and Texas Jack Vermillion. Doc, Morgan and Warren Earp were also part of the posse.
Before the posse could begin any activity another robbery occurred and Wyatt and Morgan investigated. They believed Frank Stilwell and a man named Pete Spence had committed the robbery. Though they arrested them; they had to put them in Behan's custody and following through on Stilwell's claim that he would release them; Behan did just that. Later in the evening, Morgan Earp was shot and killed while playing pool. An inquest concluded that Stilwell and Spence were involved in the shooting. Wyatt and Doc realized that it was only a matter of time before they too would be ambushed. They needed to be proactive but first they needed to get Virgil somewhere safe where they did not have to guard him. They decided to put him and his wife on a train to California.
At Tucson, Wyatt, Doc and the entire posse disembarked from the train. They had information that Stilwell, Spence and Ike Clanton were in Tucson ahead of them. Wyatt and Doc stood guard over Virgil and his wife while the other posse members scouted Tucson. After a meal at a restaurant, Wyatt took the Virgil Earps back to the train to continue their journey while Doc remained in the restaurant. At that time, Wyatt spotted Stilwell and Ike. By Wyatt's claim he rushed Stilwell who "trembled for his life and grabbed the end of the shotgun." Wyatt shot him dead.
That incident gave Behan cause for delight. He issued an arrest warrant and as soon as Wyatt and Doc returned to Tombstone attempted to arrest them. However, Wyatt and Doc along with the other posse members walked out of the hotel, down to their horses and rode out of town. The next day they learned Behan had raised a posse of his own to hunt down Wyatt and his posse. Behan deputized Johnny Ringo, Curly Bill, as well as Ike and Phin Clanton. Interestingly Wyatt, as deputy US Marshal, had warrants for all of the men on Behan's posse as well as those who killed Morgan. The exception was that of Florentino Cruz also known as Indian Charlie.
Wyatt had only recently learned that Indian Charlie was one of the men responsible for Morgan's death. Wyatt's posse captured Indian Charlie who admitted to being involved with the outlaws. He confirmed that Stilwell and Ike had twice tried to ambush Doc and the attack on Virgil had been conducted by Ringo, Stilwell, Ike, Swilling and another man whose name he did not know. He claimed Curly Bill, Stilwell and Swilling were involved in Morgan's death; Ringo and Spence had only stood guard at the end of the alley. After pressure, he admitted to waiting with Ringo and Spence in the alley. Wyatt offered freedom to Indian Charlie if he could outdraw him. Indian Charlie took the offer and failed in his attempt. As soon as Behan learned of the death, he signed warrants for murder on all the members of Wyatt's posse.
Eventually, Wyatt killed Curly Bill and Behan disbanded his outlaw posse. It is not clear how many of the outlaws were actually killed during this time. Johnny Ringo and Ike Clanton left Tombstone presumably for Mexico. The other outlaws laid low or left the area. The Marshals were still wanted in Cochise and Pima Counties and therefore could not return to Tombstone. The Governor of Colorado invited Wyatt to come there stating he would not honor extradition without a court hearing on the matter. Wyatt believed he could convince a fair minded judge that his actions were justified. Although Wyatt was safe, Doc Holliday was not.
Doc Holliday Returns to Denver, Colorado
The marshal's posse traveled to Pueblo, Colorado where Doc and Wyatt parted ways. Earp had elected to "lay low" while Doc was bound to do nothing of the sort. He rode to Gunnison to try pick up his gambling ways in the new boom town. After a short stay he traveled to Denver and checked in at the local sheriff's office. A man, Perry M. Mallen, claiming to be an officer from Arizona arrived in Denver shortly thereafter and the deputy sheriff escorted him to where Doc was staying. Doc, being unarmed at the time, was arrested and The Rocky Mountain News headlined the event and laid out a scrambled version of what happened in Tombstone, declaring Doc Holliday, the Earps and the rest of Wyatt's posse a "gang of thugs, murderers, and desperadoes." The Denver Republican mirrored this characterization of Doc, branding him the leader of the murderous cowboys in the vicinity of Tombstone. All hopes of Doc getting a fair hearing flew out the window.
On May 17, The Rocky Mountain News printed a story indirectly giving Doc's side of the story and concluded the article stating Doc was well known by General D.J. Cook and other Rocky Mountain detectives. Dave Cook was a well known and respected peace officer in Colorado and it is a wonder as to why Cook supported Doc's claims. It is anybody's guess as to why Cook and indeed the government officials of Colorado threw their support behind Doc; much of his reputation had been earned in Colorado. Possibly it had more to do with protecting Wyatt than any concern for Doc.
The Governor of Colorado was reluctant to extradite Doc to Arizona. Before the extradition papers arrived, Bat Masterson arrived on the scene. Apparently, Wyatt had wired Masterson to help Doc on his behalf, not being able to come himself. At the time, Masterson was a deputy sheriff in Las Animas County, Colorado and he persuaded the City Marshal in Pueblo to issue a warrant for Doc's arrest. The newspaper reported the charge was for the con game Doc was involved in three years previously.
The sheriff in Denver refused to release Doc to Masterson. Bob Paul arrived from Arizona but not with the warrant needed. Masterson criticized Mallen, claiming he only wanted the $5000 reward money and was in cahoots with the cowboys in Arizona. Masterson spoke well of Doc to the local papers. While waiting for the papers from Arizona, The Republican finally interviewed Doc and printed his version of the story. During that interview, Doc accused Behan of using the outlaws for his gains and when asked, acknowledged that if returned to Arizona Behan would see to it that Holliday hanged.
Doc had two extraordinary law firms working on his behalf; Deckard and Yonley and Deweese and Naylor. They represented the best defense counsel Colorado had to offer. Deckard had been a federal judge during the territorial days and was the dean of Colorado's bar. They made several attempts to free Doc before the extradition papers arrived from Arizona but were not successful. Governor Pitkin would have the final say on whether or not Doc would be extradited to Arizona. The hearing was set for May 30.
Wyatt, through Masterson, once again went on the offense and convinced a writer for the Tribune, E.D. Cowen to speak with Governor Pitkin on Doc's behalf. Cowen had influence with the Governor and the next day at the hearing, Pitkin declared the warrant for extradition was not legally correct and also added that Doc must first answer the charges that were levied in the state of Colorado, which was the charge regarding the con game. On May 31, 1882 Doc was taken to Pueblo to answer the charge of swindling a man out of $100.
After a celebration in Pueblo, Wyatt, Doc and the others in the posse went their separate ways. In the summer of 1882 Doc left Colorado and traveled to Deadwood in the Dakota Territory where he operated his faro game in a saloon. Upon shooting a man in the hand and being rushed by others, it is reported he calmly stood back with folded arms and said "Gentlemen, I am Doc Holliday of Tombstone." Thereafter he was given wide berth.
Doc returned to Colorado and 1883 spent a year without any documented fracas with guns or the law. He spent some time in Silverton and finally settled in Leadville. Doc stayed in Leadville for almost three years and of course eventually there would be blood shed. Doc wounded the local sheriff, Bill Allen, who threatened Doc to pay him the $5 he owed or he'd be killed. Doc shot him in his pistol hand. Later, Constable Kelly drew on Doc and Doc killed him. He was arrested and later released as testimony showed him in the right regarding Constable Kelly's death. He was subsequently arrested for Allen's death and it actually went to trial, the only time any charge against Doc went that far. He was acquitted on that charge.
Doc Holliday's Last Days
By 1885 the gambling circuit was shrinking. Towns were becoming cities or dying out completely and gamblers were not revered as they had once been. While Wyatt and Masterson adapted to the changes, Doc did not. He continued gamble, traveling between Denver and Ladville, albeit by train more often than horseback, for the remainder of his years.
His health was rapidly declining and though Doc did not so much believe in miraculous cures, he was a man of action. Upon hearing about the healing powers of the sulphur vapors in Glenwood Springs, he left for the town in May of 1887. The final days of Doc were spent in states of unconsciousness. The final two weeks he was delirious the majority of the time. However he did regain consciousness on the morning of November 8, 1887 and with clarity asked for a tumbler of whiskey. He drank it down, gave the attendant an appreciative smile and said "This is funny." He closed his eyes for the last time.
His last statement carried full meaning to those who knew him. Doc always thought he would die with his boots on and in fact had wagered on it throughout his years in the west. Doc maintained correspondence with his cousin Mattie and at the end; he was baptized as a Catholic, probably in reference to her beliefs; perhaps a final debt of loyalty to pay.
Doc was quickly buried; he passed around ten o'clock in the morning and was buried by four o'clock that afternoon. His original grave site is unknown, said to be someplace in the backyard of a home in town; but though Doc's remains are not there, he is honored with a memorial in the cemetery at Glenwood Springs. High on a hill, visitors can view the headstone and create images of the legendary John Henry "Doc" Holliday; as elusive in death as he was in life.
Meyers, John Meyers. Doc Holliday. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1973; original printing London: Little Brown,1955.
The copyright of the article "The Legend of Doc Holliday Part 3: The Years After the OK Corral" is owned by Cheryl Weldon. Permission to republish "The Legend of Doc Holliday Part 3: The Years After the OK Corral" in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.