The True Story Of Wild Bill Hickok, The Sheriff Of Deadwood

One of the most fascinating historical figures from the days of the American wild west is Wild Bill Hickok. Most famous for being the sheriff of Deadwood, the imposing figure held many titles during his lifetime. For decades, Hollywood has tried to immortalize him, but how much of his life have they gotten right? Born in 1837, Wild Bill rampaged his way through life and left a trail of destruction in his wake. This is the story of Wild Bill Hickok that Hollywood just doesn’t get right.

He Fought In The Union Army

union army generals
Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

At the start of the Civil War, Bill Hickok signed up with the Union army. Initially, he was given the role of teamster. After a while it was clear he was capable of more and he was promoted to wagon master.

One year after joining the Union army, Hickock was discharged. The reasons for his discharge are still unknown today. He didn’t stay unemployed for long though and teamed up next with the Kansas Brigade in various roles.

He Dueled Over A Watch

wild bill hickcok sitting
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Bill Hickok and Davis Tutt were two men who did not get along. Tutt was a gambler and won a gold watch from Hickock one day. After he lost his watch, Bill asked Davis not to wear it in public because it was special to him.

Tutt didn’t listen, and the conflict led to one of the first documented quick-draw duels in the Wild West. When the two drew their weapons, Tutt missed his shot and Hickok didn’t. He was arrested for the death but was cleared of all charges by a jury.

His Family’s Possible Connection To The Underground Railroad

fugitive slaves on the underground railroad
Universal History Archive/Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Getty Images

Bill Hickok grew up in an abolitionist household. His family was even rumored to be a stop on the Underground Railroad for refugee slaves. The railroad established safe houses and secret routes for slaves to find paths to free states and even Canada.

If the Hickok family house was used as a part of the Underground Railroad, it helped to free nearly 1,000 slaves per year at its peak. Like many stories about Hickok’s past, there is no confirmation if this one is true.

Hickock Claimed To Have Fought A Bear And Won

black bear at a zoo
Kenneth Stevens/Fairfax Media via Getty Images
Kenneth Stevens/Fairfax Media via Getty Images

While working as a constable for the Monticello Township, Bill Hickok told a wild story where he claimed to have fought a bear. He said he approached the animal and its two cubs when he noticed them blocking a roadway.

He shot the bear, which only angered it and it attacked him. The enraged beast crushed Hickok with its body, but he managed to take out his knife and fight it off. The encounter left him badly injured, but still alive.

The Origin Of His Name Came From His Nose

wild bill close up
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When he was born, Wild Bill Hickok was named James Butler Hickok. He was later given the nickname “Duck Bill” because of his peculiarly long nose. When he tired of being the butt of everyone’s jokes, he grew a mustache and rebranded himself as “Wild Bill.”

During the same time period he was known as “Duck Bill” he was also noted for having a slim build, which led to another nickname, “Shanghai Bill.”

Charlie Utter Tried To Straighten Him Out

charlie utter
De Agostini/Getty Images
De Agostini/Getty Images

Along his travels, Hickok teamed up with Charlie Utter and even became a partner in Utter’s train business. As soon as their lives became intertwined, Utter could tell that Bill was going down a dangerous path with his behavior.

While they worked together, Utter tried to ease Hickok away from his worst habits in hopes that he could live a long life. As you’ll earn, Utter’s efforts, while noble, ended up being lost when the pair went their separate ways.

He Left His Wife To Travel With Utter

wild bill and friends
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

At 38 years old, Hickok married Agnes Lake. She was 12 years younger than him, and the marriage was doomed to fail from the beginning. It was only a few months into their lives together that Hickok hitched his wagon to Charlie Utter.

Hickok was excited about the idea of heading to South Dakota to prospect for gold. He and Agnes lived in Wyoming Territory, and he left her there to pursue his own monetary interests.

He Was Red-Headed

wild bill painting
Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

One of the big things Hollywood gets wrong about Bill is that he had brown or black hair. Pictures of him tend to be in black and white, making his hair look dark, and in turn leading to the way he is portrayed on film.

If you study Wild Bill, however, you learn that most written accounts about him describe him as having red hair. Much like the confusion with Abraham Lincoln’s voice, this is one aspect of Hickok you see in movies we can guarantee is false.

Little Big Man Helped Shape His Modern Image

image from little big man
MPI/Getty Images
MPI/Getty Images

In 1970, the film Little Big Man was released, featuring Hickok as a character. Jeff Corey played him in the movie, which also starred Dustin Hoffman and Faye Dunaway.

The facts put forth in the movie about Bill are arguably inaccurate, despite the film’s recognition by the Library of Congress as a modern classic. One of the biggest facts that the movie falsifies is how Hickok died. In the film, his life is taken by the son of a man he took the life of.

He Never Sat With His Back To The Door

cowboys playing poker
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

During his life, Hickok made a lot of enemies. He had so many folks coming after him that whenever he went to a pub or saloon, he would find a seat where he could sit with his back facing the wall.

Having a view of the door meant that no one could sneak up on him. Even when he would play cards and gamble he would make sure he was sitting in a seat with his back facing the wall.

Was He Married To Calamity Jane?

calamity jane on a horse
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

In 1941, Jean Hickok Burkhardt McCormick was awarded old age assistance after making the claim she was the child of Wild Bill and Calamity Jane. McCormick even had a marriage document as proof that the two were lovers.

According to the document, Hickok and Jane were married in 1873. Despite this, Hickok’s history is so shrouded in false details and claims that historians continue to argue against McCormick’s claim, citing multiple inconsistencies in her story.

Bill Never Forgot His Marriage To Agnes Lake

wild bill pictured wearing a fluffy hat
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Wild Bill Hickok had many loves throughout his life, but Agnes Lake may have been his greatest love of all. Before he died, years after leaving her for his travels, he wrote her a letter:

“Agnes Darling, if such should be we never meet again, while firing my last shot, I will gently breathe the name of my wife—Agnes—and with wishes even for my enemies I will make the plunge and try to swim to the other shore.”

Hickok And Jane Were Buried Next To Each Other

calamity jane at bill hickok's grave
GraphicaArtis/Getty Images
GraphicaArtis/Getty Images

Further confusing the narrative of Hickok and Calamity Jane are the competing stories of how they ended up being buried next to each other. One story states that Jane requested to be buried next to Hickok.

The other story comes from the men who buried Hickok and claimed he thought it would be funny to be buried next to her because he had “no use” for her. Which version do you think is true?

One Of His First Jobs Was As A Detective

detectives conversing
Universal History Archive/ Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/ Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Long before Wild Bill Hickok made himself a home in the Wild West he lived in Springfield, Missouri, where he worked as a detective for the city police. In this job, he was given several tasks ranging from menial to highly skilled.

Three of his most important tasks were policing local Union Army troops, verifying liquor licenses around town, and bounty hunting. It was while he was doing this job that his now-famous rivalry with Davis Tutt began.

He Gained An Enemy Giving A Man Money For Breakfast

wild bill playing cards
Stock Montage/Getty Images
Stock Montage/Getty Images

Bill Hickok loved to gamble, and this next story shows how that would sometimes get him in trouble. In 1876, Bill sat down at a saloon in Deadwood and entered into a game of cards with a heavily inebriated man named Jack McCall.

McCall lost a large sum of money during the game, so Hickok offered him some money back to buy breakfast. The man agreed, but was enraged by the charity and would later confront Hickok for his good deed.

McCall Returned To Settle The Debt

bill hickok death
Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal Images Group via Getty Images

On August 2, 1876, Hickok once again sat down in the saloon for a game of poker. This time, however, he was not able to find a seat with his back to the wall and was forced to sit with it to the door.

As “luck” would have it, the one time Hickok wouldn’t be able to sit the way he preferred would be the last. Jack McCall, who still held a grudge over the previous game of poker walked up behind Wild Bill and took his life.

Hickok Is Responsible For The “Dead Man’s Hand”

GettyImages-1047947546
Los Angeles Examiner/USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images
Los Angeles Examiner/USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images

At the time of his passing, Wild Bill Hickok had a poker hand that included two black eight and two black aces. This hand has since that day been known as the “Dead Man’s Hand” during a game of five-card stud.

This signature hand is the only part of Hickok’s legacy. While it’s impossible to know which stories about him are true or not, there is no questioning the impact his legend left on our understanding of the American Wild West.

Charlie Utter Took Responsibility For Hickok’s Death

bill hickok grave site
Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal Images Group via Getty Images

After the events of August 2, 1876, were settled, Charlie Utter took responsibility for the death of his friend. Stricken with grief, Utter was the first to report the act of vengeance in the paper and held Hickok’s funeral at his camp.

Furthermore, Utter took control of what Hickok’s gravestone would read. One portion called out McCall for the heinous act, while another message said he hoped to “meet again in the happy hunting ground to part no more.”

McCall Said This Was The Reason

jack mccall killed bill hickok
Sharon bomboske/Pinterest
Sharon bomboske/Pinterest

Although it’s easy to guess that the action Jack McCall took against Bill Hickok was simply petty revenge, he claimed it was much bigger than that. Afterward, he claimed that wasn’t settling a debt at all, but was instead avenging his brother.

What’s interesting, is this story is similar to what happened in Little Big Man. Even though this is the story that has been spread around about the reasoning for Hickok’s death, historians have never found hard evidence this is true.

McCall Went On Trial Twice

wild west trial
Universal History Archive/Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Getty Images

After his final run-in with Wild Bill Hickok, Jack McCall reportedly stole a horse to flee the scene but fell off. Authorities found him hiding in the local butcher shop and arrested him.

McCall ended being put on trial twice for the same crime. His first trial lasted two hours and consisted of a jury of locals who found him innocent. When he was caught bragging later, he was arrested again and found guilty for his crime.

Wild Bill’s Home Town Was Renamed

Wild Bill's Home Town Was Renamed
Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Wild Bill Hickok was born in 1837 in a little town known as Homer, Illinois. Nowadays, the town goes by a different name, one that was taken from a nearby grove named for one of the village’s earliest settlers, Troy Grove.

According to the 2010 census, the population of Troy Grove is only 250, shrinking from the beginning of the millennia. One thing that remained the same through the years, though, is the Wild Bill Hickok Memorial.

He’s Believed To Be Part Of One Of The First Quick-Draw Duels

He's Believed To Be Part Of One Of The First Quick-Draw Duels
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

One of Hickok’s “enemies” was a man named Tutt. The two gambled, argued, and would even chase the same women. But it took Tutt winning Hickok’s prized watch and wearing it in public for their growing resentment to finally boil over.

On July 21, 1865, the two met in Springfield’s town square. It’s believed that it was there that the first quick-draw duel occurred, with Tutt losing and Hickok being arrested for murder. Of course, this was a different time. So, Hickok was found not guilty and was released.

His House Might Have Been Part Of The Underground Railroad

His House Might Have Been Part Of The Underground Railroad
American Stock/Getty Images
American Stock/Getty Images

Wild Bill’s father, William Hickok senior, was an abolitionist, opposed to slavery and everything it stood for. He was very passionate about freedom, and it’s been reported that the Hickok family home was one of the stops along the Underground Railroad.

Black slaves would stop at the house for refuge, taking a short break before continuing their journey north to freedom. Wild Bill was brought up with the same beliefs as his father, fighting for the Union and even serving as a scout for the 10th Cavalry Regiment, a segregated African-American unit.

He Wrote A Letter To His Wife Before Leaving Her

He Wrote A Letter To His Wife Before Leaving Her
adoc-photos/Corbis via Getty Images
adoc-photos/Corbis via Getty Images

On March 5, 1876, Wild Bill married Agnes Thatcher Lake. And while Wild Bill loved her in his own way, it didn’t stop him from leaving her a few months into their marriage. However, he did leave her a letter.

Bills letter read, “Agnes Darling if such should be we never meet again while firing my last shot, I will gently breathe the name of my wife—Agnes—and with wishes, even for my enemies I will make the plunge and try to swim to the other shore.” At least he had a way with words!

He Had A Favorite Type Of Weapon

He Had A Favorite Type Of Weapon
Lorin Morgan-Richards/Pinterest
Lorin Morgan-Richards/Pinterest

As most gunslingers did back in the days of the wild west, Bill Hickok had a favorite type of gun. Hickok favored a Colt 1851 Navy Model, of which he had a pair of. The matching pair had ivory handles engraved with his name.

But he did something others didn’t. Instead of holstering his guns with the butts facing backward, they were forward. Hickok had to use a movement called a cavalry draw if he ever had to un-holster the guns.

An Actor He Was Not

An Actor He Was Not
Sherry Petcosky/Pinterest
Sherry Petcosky/Pinterest

In 1873, Buffalo Bill Cody invited Wild Bill Hickok to join an acting troupe with him. Wild Bill hated the experience, realizing early on that he did not like the spotlight on him. And that’s meant in a literal sense.

Wild bill hated when a spotlight was shown on him so much that once he actually took out his gun, shooting the light! Needless to say, he wound up quitting the acting troupe a few months after joining.

He Was Inducted Into The Poker Hall of Fame

He Was Inducted Into The Poker Hall of Fame
The Sarantuya/Pinterest
The Sarantuya/Pinterest

Due to his legendary poker and gambling skills, Wild Bill Hickok was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1979, the first year the hall of fame for professional poker players was founded.

He is considered to be on the best card players to grace a poker table before the 20th century. But that’s not his only claim to fame when it comes to poker. He is one of three players to die while playing the game, alongside Tom Abdo and Jack Straus.

Inspiration Behind An Oscar-Nominated Film

Inspiration Behind An Oscar-Nominated Film
National General Pictures
National General Pictures

While there are more than a few films about the legendary Wild Bill Hickok, not all of them were nominated for an Academy Award. That honor was given to one of the movies the lawman inspired, the 1970 movie Little Big Man, with Chief Dan George earning a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role as Old Lodge Skins.

Of course, the events and characters in the film are wildly fictionalized, but it still gives a somewhat accurate account of what w know about the man.

He’s The Inspiration Behind Some Songs

He's The Inspiration Behind Some Songs
Tank Dempsey/Pinterest
Tank Dempsey/Pinterest

Interestingly, Wild Bill Hickok isn’t only the inspiration behind films but also for songs. He has been the subject matter for popular artists such as Woodie Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and, interestingly, Motorhead.

And then there is Colter Wall, who has a song titled, “Wild Bill Hickok.” The lyrics pretty much sum up Hickok’s life, legacy, and legendary moments, beginning from his birth in Illinois and ending with his untimely death at the hands of Jack McCall.

He’s The Inspiration Behind One Of HBO’s Most Beloved Series

He's The Inspiration Behind One Of HBO's Most Beloved Series
HBO
HBO

Along with the films and songs made about the legendary Wild Bill Hickok, HBO made a series based on Walter Hill’s novel Deadwood. The HBO series featured figures such as Calamity Jane, Wyatt Earp, Al Swearengen, Seth Bullock, and, of course, Wild Bill.

The show ran for three seasons, and in its time, won eight Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe. Deadwood is now considered to be one of the greatest television series of all time, and a lot of people think it was canceled too soon.

His Finances Went Up And Down

His Finances Went Up And Down
Vidal Buckridge/Pinterest
Vidal Buckridge/Pinterest

Even though Wild Bill Hickok is regarded as one of the best poker players of all time, his finances weren’t what one would call stable. The gambling man’s fortunes would rise and fall more times than a roller coaster.

During times of low finances, he would often be found living on the streets. And in his last few years of living in Deadwood, South Dakota, Wild Bill was frequently arrested for vagrancy. It seems as though he never learned how to stop while he was ahead.

Master Of Shootouts

Master Of Shootouts
Ne~Ne/Pinterest
Ne~Ne/Pinterest

Wild Bill Hickok was a master at more than poker and gambling; he was a very skilled gunslinger. His skills were put to the test in 1867 hen he faced off against four men after Hickok struck one of them for hitting his drink out of his hand.

Of course, Hickok was able to persuade them to step outside and have an actual shootout. Standing 40 feet apart, Hickok was able to take out three of the men, injuring the fourth.

Hickok’s Grave Was Moved In 1879

Hickok's Grave Was Moved In 1879
Louis Burklow/Pinterest
Louis Burklow/Pinterest

After Hickok died, he was buried in the Ingelside Cemetery in Deadwood, South Dakota. His sendoff had the whole town in attendance. But three years after his death, in 1879, Hickok’s friend, Charlie Utter, had his grave moved.

Utter paid to move his friends grave to the new cemetery in Deadwood called Mount Moriah Cemetery. He was given a ten-foot plot of land, surrounded by a cast-iron fence and an American flag in the ground.

He Accidentally Shot Someone Coming To Assist Him

He Accidentally Shot Someone Coming To Assist Him
The Vintage News/Pinterest
The Vintage News/Pinterest

Wild Bill Hickok and Phil Coe never had a good relationship. Then, one day in 1871, when Hickok attempted to arrest the man for firing his gun within the town’s limits, something horrible happened. Hickok was forced to shoot Coe because he’d turned a gun on him, but he accidentally shot someone else, too.

Seeing someone running towards him, Hickok shot first and asked questions later. Unfortunately, that man happened to be Deputy Marshal Mike Williams, someone who was running over to help Hickok.

Hickok Had A Best Friend In Charlie Utter

Hickok Had A Best Friend In Charlie Utter
William W. Osborn/Pinterest
William W. Osborn/Pinterest

Although Charlie utter wasn’t present for the events of 1876, he took full responsibility for the death of his friend, Bill Hickok. Utter took it upon himself to arrange the funeral, place an ad in the local paper, and decrying his death by “the assassin Jack McCall” on his grave marker.

He even went as far as placing a personal message on the marker, saying that he hopes to “meet again in the happy hunting ground to part no more.”

A Childhood Of War And Conflict

GettyImages-2758054-35214
American Stock/Getty Images
American Stock/Getty Images

Doc Holliday was born as John Henry Holliday in August 1851. Just before his birth, his father, Henry Burroughs Holliday, served in the Mexican-American War. In his early childhood, his father fought in the Civil War.

In 1862, the threat of Union troops moved the family further south in Georgia, to Valdosta. John Holliday’s family became prominent in the community, and his mother made sure that he never had to face the horrors of war. Despite the battles raging around him, Holliday didn’t grow up fighting his classmates or neighbors.

Holliday Was A Brilliant Student

GettyImages-515412336-77174
Getty Images
Getty Images

Although people may expect Doc Holliday to have been a rowdy student, that was far from the truth. As a child, Holliday suffered from speech impediments and a cleft palate. Through corrective surgery and hours of lessons from his mother, Alice, Holliday recovered from both conditions.

According to historical accounts, Holliday excelled in school. As a teenager, he attended Valdosta Institute, where he learned rhetoric, math, and history. He also became fluent in Latin, French, and Ancient Greek. At age 20, Holliday received his Doctor of Dental Surgery from the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery.

The Threat Of Tuberculosis

GettyImages-1095414070-29266
L’Illustrazione Italiana/Getty Images
L’Illustrazione Italiana/Getty Images

In 1866, Alice Holliday died of tuberculosis. Her death greatly impacted John Holliday, as he and his mother were very close. Three months later, his father married Rachel Martin, who was eight years older than him. John Holliday soon left his family to practice dentistry in Missouri and Georgia.

Sometime in his teenage years, Holliday’s adoptive brother, Francisco, also died from tuberculosis. Holliday seemed to escape the tragedy when he began practicing dentistry. However, he soon learned that he suffered from tuberculosis as well. He was given a few months to live.

The Dentist And Gambling King

Doc Holliday
Getty Images
Getty Images

After Holliday moved to Dallas, he partnered with a friend of his father, Dr. John Seegar. The two won various awards for their dental work. Holliday ended up living far beyond his initial diagnosis, but he suffered from coughing spells at unlikely times. In the 1870s, his dentistry work slowly declined.

However, Holliday discovered another money-making route: gambling. He had such a knack for gambling that he soon relied on it as his main source of income. In May of 1874, Holliday and 12 others were kicked out of Dallas for illegal gambling.

The Start Of A Rough Fighting Streak

GettyImages-1147826277-91641
Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Buyenlarge/Getty Images

There are few historical accounts of Holliday fighting before he left Dallas. After 1875, that changed. Throughout Holliday’s gambling sprees, he got into several fights. In 1877, Holliday grew violent with a fellow gambler Henry Kahn. After both men were arrested, Kahn once again beat an unarmed Holliday.

In the Dallas Weekly Herald, reporters incorrectly stated that Holliday had died. His cousin, George Holliday, helped him move west to Fort Griffin, Texas. There, he had his only known relationship with an independent, educated street walker named “Big Nose Kate” Horony.

The True Doc Holliday

Old-West-stage-coach-62887
Pinterest/DJ
Pinterest/DJ

Despite his violent tendencies, Holliday’s peers described him as a calm-tempered gentleman. In an interview, a newspaper reporter asked Holliday if his conscience ever troubled him. Holliday responded, “I coughed that up with my lungs years ago.”

Others who knew Holliday described him as having a “mean disposition” and “ungovernable temper.” According to Holliday, he had been arrested 17 times, survived five ambushes, and escaped four hanging attempts. Most of his reputation spread through self-promotion and rumors. But this was enough to cement him as a famous Wild West Cowboy for centuries after his death.

His First Meeting With Marshall Wyatt Earp

GettyImages-514881868-78659
Getty Images
Getty Images

Around this time, Holliday ran into the famous rogue lawman Wyatt Earp. The details about their meeting are unclear outside of legend, but what is known is that the pair would become the most feared duo in the Wild West. At the time, Earp was still a deputy U.S. marshal.

According to the story, Earp was pursuing the outlaw “Dirty” Dave Rudabaugh. He asked Holliday about Rudabaugh’s whereabouts after Holliday gambled with him. Holliday said that Rudabaugh fled to Kansas, and Earp followed. But the two would end up meeting again.

Saving Earp’s Life

GettyImages-2758016-13413
Kean Collection/Getty Images
Kean Collection/Getty Images

According to stories, Wyatt Earp had either two or five cowboys. In the summer, these cowboys rode into the Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City. Holliday, who was looking for a dentist position in Dodge, was gambling in the back room. Meanwhile, the cowboys were harassing customers and vandalizing the room.

Upon hearing the commotion, Earp burst through the door. The cowboys pointed their weapons at them. But Holliday stood and pointed his pistol at the men’s leader, forcing them to disarm. No newspaper reports back up this incident. But either way, Earp credited Holliday with saving his life.

Chasing Silver

GettyImages-492041625-47218
Robert Alexander/Getty Images
Robert Alexander/Getty Images

In October 1879, Earp arrived in Las Vegas (New Mexico) and met up with Holliday. He told Doc that he was heading toward the silver boom in Tombstone, Arizona. Holliday had tried chasing the gold rushes in Dakota and Wyoming before but reaped nothing. Nonetheless, he eventually joined Earp in Tombstone one year later.

In these new Western territories, there weren’t many government forces to prevent crime so Earp and his brother took up the role. Initially, county sheriff Johnny Behan turned a blind eye to their shenanigans. But after Holliday joined the team, Behan viewed them as criminals.

Becoming “Doc” Holliday

Dentist-Holliday-98102
Pinterest/Top Dentists
Pinterest/Top Dentists

During his time in Fort Griffin, Texas, Holliday engaged in a mixture of fighting, gambling, and dentistry. He developed a reputation for refunding customers for less-than-satisfactory business, which is where he gained the nickname “Doc.” Around 1878, Holliday permanently stopped working as a dentist.

Through his several shootings, Holliday became known for his skill with a weapon. But he still suffered from tuberculosis. For one year, Holliday moved to Las Vegas, New Mexico, for the alleged healing properties of the 22 hot springs. Anti-gambling laws sent him back to Dodge City, but he later returned to Vegas to build saloons. That’s where he reunited with Wyatt Earp.

The Accused Stagecoach Robbing Of 1881

wanted-Doc-Holliday-sign-40406
Pinterest/Lolas Art Store
Pinterest/Lolas Art Store

In March 1881, three cowboys robbed a stagecoach that was headed to Tombstone. Rumors flew that the new outlaw, Doc Holliday, had led the robbery and slayings. At some point, his ex-lover Horony told authorities that Holliday did attempt to rob the stagecoach.

Holliday was arrested and convicted of assault. Fortunately, the Earps found witnesses who proved that Holliday was nowhere near the incident. Later, Horony said that Sheriff Behan had influenced her to confess and sign a document that she did not understand. This lead to rising tensions between Holliday, Earp, and Behan.

The Duel With Ike Clanton

Ike-Clanton-20026
Pinterest/Legends of America
Pinterest/Legends of America

On October 25, 1881, Holliday was enjoying some beverages in the Alhambra Saloon. There, he entered a heated argument with fellow outlaw Ike Clanton and challenged him to a duel–only to discover that Clanton was unarmed. Rather than let it go, Holliday taunted his opponent by saying that he had recently done away with Clanton’s father.

The next morning, Clanton gathered his weapons and searched the streets for Holliday. Clanton woke up Holliday and his common-law wife, Mary Horony, with loud threats. Reportedly, Holliday famously said, “If God will let me live to get my clothes on, he will see me.”

How A Single Duel Became A Battle

GettyImages-122722167-91415
Paramount Pictres/Getty Images
Paramount Pictres/Getty Images

Before Holliday could enter the fray, the Earp brothers disarmed Clanton and took him to court. But while Clanton remained behind bars, his fellow cowboys arrived to back him up. This included his brother Billy Clanton as well as Frank and Tom McLaury. Holliday faced the outlaws with the Earp brothers, Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan.

What happened next is up for debate. We know that the field erupted in a blaze of shots. Half a minute later, all fell silent. The men managed to fire 30 bullets throughout the brief but bloody battle.

The Showdown At O.K. Corral

GettyImages-492033333-76409
Robert Alexander/Getty Images
Robert Alexander/Getty Images

In the end, the McLaury brothers and Billy Clanton died on the spot. Ike Clanton fled. Reports state that Holliday may have shot each of the three men dead. Although he, Morgan, and Virgil received wounds, they emerged as the victors.

This shootout became known as the fight at the O.K. Corral since it occurred a few doors down from the Corral. As one of the most famous battles of the Wild West, it has been depicted in many movies and TV shows. But the fight was far from over for Holliday and the Earp brothers.

Becoming A Deputy

GettyImages-615308274-21121
© CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
© CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

After O.K. Corral, Virgil Earp was crippled for life. In March 1882, Morgan Earp was ambushed, and he died. Virgil Earp survived through several ambushes himself, but Wyatt and his deputies worked to keep him safe. Unable to find justice in the courts, Wyatt deputized Holliday, and the two agreed to avenge Morgan.

As a federal posse, Holliday and the Earps rode out to find Frank Stilwell, one of the Cowboys they believed to be responsible for Morgan’s death. They found Stilwell lying in wait on a train as Virgil Earp boarded and took his life.

The True Cowboy Life

GettyImages-526851486-51447
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

After the death of Frank Stilwell, a local sheriff placed a warrant for the arrest of the five deputies, including Holliday. But the posse wasn’t done. Just days after the ambush, Wyatt Earp and Holliday arrived at Iron Springs in the Whetstone Mountains.

With Earp, Holliday snuck up on eight cowboys, who drew their weapons and began firing. Holliday and his posse took out at least three of these cowboys. Meanwhile, the only casualty on Holliday’s side was a wounded horse. But with a warrant over their heads, the group decided to leave Arizona and head toward Colorado.

Earp And Holliday Part Ways

GettyImages-526888110-28254
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Holliday and the posse traveled through the New Mexico Territory, hoping to escape their warrant. But in Albuquerque, Wyatt Earp and Holliday got into a fight. Afterward, Earp remained in New Mexico, while Holliday traveled to Colorado.

In 1882, Holliday headed toward Glenwood Springs. Still suffering from tuberculosis, Holliday hoped that the waters would help his ailing health. But as soon as he arrived in Denver, he was arrested. He headed to jail on the Tucson warrant for murdering Frank Stilwell. This time, Holliday had to face prison alone.

Friends For Life

tombstone-22623
Buena Vista Pictures
Buena Vista Pictures

Fortunately, Holliday hadn’t entirely cut ties with Earp. When Wyatt Earp heard of the charges, he worried that Holliday wouldn’t receive a fair trial in Arizona. Earp asked his friend, Colorado Chief of Police Bat Masterson, to draw up bunco charges against Holliday.

Two weeks after his arrest, Holliday met up with Masterson. The two traveled to Pueblo, Colorado, where Holliday was released on bond. In June 1882, Earp and Holliday met in Gunnison, Colorado. Although the two remained close friends for life, this was the second-to-last time Holliday would see Earp.

Was Holliday Responsible For Johnny Ringo’s Death?

GettyImages-161349059-53094
Jerry Cleveland/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Jerry Cleveland/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Before Holliday died, he may or may not have taken one more life. In July 1882, Holliday’s long-time enemy, Johnny Ringo, was found dead in a tree. Initially, his death was reported as self-inflicted. But according to Earp’s third wife, Holliday and Earp traveled to Arizona to take Ringo’s life.

Historical evidence doesn’t clarify whether Holliday was the culprit. In Arizona, Holliday still had a warrant, so it’s unlikely that he would enter the area. Some historians believe that this story was a hoax, although we don’t know for sure.

Doc’s Final Days

GettyImages-837094014-17714
Denver Post via Getty Images
Denver Post via Getty Images

Holliday spent his remaining days in Colorado. During this time, his health rapidly declined. When Earp saw Holliday for the last time in 1886, he noticed that Holliday had a persistent cough and weak legs. Meanwhile, Holliday ran out of money and continually entered saloon fights.

The sulfuric fumes from Glenwood Springs only worsened Holliday’s condition. Mary Horony joined him during his final days. During his last moments, Holliday looked at his bare feet and said, “This is funny.” He always assumed that he’d die with his boots on.

Holliday’s Legacy

GettyImages-492034909-13945
Robert Alexander/Getty Images
Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Holliday died in November 1887. After his passing, his legendary status grew. “Few men have been better known to a certain class of sporting people, and few men of his character had more friends or stronger champions,” read his obituary in the Denver Republican.

Wyatt Earp kept positive memories of his friend, saying, “I found him a loyal friend and good company.” Holliday’s stories lived on to inspire books, movies, music, and TV shows. He is now one of the most recognizable cowboys of the Old West.