How many dentists can you name? Be honest, you may only know your own dentist’s name! But you may also not realize you know more than you think. There is one Wild West legend in particular who also worked as a dentist.

Peachy Past

Many know him from Val Kilmer’s classic portrayal in the film “Tombstone” (1993). For those that don’t, John Henry Holliday (August 14, 1851—November 8, 1887) is one of the most iconic figures of the American Wild West. 

Originally from Griffin, Georgia, Holliday earned a degree in dentistry from Pennsylvania College of Dentistry before setting up a practice in his home state. He had to wait for some months before being able to practice, however, as he graduated before his 21st birthday, the minimum age to practice at the time.

Holliday would not get the chance to establish his practice in the south. Like his mother & adopted brother before him, Doc would be diagnosed with tuberculosis, which would eventually kill him. Along with the diagnosis, he was advised to move out west, for the cleaner, drier air of the desert. So began the most legendary chapter of his life.

Going Out West

Holliday would leave for Dallas first. There, he worked with a family friend, Dr. John Seegar, & they would go on to win several awards for their dental prowess at the Annual Fair of the North Texas Agricultural, Mechanical & Blood Stock Association at the Dallas County Fair. They received all three awards: “Best set of teeth in gold,” “Best in vulcanized rubber,” & “Best set of artificial teeth and dental ware.”

Coughing fits would force him to close his practice & move even farther west. It was in his last days in Texas that he would begin to take on the characteristics of the man known today—he was fined for gambling and was accused, but found not guilty, of being in his second shootout. His first shootout has been reported as possibly fictitious or grossly exaggerated. 

Fast Hands, Fast Friends

Holliday would soon meet Wyatt Earp. The two would solidify their friendship in Dodge City, where again Holliday attempted to set up his practice. Holliday is credited by Earp as saving his life at a Dodge City saloon in 1878, though accounts vary as to how many cowboys Earp was saved from. It was this last recorded time Holliday practiced that he earned the nickname “Doc.”

Holliday would later rejoin Earp in Las Vegas, New Mexico, & head to Tombstone, Arizona, to follow the silver rush. It is here in 1881 that the infamous gunfight at the OK Corral would happen, a fight that would make Holliday possibly the most famous dentist in history.

Holliday would later die from tuberculosis in 1887 in Colorado. He was 36.




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