July 19

This Day in History

Old West

Jul 19, 1879:

Doc Holliday kills for the first time

Doc Holliday commits his first murder, killing a man for shooting up his New Mexico saloon.

Despite his formidable reputation as a deadly gunslinger, Doc Holliday only engaged in eight shootouts during his life, and it has only been verified that he killed two men. Still, the smartly dressed ex-dentist from Atlanta had a remarkably fearless attitude toward death and danger, perhaps because he was slowly dying from tuberculosis.

In 1879, Holliday settled in Las Vegas, New Mexico, where he opened a saloon with a partner. Holliday spent his evenings gambling in the saloon and he seemed determined to stress his health condition by heavy drinking. A notorious cad, Holliday also enjoyed the company of the dance hall girls that the partners hired to entertain the customers–which sometimes sparked trouble.

On this day in 1879, a former army scout named Mike Gordon tried to persuade one of Holliday's saloon girls to quit her job and run away with him. When she refused, Gordon became infuriated. He went out to the street and began to fire bullets randomly into the saloon. He didn't have a chance to do much damage–after the second shot, Holliday calmly stepped out of the saloon and dropped Gordon with a single bullet. Gordon died the next day.

The following year, Holliday abandoned the saloon business and joined his old friend Wyatt Earp in Tombstone, Arizona. There he would kill his second victim, during the famous "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" in October 1881. During the subsequent six years, Holliday assisted at several other killings and wounded a number of men in gun battles. His hard drinking and tuberculosis eventually caught up with him, and he retired to a Colorado health resort where he died in 1887. Struck by the irony of such a peaceful end to a violent life, his last words reportedly were "This is funny."

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