Book Review: John Henry (The “Doc” Holliday Story) (Ben T. Traywick): WW

Doc Holliday is one of the most recognizable names to ever come out of the Old West. Hear it and you think of gambling, the Earps, coughing and killing, not necessarily in that order. After reading this book by Tombstone, Ariz., historian Ben Traywick, however, you might find yourself adding “misunderstood” and/or “split personality” to the list. Traywick says that much of what has been written about Holliday (including some of his own previous work) has been derived from legend and supposition. After looking more closely into Doc’s alleged killings and shootings, Traywick concludes, “The truth of the matter is that Doc Holliday did not really deserve the label ‘killer.'” Some historians have claimed that Holliday killed as many as 16 men. Traywick says that Doc only shot 10 men total and that just two of them were killed–Tom McLaury, during the fight near the O.K. Corral on October 26, 1881, and Newman Hayes “Old Man” Clanton, earlier that same year. Traywick clearly likes John Henry Holliday, who he says was “endowed with all the natural inheritances of a Son of the South” but whose life was affected by “monstrous calamities”–the death of his mother in 1866, destructive Carpetbagger rule in Georgia, and the terrible news he received shortly after graduating from dental college in Philadelphia. The terrible news, of course, was that he had incurable tuberculosis, which made him go West for his health and also made him fearless in confrontations. (“With a medical death sentence hanging over him, he had nothing else to lose!” writes Traywick.) Out West, Holliday surprised himself by not dying right away. Two personalities began to emerge, Traywick says–the doomed but polite young Southerner who missed his family and childhood home; and the short-tempered, bitter man who put up a facade as a vicious gunman “for his own protection.” The book is packed with information that will make anyone rethink the man called Doc. Traywick says his only interest is to present the facts (“I have taken no interest in being politically or socially correct”), but it’s a fact that sometimes all the facts aren’t known, so naturally he does make some educated guesses, as when he says who he thinks killed John Ringo (a name almost as magical in the Old West as Doc Holliday). You already know that it was not John Henry himself.

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