Doc Holliday: History's most notorious dentist
By Daniel Demers, contributing writer

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June 11, 2013 -- John Henry "Doc" Holliday is America's most notorious dentist.

Wyatt Earp's brother Virgil described Doc Holliday as "gentlemanly, a good dentist, a friendly man" and a "slender, sickly fellow." Another friend, lawmaker Bat Masterson, told a biographer that Holliday "was afraid of nothing on Earth."

Holliday was born in Griffin, GA, in 1851. His father was a physician and politically active in local affairs, serving at one time as mayor of
Valdosta, GA. He was born with a cleft palate and partial cleft lip, both of which were surgically repaired when he was eight weeks old. As part of the upper Southern class, he was educated in private
John Henry "Doc"Holliday,
America's most notorious dentist.
schools, receiving a secondary education that included Latin, classical Greek, and French. In addition to his formal education, he was schooled by his father and other male relatives in the use of firearms, as were all well-bred Southern gentlemen of the era.

Holliday's father served as an officer in the Confederate Army. His mother died of tuberculosis a year after the war ended, when he was 15.

Young John Henry learned to play cards from a young mulatto servant named Sophie Walton. "With a deck of cards in her hands, she performed wizardry," wrote Ed Lanham, a Holliday biographer. Under her guidance, John Henry "became addicted" to the various card games of the era. He spent hours practicing with her and developed into a cardsharp.

The dentist bachelor

In 1870, Holliday matriculated at the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery in Philadelphia. The curriculum required he attend five months of classroom lectures and demonstrations, followed by eight months of practical experience under the tutelage  of  a
preceptor in Georgia. During his apprenticeship, Holliday performed extractions and filled teeth. Following the apprenticeship, he returned to Philadelphia, resuming his studies for an additional 22 weeks. On March 1, 1872, he received his Doctor of Dental Surgery.

Holliday moved to Atlanta to live with an uncle while he started his dental career as an associate to a prestigious local dentist. At 20, he was described to be about 6 feet tall, weighing about 160 pounds,
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