with blonde hair and blue eyes. He was a "handsome and eligible bachelor," possessing the "charm and good manners considered important to any gentleman of the South," wrote Susan Ballard, another biographer. Throughout his adult life, he was a natty dresser, wearing a freshly starched shirt with a cravat and diamond stick pin. He always wore a hand-tailored black suit and broad-brimmed hat.
Along with his cousin Robert Holliday, he enjoyed riding in the countryside and target practicing with an 1851 Colt revolver. He continued to play cards with Sophie Walton in his uncle's kitchen. Karen Tanner, a distant cousin and author of Doc Holliday: A Family Portrait, relates that he had a "remarkable memory and mathematic skills" that enabled him to gain an edge in card games by keeping track of discarded cards -- essentially becoming a "card counter."
For the next eight months, 23-year-old Holliday led the good life. He practiced dentistry during the day and visited sporting houses in the evening, playing cards. He is also reported to have had an active social life with the young women of Atlanta. But in the summer of 1873, he developed a nagging cough, accompanied by blood-tinged sputum. He was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis, a lethal disease at the time, with no remission or cure, and given only six months to live if he remained in Atlanta. He was told to move to an arid climate to prolong his life. At the time, the medical profession did not realize that tuberculosis was contagious.
On the move
Holliday first moved to Dallas and opened a dental office in partnership with another dentist, Dr. John Seegar. As a testament to his dental skills, most of his biographers note that he and Dr. Seegar entered three exhibits at the annual fair of the North Texas Agricultural, Mechanical, and Blood Stock Association at the Dallas County Fair and took first place in all three: best set of teeth in gold, best in vulcanized rubber, and best set of false teeth and dental ware.
That same year, the U.S. experienced a Great Recession, which affected his dental practice revenues. That, coupled with his declining health and ever-present cough, forced Holliday to turn increasingly to gambling to supplement his income. He also began drinking whiskey as a palliative for his disease.
In 1874, he was indicted for gambling, a violation of the Dallas City Code. He paid a fine of $10 and moved to Denison, TX. He returned to Dallas in late December 1875 to celebrate the new year, became involved in a fracas, and was arrested on a charge of attempted murder (he was later acquitted by a jury). He then moved to Fort Griffin, TX, a town frequented annually by about 2,000 hunters and cowboys -- which in turn attracted drifters, gamblers, and prostitutes. There he was arrested for gambling and drinking.
Holliday left town and went to Denver, where he gained employment as a card dealer under an alias.
In 1876 he moved on to Cheyenne, WY, for a while and then on to Deadwood, Dakota Territory, before returning for a time to Denison and then back to Dallas. He finally relocated to Breckinridge, TX, in 1877, where he was shot in a gambling melee.
Love of his life
After recuperating, Holliday attempted to refocus his life on dentistry, which he practiced out of his hotel room although he still played faro, a popular card game. It was here that he first met Wyatt Earp and hooked up with "Big Nose" Kate Harony, a well-educated 26-year-old who would become the love of his life.