are many mysteries concerning the Old West and the legends that
have been born from that time. But no mystery is as deep or as
hotly debated as the subject of Doc Holliday's burial site. Without
a doubt many will probably say that subject isn't a mystery at
all. He is buried in Linwood Cemetery in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
Well he did die in Glenwood Springs but whether or not he is still
buried there is highly questionable. In the words that follow
I will bring attention to and dissect the possibility that he
is not buried in Colorado but actually in Griffin, Georgia. I
have conducted numerous interviews and talked with some family
members concerning this. Some will go on the record and some will
To begin with I will say
that I believe without a shadow of doubt that John Henry Holliday
is at rest in Oak Hill Cemetery in Griffin, Georgia, the home
of his birth and the state he dearly loved. So why do I, and many
others I might add, believe this so strongly? The reasons are
many but valid.
First, let's look at a few
of the facts and take into account that this is a very abbreviated
account. John Henry "Doc" Holliday passed away on November 8,
1887 at around 10 that morning. It has been said that he was laid
to rest at around 4 that same afternoon. Now one story I have
uncovered is that his body was taken from The Glenwood Hotel (please
note not the Glenwood Sanitarium as is stated in Hollywood movies)
and taken up the hill to where his headstone resides today. (Also
note that this headstone has since been replaced with a more accurate
story goes that the weather was too bad the afternoon of November
8th for the funeral party to make this trek up the hill so they
simply buried him elsewhere with the plan to move him when spring
came. Then they sort of "lost" the grave. One story mentions mudslides,
which is unlikely according to Oscar D. McCollum because of where
the mudslide would have had to have occurred. Then there is a
story of the cemetery being moved. The other story goes that very
likely his body now rests in someone's backyard. Now do you really
believe it is possible for anyone to lose the grave of someone
like Doc Holliday?
I have also found through
my research that the bad weather story and the lost grave were
simply a ruse made up in the hopes of misdirecting a few legend
seekers wanting to disrupt the grave. This sounds more plausible
than anyone losing his grave. According to Bill Dunn, a distant
cousin of John Henry, Susan McKey Thomas took it upon herself
to travel to Glenwood Springs, Colorado in 1974. She asked for
the body of her famous ancestor and one story goes that she was
told if she could find the body she could have it. Another version
is that she was told that his body had already been removed and
taken back to Georgia.
Another fact concerning the death of John Henry Holliday is that
upon his passing a notice was sent to his first cousin, Mattie
Holliday, then known as Sister Mary Melanie, a Sister of Mercy
in Georgia. They had corresponded for the fifteen years he had
been away from home. So there in Georgia sat Sister Melanie with
the knowledge that her beloved John Henry has passed away and
was buried in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Also note that his belongings
were sent to her.
So after November 8, 1887
Mattie knew the town and state in which he was buried. I am sure
as befitting; she then contacted various family members to relay
this sad news. I feel sure she knew John Henry's heart and desires
better than anyone alive and would have prevailed upon the family
to ensure that his body was brought home where he belonged and
where he wanted. Also, being from the South myself I know Southern
families and most Southern families take death and their dead
seriously. I would think that would be true with any family. But
I know here in the south, family feuds have been started in regards
to where a family member is laid to rest.
So let's take the arguments
one by one.
It has been argued that Major
Henry Holliday, John Henry's father, was still at odds with his
only son and would not have been inclined to have his body brought
home. This I cannot believe possible. Regardless of any ill will,
if any still existed on the Major's part in 1887, John Henry was
Major Holliday's only son. I contend that he would not have wanted
the body of his only son to stay out west. He would have wanted
him home. The Major had the means and the money to make such a
wish reality. He had considerable influence in Georgia, even becoming
the Mayor of Valdosta.
According to information
obtained, Major Henry Holliday was acquainted and perhaps friends
with the Thomas family. The Thomas family owns the burial plots
that are believed to be the resting place of John Henry and his
father. Some have brought up the fact that there is no headstone.
I feel sure the family didn't want anyone seeking out the grave
to disturb it and went to great means to hide it. The argument
that the family was concerned over his notoriety and therefore
sought to protect him from curiosity seekers is very believable.
Everyone desires peace. Is it so difficult to imagine that the
family desired peace for themselves as well as their famous family
The family was always a close
knit one and regardless of the infamy John Henry had brought upon
the Holliday name, he was still viewed as family. Some could argue
that he never wished to return to Georgia. But when John Henry
left Georgia to travel to Dallas, Texas, he did not do so thinking
he would never return. According to Karen Holliday Tanner, In
Search of the Holliday's, even the family believed he would soon
recover and return home. In fact he left most of his belongings
in Georgia in the home of his uncle, Dr. John Stiles Holliday.
So why would he leave part of his belongings in Georgia if he
had already decided never to return?
You must remember that had
John Henry never contacted Tuberculosis, he probably never would
have left Georgia. He had already made plans to begin a partnership
with his cousin, Robert Holliday as soon as Robert graduated.
John Henry was also Robert's preceptor for dental school. He already
had his future planned and this life was centered in Georgia.
So I do not find the idea that John Henry never desired to go
home to be true.
The next argument is that
there were state laws in place in Colorado concerning the removal
of any body having passed away from a contagious disease. According
to this belief, even if family members had arrived in Colorado
to retrieve John Henry's body, they would not have been allowed
to do so because of this law.
In doing my research, I contacted
the Colorado Supreme Court Library in Denver, Colorado. I spoke
with a very nice lady named Goldie who put me in contact with
the Archive division. I then spoke with Mr. Paul Levit via a phone
conversation concerning whether or not any laws would have been
in place during the latter half of the Nineteenth Century and
the beginning half of the Twentieth.
Mr. Paul Levit who said I
had his permission to quote him told me that he could not find
any laws in existence concerning the removal of graves of anyone
having died of a contagious disease. He then searched for any
laws specific to Tuberculosis. The first law in place dealing
specifically with Tuberculosis, according to Mr. Levit, was in
the year 1966. At this time according to my research John Henry's
body had already been removed and reburied in Griffin, Georgia.
Now I think you must also
consider the mindset concerning Tuberculosis during the Nineteenth
Century or Consumption as it was generally referred to then. Although
it was a dreaded disease it was also romanticized. It was a common
disease at that time and even today it still affects many. However
the course of treatment for TB today is far different than in
John Henry's time.
Tuberculosis can affect numerous
parts of the human body but most generally the lungs. The general
treatment for the disease at that time included rest, dry air,
and a healthy diet with moderate exercise. It was not viewed as
contagious as it is today. In fact John Henry moved at will without
any restrictions and had close relationships during the time of
All it takes to become infected
is to have close contact with someone who has the active disease.
Of course being infected with the TB bacteria does not mean that
it will progress to active TB. Also note that there is no record
of Wyatt, Morgan, Virgil Earp or even Kate Elder (she also used
numerous last names and aliases such as Big Nosed Kate) becoming
sick with active Tuberculosis. Whether or not they had the germ
will never be known. But the fact is that Doc Holliday's travels
were not limited and his relationships not restricted. This speaks
volumes about how people viewed the disease in that era. If people
viewed this disease with such a lackadaisical attitude, why then
would there have been the necessity for a law designed to stop
the reburial of someone having died of this disease?
Speaking with family members
and Bill Dunn in particular, I have gathered a few more facts
concerning John Henry's reburial. According to this conversation,
a gentleman named Newton Crouch, Sr. took a friend to the Oak
Hill Cemetery back during the 1940's and pointed out one particular
grave and relayed the information that the body inside that grave
was none other than John Henry "Doc" Holliday. Griffin native,
Osgood Miller, an employee of Clark Monument for 46 years recalls
a conversation with Mr. Charlie McElroy. Mr. McElroy was the Superintendent
of Oak Hill Cemetery during the 1930's and acknowledged to Mr.
Miller that the grave was that of John Henry Holliday. Yet another
Griffin resident, Laura Mae Clark designated the concrete slab
grave as that of the famous dentist. Ms. Clark was a lifelong
resident of Griffin and a local historian.
It is also believed by some
that the grave beside that of John Henry is that of his father,
Major Holliday. Now many would also argue that there is a grave
bearing the Major's name in Valdosta, Georgia. I have also uncovered
a story that there was no headstone for the Major and after some
time people didn't know exactly where it was. Then the family
of Rachel Martin, the Major's second wife, put a headstone on
a grave that had previously had a government issued stone.
There is a headstone, rather
old in age with the engraving "C.S." and below that another much
newer stone bearing the name of Major Holliday. Many wonder why
the Major's name is not engraved on the original stone if that
is indeed his actual grave.
From what I have learned
I believe that after having been contacted by Mattie concerning
John Henry's death that either Major Holliday or Robert or perhaps
both journeyed to Glenwood Springs, Colorado to retrieve the body.
I feel sure that not much time had passed when this occurred,
definitely no later than the early 1900's. And of course no family
member would have made mention or discussed the sickness John
Henry had endured with anyone in Colorado.
Now I have looked into whether
or not Georgia had any laws concerning the reburial of anyone
having died from a contagious disease. I have not learned of any
laws being in place concerning this. Of course Major Holliday
had the influence and money to make the right heads turn eyes
in the right direction. If the good ole boy system is alive and
kicking in the South (at least where I live) in the year of 2005,
I am sure it was in existence then. And money and influence can
move mountains if any existed, which from research, none did.
To be totally sure if the
body of John Henry rests in the grave in Georgia, those graves
would have to be disinterred and DNA testing done. Now if the
grave of Major Holliday were in doubt, which it is from the information
I've gathered, then the DNA sampling would have to come from John
Henry's mother. This is Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). This is passed
from mother directly to her child. This type of testing would
need to be used because the Y chromosome method of testing could
not be done due to the fact that the Major's grave is also in
question. I can only imagine the fury John Henry would feel if
he knew people were going to disinter the grave of his dear mother
just to uncover where his body now resides.
Thankfully, I have learned
that there are no plans to have these graves disinterred and their
remains examined. Even Bill Dunn, misquoted elsewhere, stated
that he had no right to do this and undo what the Major and the
family did over a hundred years ago and had no plans to pursue
such an action. And to be honest, some secrets of the past deserve
to remain buried. As much as I am sure everyone would love to
know the truth, I am not sure we today have that right.
Even though with this considerable
evidence that John Henry's body could have been removed from Colorado
and reburied in Georgia, I know many will not believe this and
will continue to argue that he is still buried in Colorado. I
think the facts here speak for themselves. At least they lend
doubt to the long held belief that John Henry Holliday is buried
There were prominent people
in Griffin who have believed Griffin, Georgia to be John Henry's
final resting place for many years. This idea isn't anything new.
But as with any legend, speculation is a delicious thing. It allows
all of us to discuss and debate in various forums the beliefs
we each hold dear. Everyone should be afforded a modicum of peace
both in their private lives and in death. I hope that regardless
of anyone's search for the truth that all would allow this man
and his family that same peace. I am sure the debate shall go
on concerning this, but I feel I have presented valid points that
will at the very least place doubt on the supposed gravesite in
For me I think the world
can have the monument to the legend of Doc Holliday that resides
on a mountain in Linwood Cemetery. I far prefer Oak Hill Cemetery
in Griffin and the peaceful, oak covered grave of the man, John
Della A. Jones
Colorado Supreme Court Library
Colorado Supreme Court Library Archive Division
Georgia Supreme Court Library Archive Division
Bill Dunn; resident of Griffin, Georgia
Karen Holliday Tanner; In Search of the Holliday's
Steve A. Maze; In Search of Doc Holliday's Grave