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WHERE'S DOC?
by Della A. Jones (Mattie Holliday)
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Doc Holliday's Gravestone in Linwood Cemetery   There 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 not.

   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 one.)

Doc Holliday's new marker   Another 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.

Doc Holliday's new marker    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 member?

   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 his illness.

   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 in Colorado.

   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 Colorado.

   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 Henry.

Della A. Jones

SOURCES
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


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