Book Report #81: Gary L. Roberts, Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend
Wow. I have some mixed emotions about this book. On the one hand, it's solidly researched, chock full of detail, footnoted to within an inch of its life, fat with primary-source quotations, and much of a usefullness.
On the other, it's oddly schizophrenic. Which is somehow appropriate for a biography of Doc, who has been both hagiographized and villainized. legended and undermined over the years, with the changing fashions of the day.
In the first third of the book, Roberts seems eager to find ways to reinforce the legend of Doc as gunslinger and bad man, rummaging newspaper reports for shreds of support for some of the legendary stories of Doc's murderous exploits. When the scene turns to Tombstone, though, his primary interest evolves, and at that point, he begins constructing a case for Wyatt Earp's blamelessness and "political naivete" that I find a little hard to swallow, laying the cause of the whole cow-boy/law-and-order meltdown squarely at Doc's door while maintaining that the Earp brothers enjoyed unrelieved popularity among the townsfolk before that nasty business on Fremont Street.
But then, in the final act, Roberts becomes unabashedly partisan for Doc, constructing a narrative of his time in Colorado that leaves him innocent in all particulars of any scrapes in Denver or Leadville.
Also, Roberts has an unpleasant biographical habit of presenting speculation as fact. A few instances of the phrase "may have" would have saved him a lot of sporking as I read.
. And I'm not quite sure what to make of it.
Still and all, a very useful book, presenting a much more coherent and in-depth narrative than the Tanner previously reviewed.
And it does present a fabulously contradictory picture of a man who I actually find pretty consistent in his behavior, when the legendry is boiled off the bones. And maybe I can sum up what you need to know about John Henry Holliday in a couple of quotations. Which is to say, he wasn't the ruthless gunslinger and blackguard of legend; nor was he merely Wyatt Earp's loyal dogsbody.
An old friend, Lee Smith, said of him in the Atlanta Post-Appeal of
July 8, 1882--decrying the mythmaking and inflated body count even as he worked to expand the myth himself:
"[Holliday] will be credited with the killing
of every man in that section so long as he lives there,
who dies from being shot down with a shot-gun."
The irony of Roberts quoting that line when he engages in a bit of just that his own self is interesting, indeed.
And yet, as Holliday himself is supposed to have said to Johnny Ringo in Tombstone in October of 1881:
"All I want of you is ten paces out in the street."
Oh, yeah, and the huckleberry thing? Some sources report Doc saying exactly that, although under slightly different circumstances, and with a coda. *g*
("I'm your huckleberry. That's just my game.")