Doc Holliday’s unknown grave site
Tales of the rambling gunslingers, gamblers and gangsters of the Wild West are often two-parts legend and one-part truth, consumed like a shot of whiskey ” quickly and without many questions.
But one story that comes with a large grain of truth is that of John Henry “Doc” Holliday’s last days at the Glenwood Hotel and his burial in Linwood Cemetery. A stone marker commemorating Holliday draws tourists and visitors who leave playing cards, cigarettes and small bottles of whiskey on the grave.
Even so, the exact location of the gunslinger’s body is unknown.
John Henry Holliday was born in Griffin, Ga., and was schooled to be a dentist. Diagnosed with tuberculosis early in his career, doctors didn’t give Holliday long to live but recommended he move to the West where the warm, dry air might ease his coughing fits.
Coughing up blood made it hard to establish a Dallas practice in 1873, so Holliday made a living as a gambler. Growing up in Georgia, one of his family’s slaves, Sophie Walton, taught Holliday how to play the game “faro” and Holliday became adept at counting cards and calculating odds.
Traveling from town to town, he quickly gained a reputation as a man unafraid to defend himself with guns and knives. He met his longtime girlfriend “Big Nose” Kate, a dance hall woman and prostitute in Fort Griffin, Texas, and befriended Wyatt Earp in Dodge City, Kan.
After the legendary 1882 gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Ariz., Holliday came to Colorado, spending time in Denver, Pueblo and Leadville. In May 1887 Holliday arrived in Glenwood Springs, most likely to soothe his hacking cough in the vapor of the hot springs.
But tuberculosis took Holliday’s life on Nov. 8, 1887, at the Hotel Glenwood on the corner of Grand Avenue and Eighth Street, where Summit Canyon Mountaineering now stands. After 14 days of delirium, Holliday awoke to ask for a glass of whiskey, said “this is funny” and died.
Perhaps Holliday found it amusing that, after years of cheating death in gun and knife fights, he died peacefully in bed. The Hotel Glenwood burned down in 1945, and no records have been found stating exactly where bodies were buried in nearby Linwood Cemetery.
The hillside cemetery was Glenwood’s first, established in 1886 and interring residents until 1997. According to Frontier Historical Society museum director Cindy Hines, Holliday’s actual grave is probably in the eastern section of the cemetery, where the county once buried people who died penniless.
The monument dedicated to Holliday was erected in the 1950s, after a book came out rekindling interest in the Wild West. In the late 1970s, some of Holliday’s relatives came to Glenwood Springs hoping to take his remains back to Georgia to be buried, Hines says. They went home empty-handed.