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Wild West gunfighter Doc Holliday gambled in Eagle Pass

Doc Holliday practiced dentistry in Piedras Negras for three months before the famous OK Corral shootout

Eagle Pass, TX - Such tales not withstanding, Fort Griffin quieted down quickly in late September (1877) with the end of the cattle season and the evaporation of the floating population, and the press was soon reporting, “A Fort Griffin letter says all is quiet and there is less business than in the summer.” Doc was gone by then, and when he left, Kate was with him. She later recalled that she and Doc traveled through south and southwest Texas, stopping “at every place where there was money to be made at his profession.” They stopped briefly at Laredo, then moved up the river to Eagle Pass. “While there,” Kate recalled, “Doc went across the Rio Grande to Piedras Negras, a Mexican army post, and called on the commanding officer to inform he (sic) that he was a dentist. The commandante told Doc he would arrange quarters for him to practice in, and asked him to report next morning at 10 A.M. We remained in Eagle Pass for more than three months, and Doc went across the river every morning.”

While in Eagle Pass, Doc and Kate stayed at the National Hotel and gambled at the saloon of Blue Vivian, who had moved into the area early with his brother, Charlie. “Old Blue” passed stories down through the family about Doc’s days there. In December, the situation at Eagle Pass grew tense when the Mexican authorities refused to turn over to American authorities a man accused of murdering a blind man on the Texas side of the river. That may well have been the reason that Doc decided to move on, although Kate said that when they left Eagle Pass, the Mexican “commanding officer would not accept anything in the way of rent for the office Doc had occupied.”

From Eagle Pass, Kate recalled that she and Doc moved to San Antonio, where they remained for “a few weeks” before moving on “to Bracketville (sic) across the river from Fort Clark, and then to Jacksborough where we remained two months. The next town we hit was Griffen (sic), Texas. Kate may have confused this itinerary (for example, she placed it in the fall and winter of 1875-1876), because in her recollections she frequently telescoped events and confused time lines, but the movements in question were consistent with the gamblers’ circuit at the time and fit, circumstantially, with other sources and anecdotal material.

This is an excerpt from a book entitled “Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend” by Gary L. Roberts. The author draws extensively from the recollections of “Big Nose” Kate, companion of Doc Holliday for many years as he traveled through the frontier west on his journey to Tombstone where he joined Wyatt Earp and brothers Vigil and Morgan in the gunfight at the OK Corral. Kate is a storied character from the Wild West in her own right. Born Maria Katalin Horony in Hungary, she was an off and on prostitute, whose curves were said to be as prominent as her nose. Kate met Doc Holliday in Fort Griffin, a year before they landed in Eagle Pass while they were on the run after she busted him loose from the custody of the law there where he knifed and killed Ed Bailey in a card game. Over the years Kate was known by many other names including Kate Fisher, Nosey Kate, Mrs. John H. “Doc” Holliday, Kate Melvin, Kate Cummings and Katie Elder. The latter name was used as the title of an old Western movie, “The Sons of Katie Elder”, featuring John Wayne and Dean Martin. Kate died in 1940 at the age of 89. Fort Griffin, in 1876, is also where Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp first met with Holliday pointing the lawman to the whereabouts of a fugitive Earp was trailing.

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