The story of the Doc Holliday pocketwatch
This wonderful tale of the Old West, The story of the Doc Holliday pocketwatch,
was crafted by Michael using the perfect recipe.
The mix contains some detective work,
some truth, a bit of speculation and a measure of hope.
It is left to the reader to determine the proportions…
After the OK Corral gunfight and the events that followed, Doc Holliday had to put some distance between him and Arizona Territory. Colorado was that place.
On July 21st, 1884, Doc Holliday faced a humiliating showdown inside Mannie Hyman’s Saloon, Leadville Colorado. Tombstone adversary Johnny Tyler*, a 45-year old Texan, had called Holliday out. Tyler had emigrated from Tombstone after failing to become the kingpin of that town’s gamblers, settling in Leadville around May of 1882. Tyler’s sidekick Tom Duncan joined Tyler in Leadville, where both tended bar. Ex-Leadville policeman Billy Allen became the third member of Johnny Tyler’s gang.
Tyler and Holliday had faced off years before in Tombstone’s Oriental Saloon, October 10th, 1880, with Holliday the victor. But the tables turned in Leadville that July in 1884. Holliday’s worsening health, coupled with the threat of being extradited back to Arizona Territory for prosecution if he broke Colorado law, gave Tyler the winning hand.
In mid-August, Holliday nearly killed Billy Allen** in yet another dispute. Holliday was arrested and tried the following March 27th, 1885. On April 4th, The Leadville Carbonate Chronicle reported that Doc Holliday had been found innocent of charges. Holliday moved to Denver, wanting to avoid any more Leadville troubles with Johnny Tyler, or the prospect of another hard winter living two miles above sea level.
In spring of 1886, Holliday and Wyatt Earp met in Denver’s Windsor Hotel. Holliday was skeletal, and both men knew their circle was closing. Discussion included the possibility of Doc moving to Glenwood Springs, Colorado, for its healing waters.
In May of 1887, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday took a stagecoach from Leadville, over Independence Pass, to Aspen on their way to Glenwood Springs. The ruins of the stage stop just east of the Pass remains today.
In Aspen, Wyatt was approached by Aspen City Marshal John McEvoy, warning him that Johnny Tyler and an accomplice were gunning for Holliday, possibly following them to Glenwood. Upon arrival in Glenwood, Holliday and Earp found out that Tyler and a fellow by the name of Mallan were camped up the Colorado River canyon. After a week of searching, they found the two at a lake above timberline, where, according to Doc “the snow was still ass deep.” Come morning when Tyler and Mallan rose, Holliday and Earp killed both men, burying the bodies under a pile of rocks at the foot of a cliff that ran alongside the lake. Holliday believed that the second man was actually Johnny Tyler’s brother.
Earp left Holliday in Glenwood. It would be the last time he would see his trusted friend alive. Holliday was nearing death. There was nothing Wyatt could do. Earp and his wife Josephine traveled that summer to San Diego. (That’s not Kincade’s Josephine. – MC)
Holliday took a room at the Hotel Glenwood, working various jobs dealing faro. The ravages of disease finally took his life the morning of November 8th, 1887. Doc Holliday died in his bed at the hotel. His obituary appeared in the Leadville Carbonate Chronicle on November 14, 1887. It said:
‘There is scarcely one in the country who had acquired a greater notoriety than Doc Holliday, who enjoyed the reputation of being one of the most fearless men on the frontier, and whose devotion to his friends in the climax of the fiercest ordeal was inextinguishable. It was this, more than any other faculty that secured for him the reverence of a large circle who were prepared on the shortest notice to rally to his relief.’’ By 1903, Wyatt had taken up work as an advisor to the Los Angeles Police Department. Still remorseful at not being able to help Doc survive the consumption that finally killed him, Wyatt decided to pay tribute to their friendship. He purchased a gold Hamilton pocket watch, engraving it with the words “John ‘Doc’ Holliday From your friend Wyatt Earp, 1881”… the year Holliday may have saved Earp’s life at the OK Corral gunfight.
Wyatt sent the watch off to Aspen City Marshal John McEvoy, who he had met in May of 1887. With the watch was a note asking McEvoy to place the watch at Doc’s gravesite in Glenwood Springs. Unbeknownst to Earp, McEvoy had died in February of 1902.
The pocketwatch arrived in Aspen. City Marshal W.O Brown took delivery, but knew nothing of John Holliday. Glenwood Spring’s officials told Brown that Holliday had been buried in an unmarked grave in, or near, Linwood Cemetery. They couldn’t be sure because winter snowfalls in November of 1887 may have prevented Holliday’s interment in the cemetery itself. Holliday was a penniless vagrant. He may have been buried at the bottom of the hill.
Brown kept the pocketwatch in hopes that information about Holliday’s actual grave would eventually appear.
In the mid 1970’s, Aspen’s City Hall began a third floor renovation. The space was an abandoned attic, filled with the debris and boxes of former city officials and offices. A metal chute was erected by construction crews to allow workers to dump those discarded boxes and materials into a trash pile at the side of City Hall. There, workers would fill dump trucks to haul off the refuse.
I now reveal a bit about me: throughout the ’70’s, I was an Aspen Colorado Police Officer. At the time of the renovation, a worker approached me. By then, I had become an Aspen Police Detective Lieutenant. The worker gave me a small wooden box found at the Pitkin County landfill after one of the trucks had left its load. The box had been discarded by the city as trash.
Within the box were four items: a no-longer legible letter, the Aspen City Marshal Badge worn by W.O. Brown and before him John McEvoy, a pair of handcuffs patented in 1893, and a gold pocketwatch.
The pocketwatch has the following engraving:
“John ‘Doc’ Holliday
From your friend Wyatt Earp, 1881”
Today, this watch is one of my prized possessions.
For the convenience of History Riders ™ ©
Here are the Doc History links on Old West Daily Reader:
These references may be found in Old West Daily Reader
**Wk 41, 10/11/1880 Doc & Johnny Tyler
**Wk. 29, 07/21/1884 Johnny Tyler’s Revenge
*Wk 33, 08/19/1883 – Doc &Billy Allen
PLAYERS – Timelines – Timelines A-L – Doc Holliday Timeline
Photo Gallery Index – Lawmen Photos
Photo Gallery Index – Outlaw Photos
Dictionary – Photography in the Old West
End: Doc’s Watch