On August 14, 1851, in Griffin, Georgia, a baby boy named John Henry was born with serious mouth deformities, a cleft palate and a cleft lip. His parents, Alice and Henry Holliday, were informed by the delivering surgeon that the infant could not be expected to live more than a few days as conventional medical procedures had not yet developed to address his defects, defects that are today repaired with routine oral surgery.
Interestingly, dental surgeons had at that time surpassed general medical surgeons in their surgical techniques, and the baby’s uncle, Dr. John Stiles Holliday, agreed to perform what was to be the first surgical repair of a cleft palate in America. Dr. Holliday was assisted by a colleague, Dr. Crawford Long, who had begun developing the use of ether as an anesthetic just three years earlier.
The surgery was a success. The only visible reminder of the procedure was a small scar on youngDoc_holliday John Henry’s lip; one that he covered by sporting a well-maintained mustache all through his adult life.
A quiet, studious boy, he started dental school in Philadelphia, earning his Doctor of Doc-Holiday-Diploma-1Dentistry degree by the time he was twenty-one. His health began to fail and he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, the same disease that had killed his mother. Advised by his doctor to go out West for the cleaner, drier air, he made money for his passage relying on his skill with cards, a skill which he would turn into a life-long, money making pursuit.
When he arrived in Dallas in the early 1870’s, Holliday partnered with a friend of his father’s, Dr. John A. Seegar, to open a dental practice, winning numerous awards for their dental work at several Dallas county fairs. Doc-Holliday-business-cardTheir office was located between Market and Austin Streets along Elm Street, about three blocks east of the site of today’s Dealey Plaza. The practice was dissolved in 1874 due to John Henry’s worsening health.
John Henry Holliday, now nicknamed “Doc”, moved farther west to New Mexico and Arizona, where he soon met and befriended the Earp Brothers, Wyatt, Morgan and Virgil. In 1881 he became embroiled in the shoot out at the O.K. Corral and the gentle, former dentist from Georgia, moved forever after into the annals of Western lore.