Doc Holliday: A Family Portrait
Doc Holliday is one of the prominent figures of the Old West. A dentist who, because of TB, was forced to take up the life of a vagabond. Holliday gained a reputation as both a fierce gambler and a gunfighter. He exploits range from Dallas, El Paso, Denver, all the way north to Deadwood. Of course, he is most famous for his role in standing with the Earps at the O.K. Corral.
This book is written by a cousin. A cousin who inherited family notes, letters, information concerning Holliday's life. This provides some rare insight into the man but the writer stands in the way of what could've been a brilliant book.
The first part of the book reads a bit like a family genealogy. Karen Tanner also goes to great strides, right from the very start, to make clear how reputable the Holliday name was then and is now. Still, she does give you a sense of how Holliday was raised, and what his family life must've been like in Georgia society. You discover how he came to be a dentist and how he learned gambling from one of the slaves. A reader must wade through a lot though to get there.
Speaking of slaves, one part of this book I found irritating, was the treatment of slavery. If you read this book, you almost forget that the people she is talking about were just that; slaves. She takes great care to make sure you know how well they were treated. I understand that people owned slaves as a matter of course in the deep south. But it also important to come to terms with the dark side of history.
I learned a lot about Doc's time in other parts of the West like Texas, Colorado and New Mexico. Doesn't get discussed as much. But the writing style is very bland and Tanner does a poor job of skimming over material and not exploring issues. She tends to state things as fact without explanation.
For instance, she spends very little time exploring the friendship of Doc and Wyatt Earp. You would think this would be a centerpiece. For that matter, I learn very little of Big Nose Kate in this book. She seemed to be Doc's one true love. And I don't think any other women were mentioned that may be associated with Doc which tells me there is little research done in this area. It could be there are no records of other women. It was the 1880's. People weren't posting to Facebook then. But if you can't find indications of something, state that so the reader knows.
Tanner goes on, pretty much simply out of hand, to dismiss killings associated with Doc over the years. Her attitude is they can't be proved and a Holliday wouldn't behave that way. Well, things happen especially in a wild frontier. True, many of the killings are probably attributed later and grew to legend out of folklore. But Tanner spends ZERO time in delving into them and showing why she believes they aren't true.
She does a good job of showing aspects of Doc's time on trial in Colorado though the influence of the Earps in this matter is never mentioned. In fact, she treats the Earps almost as she harbors a grudge against them. Very strange.
The writing style is unimaginative. She simply states things and it can be a dry read in places. At times it is almost as if she can't decide if she's writing a history of Doc or the family as a whole. It bogs down what is a brilliant piece of history.
This book is good if you want to know more about Doc, his upbringing, family ties or the things that may have driven his personality. There is useful information in here. But as far as a telling of history, this book falls short in that category. For this reason, I give it a 3.5 of 5 on the rating scale.