John Henry Holiday, nicknamed “Doc”, is possibly the most famous historical American dentist, but not for dentistry! Although he is primarily associated with the culture of the wild west, he was born and raised right here in Georgia.
“Doc” was an appropriate nickname; Holiday earned a Doctorate of Dental Surgery from the Pennsylvania College of Dentistry in 1872, at only 20 years old. He then spent several months as an assistant to a classmate in St. Louis, Missouri before moving back to Georgia to practice dentistry in Atlanta. However, it was not long after that he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and given only a short time to live. He went out west seeking a dry climate in hopes of prolonging his life.
He relocated to Dallas and continued practicing dentistry with a partner, but patients were wary of being treated by a coughing, sneezing, and wheezing dentist, so business was (understandably) bad. He took up gambling, started keeping company with some rough individuals, got into some shootouts, and got into trouble with the law. He moved around out west… Colorado, Kansas, eventually back to Texas (where he first befriended Wyatt Earp) and then out to Tombstone, Arizona- location of the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
It’s said that he advertised his services as a dentist no later than 1878, but he lived about another 9 years after that, and it was his ignoble activities like gambling, carousing, and pistol-slinging as a wild-west legend in the frontier towns of America that inked him into the history books. Despite living such a dangerous life, it was his disease that finally killed him at age 36.
If it hadn’t been for the tuberculosis that caused him to go where there’d be dry air, he may have been a successful dentist in Atlanta for the rest of his life… but we’ll never know! Those were much rougher times, indeed. These days, it’s hard to imagine such a life. It goes without saying, but lets be thankful that modern medical advances make treatment by Dr. Vancil at Mall of Georgia Dentistry a much more pleasant experience than it would have been back when Doc Holiday was practicing! Lucky for us, how times have changed…. Nowadays, we are even able to enjoy a movie, maybe even a western once in a while, from the dentist chair. Lucky, indeed!