An Old West mystery still piques curiosity. The story behind the firearm given to Doc Holliday by his girlfriend as a love token continues to drive visitors see it for themselves and ponder what happened on the day the famed gunslinger died in Glenwood Springs.
Glenwood Springs, Colo. (Sept. 20, 2018)
— On Nov. 8, 1887, John Henry “Doc” Holliday died of tuberculosis in a rented room at the Hotel Glenwood in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. The fact is, despite his fame and notoriety, the gambler, gunfighter, dentist and friend of Wyatt Earp left this earth destitute. However, legend tells us that Doc did have one possession dear to him at the time of his passing that turned out to be quite valuable: an 1866 Remington derringer pistol with an inscription reading To Doc from Kate.
It’s this artifact from the past that keeps visitors coming to the Doc Holliday Museum—a stand-alone museum dedicated to Doc’s life and the times in which he lived. The museum, run by the Glenwood Springs Historical Society, is located on the lower level of the Bullocks Western Store at Eighth St. and Grand Ave. Coincidentally, it also happens to be the location of the Hotel Glenwood—where Doc died. In 1945, the Hotel Glenwood burned to the ground.
Doc’s derringer is the centerpiece exhibit of the museum. Even though the weapon is enshrined in a well-lit plexiglass case, museum-goers can still get an up-close look at the ornate inscription. It’s well known that Holliday had a relationship with Mary Katherine Horony-Cummings, better known as “Big Nose Kate,” a prostitute of Hungarian decent. According to the lore, Kate gave the gun to Holliday as a gift, probably around 1881 in Tombstone, Arizona.
“People are fascinated by Doc Holliday largely because of his association with Wyatt Earp and his role in the shoot-out at the OK Corral,” Executive Director of the Glenwood Springs Historical Society and the Frontier Museum Bill Kight said. “But he also had a life beyond that infamous event that defined him. It seems he had a girlfriend for whom he cared. This gun which she purportedly gave him is a token of that affection, or at least we like to think it is.”
Kight hedges a bit because shortly after the museum purchased the gun for $84,000, its provenance came under scrutiny. Some stories indicate that after Doc’s death, the derringer was taken by William G. Wells, the bartender at the Hotel Glenwood, as partial payment to cover the gambler’s funeral expenses. It remained in the Wells family until 1968 when Utah gun dealer E. Dixon Larson purchased it. It wasn’t until after the museum sealed the deal on the purchase that it learned Larson was of questionable character—a man known for his passionate pursuit for acquiring celebrity Wild West firearms. Some speculate that “Dix,” now deceased, was not above forging documents and embellishing historical stories. After Larson, the gun was bought in the 1980s by a Tennessee lawyer, then by Jason Brierly of Vancouver, Canada, who sold it to the Glenwood Springs Historical Society.
Whatever the truth may be, it’s a mystery that only adds to the mystique of Doc Holliday—and drives visitors to schedule a stop at the eponymous museum. In addition to seeing the small, pearl-handled pistol up close, Doc Holliday groupies can also make a pilgrimage to his memorial marker in Linwood Cemetery which overlooks Glenwood Springs. Near the end of his life, in ill health and unable to earn a living dealing faro at the local gambling halls, Holliday was bed-ridden. As he lay dying he is reported to have asked for a shot of whiskey. The story is that Doc fully expected to die in gunfight, but upon finding himself at death’s door in a bed instead, he appreciated the irony of his situation and uttered his last words: “This is funny.”
Though Doc’s memorial marker is a place for visitors to pay their respects, Holliday was actually buried in the cemetery’s Potter’s Field and no one knows the exact whereabouts of his final resting place. It is yet another unsolved mystery Doc Holliday left behind and one that, like the derringer, keeps Glenwood Springs visitors enthralled with this bit of Old West history in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
Find out more about Doc Holliday, the Glenwood Springs Historical Museum and more at visitglenwood.com.
About Glenwood Springs
For more information and to plan a visit please see visitglenwood.com. Glenwood Springs is located between Aspen and Vail, Colorado, 160 miles (257 kilometers) west of Denver or 90 miles (145 kilometers) east of Grand Junction on Interstate 70 off Exit 116. An online Media Room is available at visitglenwood.com/media. B-roll video footage is available upon request.
Lisa Langer, Director of Tourism Promotion
Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association
Patsy Popejoy, Communications Director
Resort Trends, Inc. – tourism communications