ALIAS TOM McKEY ARRIVES IN DENVER
Doc Holliday arrived in Denver, Colorado in the summer of 1876 after having fled Texas. It has been written that Doc, being a wanted man, took the alias of Tom McKey. T. S. McKey was the name of Doc’s uncle. Doc found work as a faro dealer at a local theatre and gambling house at 357 Blake Street.
357 Blake Street
Edward Chase, of Heatley & Chase had operated a saloon at 357 Blake Street that was destroyed by “The Great Fire” of April 1963. The fire took out nearly two full blocks of the city.
A few months after the fire, Ed Chase built a more impressive establishment, which he called the Progressive, or Progressive Hall, known for its three large chandeliers. Sam D. Hunter was the manager.
In 1866, Henry Feuerstein took over the Progressive calling it Feuerstein’s Beer Hall.
Feuerstein changed the name back to the Progressive in 1867.
In March of 1874, the Progressive was reopened as Canterbury Hall, a first-class beer hall with John A. Babb as proprietor and gentleman.
Such praise and enthusiasm for Canterbury Hall and John Babb greatly diminished after March of 1874.
Many of our citizens will learn this morning, for the first time, that there is now open, in Denver, a musical hall of such intolerable nastiness as to make people sigh for the good old days of the Corn Exchange and Cricket varieties. – from THE HOODLUMS OF DENVER: Sketches From the Slums and Street Corners. Rocky Mountain News, February 24, 1875.
The Canterbury was short lived. Babb left for Wyoming for a while and then returned to Denver and reopened the Canterbury in mid-1876 as the Theatre Comique. This was about the time Doc Holliday arrived in Denver.
Enter, Doc Holliday.
Bat Masterson, good friend of Wyatt Earp, described Doc in one his 1907 articles published in the Boston magazine Human Life.
“He was slim of build and sallow of complexion, standing about five feet ten inches, and weighing no more than 130 pounds. His eyes were of a pale blue and his mustache was thin and of a sandy hue.”
Masterson also provided perspective on Doc’s arrival in Denver in the Summer of 1867.
“In all respects, the Rocky Mountain town looked good to him, and as he had set out to build up a record for himself as a man-killer, he did not purpose lying idle very long. While Denver, in many respects in those days was a rough and ready town, it nevertheless enforced to the very letter the ordinance against the carrying of firearms, and Holliday, for the once becoming prudent, put his canister aside, but straightway went and bought himself a murderous-looking knife. Thus heeled, he did not long delay in getting into action, and in so doing, carved up the face and neck of one Bud Ryan, a quiet and gentlemanly looking sport, in a frightful manner.”
The incident with Ryan didn’t make the local papers. The Theatre Comique didn’t make the papers much in 1876 either. An assault and battery in October and an occasional drunk and disorderly arrest was noted. There was no mention of an altercation involving a Bud (“Budd”) Ryan or Tom McKey (or Mackey). Nothing on John (Doc) Henry Holliday either. Budd Ryan does get a mention in 1880 that is worth noting.
It has been written that in the latter half of 1876, Holliday learned about gold being discovered in Wyoming. It’s assumed Doc left Denver for Wyoming in September due to the Rocky Mountain News running unclaimed letter notices for T.S. McKey on September 29 and December 6.
When Doc arrived in Cheyenne, he found work as a dealer for John Babb’s partner, Thomas Miller, who owned the Bella Union Saloon. Doc’s stay in Wyoming was brief and he soon headed back to Denver for a short stay, then went east to Kansas.
Meanwhile at the Theatre Comique things were going “good.”
But by August of 1877 the Theatre Comique was in need of “looking after.” Perhaps another name change would do the trick. Or, perhaps new management.
In late 1877, the Theatre Comique changed hands. John Babb was out and Howard & Quinn were in.
In 1878 the Comique became Perry’s Palace Theatre with B.F. Perry as proprietor.
Doc’s Brief Return to Colorado in 1879
Doc Holliday briefly showed up in Colorado again in 1879 taking part in a railroad war fought along the upper Arkansas River, called the Royal Gorge War. Bat Masterson, who was hired by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad line requested Doc come and assist with hiring recruits to do battle against the Denver and Rio Grande (DR&G) line.
In Tombstone, Doc was described as a very hard character. “Holliday carries his death warrant with him all the time. He is dying of consumption, and he is correspondingly reckless. When the fight between the Earp gang, of which he was a member, and the cowboys took place in Tombstone, he stood in the middle of the street in the thickest of the fire, having one hand on his cane and firing his pistol with the other as cool as if he were at a picnic.”
1882 Post-Tombstone: Doc Heads Back to Denver
In May of 1882, Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp left Tombstone. They rode to Silver City, New Mexico then grabbed a stage to Deming, and boarded a train for Colorado. Holliday arrived first in Pueblo in late April 1882 and stayed there briefly before heading to Denver. On May 15, 1882, after his arrival in Denver, Holliday was arrested. After his arrest the Colorado Daily Chieftain in Pueblo wrote:
“Doc” Holliday, an alleged desperado, well known here, captured in Denver. Yesterday the news came to this city of the arrest of John H. Holliday, better known as “Doc,” who was taken on the charge of being a desperado and a “hard man” generally. The arrest was made by one Perry Mallen, who claimed to be a United States officer, and who made the arrest by taking “Doc” unawares, holding two revolvers and causing him to hold up his hands. Mallen was accompanied by Deputy Sheriff Charlie Linton, and the arrest was made at half-past nine o’clock on one of the principal streets. Shortly after the arrest was made, Bat Masterson, the marshal of Trinidad, then in Denver, heard of the affair, and soon secured a writ of habeas corpus, upon which the prisoner was released, but still placed under surveillance, until he could be tried by Judge Elliott some time yesterday afternoon. Masterson, who is generally known as “the man who smiles,” and whose words are weighty in official circles, says Holliday is not so black as painted, that he is a United States officer, and that he is simply being persecuted and run down in order that he may be placed in the power of the cowboys of Arizona, who hate him and desire his death. Holliday was a member of the corps, in fact, a leader, and took an active part in fighting the cowboys last fall, when the latter made their memorial raid upon Tucson and Tombstone, where a large number of men were killed.
The arrest has great local interest because the prisoner and his captor spent considerable time in this city [Pueblo] before they went to Denver, and both became quite well known. Some four or five weeks ago the Earp’s and their friends separated, leaving Arizona, where they feared assassination at the hands of the raiding cowboys. The Earp brothers, two in number, passed through this city nearly two weeks ago, remaining here one or two days, and it is supposed that they are now in Gunnison City, toward which place they were then headed. Some few days after the brothers had departed, “Doc” Holliday appeared in the city, and remained here until last Sunday, when he departed for Denver. He made no effort to conceal his identity, and when questioned as to his doings in Arizona, said he had nothing to fear from that quarter, as he had received full pardon from the governor for his bloody work, in consideration of the effective services he had rendered the authorities. In conversation here he said that he had never killed any one, except in protecting himself, and that all he asked was to be let alone; he had left Arizona for the single purpose of being at peace with every one around him, and he hoped his enemies would allow him that privilege. A day or two after Holliday came here another man named Perry Mallen appeared upon the scene. He met Holliday several times, the first time in the Comique, when he informed Holliday that a man named Stillwell, whose brother Holliday had shot during the cowboy troubles, was looking for him, and would shoot him on sight. Holliday asked to be shown the man, so that he would know him when they met, and thus be better able to protect himself, but this Mallen refused to do, claiming that Stillwell would shoot him (Mallen) it he thought his presence had been revealed. The two men met quite often after that, but Holliday always distrusted Mallen, and finally, before be left, arrived at the conclusion that the man had told him a deliberate lie. But, not wishing to have trouble, and fearing that some of his enemies might follow him, he went away.
Perry Mallen was recognized here as being formerly from Akron, Ohio, where he now has relations: he met several Akron gentlemen here, ingratiated himself into their favor, and succeeded in securing considerable money from them, which he failed to return, and he may he arrested by them for obtaining money under false pretenses. To his acquaintances from Ohio, he simply said he was traveling around the country on business, but to strangers with whom he should certainly not have been confidential, he asserted that he was a government detective, a United States deputy marshal, etc., etc. Those who know him here, say he holds no official position whatever, which goes far to strengthen the belief that he is simply after the blood-money which may be given him by the cowboys of Arizona for the capture of Holliday. He is a small man, with reddish face and beard, with small, ferrety eyes, and not an inviting cast of features. He is much the inferior of Holliday in every particular, in appearance, at least. His home is in Ogden, Utah.
“Doc” Holliday is a man of light weight, rather tall, smoothly shaven, and is always well dressed. Streaks of gray can be seen in his hair, which grows from a head a phrenologist would delight in examining. His eyes are blue, large, sharp and piercing He is not over thirty five years of age, and as straight as an arrow. He gained his title of “Doc” in a legitimate manner, as he once practiced medicine, in Los Angeles, California notably. He is well educated, and his conversation shows him to be a man of considerable culture. That he has killed a number of men in the southern territories, and that he is regarded as a hard, dangerous man there is no disputing, but his friends claim that extenuating circumstances existed in every case of murder with which he is charged. If he had been taken by the proper officials, his arrest might be hailed with delight by a great many who now look upon it as an outrage, because they believe Mallen is an imposter, and that he made the arrest simply to gain a little blood money and turn his prisoner over to the “tender mercies” of his enemies. The interference of the marshal of Trinidad in Holliday’s favor, and his assertion that the man is not the fiend be is represented, would certainly indicate that he is being persecuted, and that the captor is no better, if as good, as his prisoner. – May 17, 1882
The Rocky Mountain News also published an article about the arrest.
On May 22, 1882, while Doc was in jail, the Denver Republican wrote, “Holliday has a big reputation as a fighter, and has probably put more rustlers and cowboys under the sod than any other one man in the west. He had been the terror of the lawless element in Arizona, and with the Earp’s was the only man brave enough to face the bloodthirsty crowd which has made the name of Arizona a stench in the nostrils of decent men.”
Having heard of Doc’s arrest, Wyatt Earp stepped in and asked his friend Bat Masterson, then chief of police of Trinidad, Colorado, to help get Holliday released. Masterson reached out to Colorado Governor Frederick Walker Pitkin.
Mallen told the paper that he was standing along side when Curly Bill Brocius was killed. Doc responded, “eight rustlers rose up from behind the bank and poured from thirty-five to forty shots at us. Our escape was miraculous. The shots cut our clothes and saddles and killed one horse, but did not hit us. I think we would have been killed if God Almighty wasn’t on our side. Wyatt Earp turned loose with a shotgun and killed Curly Bill. The eight men in the gang which attacked us were all outlaws, for each of whom a big reward has been offered…If Mallen was along side Curly Bill when he was killed, he was with one of the worst gangs of murderers and robbers in the country.”
On May 30, 1882, the Rocky Mountain News wrote that, “Doc Holliday’s case was finally disposed of by Governor Pitkin yesterday, his Excellency deciding that he could not honor the requisition from Arizona. The District Attorney’s Office was represented by Honorable I.E. Barnum, Assistant District Attorney, who was accompanied in his visit to the Governor by Deputy Sheriff Linton and Sheriff Paul of Arizona. Among others present were Deputy Sheriff Masterson (Bat) of Trinidad and several friends of Holliday.
Doc Stays in Colorado
Doc eventually landed in Leadville, where he led a quiet and uneventful life…
…until the afternoon of August 19, 1884.
A detailed recap of the case appeared in the Carbonate Chronicle.
Doc was the talk of the state of Colorado during this time. People were telling their stories of crossing paths with him, such as the following from the June 12, 1885 issue of the Aspen Daily Times.
Headed Back to Denver
By the winter of 1885, Holliday was fearing pneumonia in the high altitude of Leadville and headed for Denver. His condition did not improve much in Denver, but in the winter of 1886 he met up with his old friend Wyatt Earp in the lobby of the Windsor Hotel.
Doc was described as looking skeletal, having a continuous cough and standing on unsteady legs. While in Denver, Doc was arrested for vagrancy.
From Denver to Glenwood Springs
In May of 1887, Doc’s health was deteriorating fast. He increasingly depended on alcohol and laudanum to ease the symptoms of tuberculosis. Hoping that the Yampah hot springs and sulfur vapors might improve his health, he headed for Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Doc registered at the Hotel Glenwood.
One Last Job
Toward the end of the 1880s, Railroad contractor James H. Kyner hired Doc to motivate the proprietors of dozens of gambling and saloon tents to leave the forty-one-mile stretch of railroad line that he and another contractor were constructing between Glenwood Springs and Aspen. Drunkenness of the workers boozing it up at the saloon tents was causing trouble. Kyner heard that a gunman named Doc Holliday had been hired before by a group of men who wanted to drive off others who had staked claims to the same nearby coal deposit that they were claiming, which gave him the idea of hiring Holliday to make his troublemakers leave. Kyner was staying at the Glenwood Hotel and when Holliday was pointed out to him one day, he initiated a discussion about it. Without hesitation, Holliday told Kyner he could do it for $250.
Kyner was later told by several men that every saloon and gambling tent along that line had disappeared, except one that was in a draw a half mile from the line. He met Holliday the next evening and asked “What luck?”. Holliday replied “Oh, they moved,” and without another word Kyner paid him the $250.
Doc’s health continued to worsen. He spent his last fifty-seven days in bed at the hotel and was delirious for fourteen of them. Kate Horony (aka Big Nose Kate) later said that she attended to him in his final days. On November 8, 1887, he awoke clear-eyed and asked for a glass of whiskey. It’s been said it was given to him. At about 10 a.m., Doc looked down at his bare feet and spoke his last words, “This is funny,” then died. He was 36 years old.
The Glenwood Springs Ute Chief of November 12, 1887, wrote in its obituary that Holliday had been baptized in the Catholic Church. This was based on correspondence written between Holliday and his cousin, Sister Mary Melanie, a Catholic nun. No baptismal record has been found in either St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Glenwood Springs or at the Annunciation Catholic Church in nearby Leadville. At the end of his life, Holliday had struck up friendships with both a Catholic priest, Father E.T. Downey, and a Presbyterian minister, Rev. W.S. Randolph, in Glenwood Springs. When he died, Father Downey was out of town, and so Rev. Randolph presided over the burial at 4 p.m. on the same day that Holliday died. The services were reportedly attended by “many friends.”
Holliday is buried in Linwood Cemetery overlooking Glenwood Springs. Since Holliday died in November, the ground might have been frozen. Some modern authors such as Bob Boze Bell speculate that it would have been impossible to transport him to the cemetery, which was only accessible by a difficult mountain road, or to dig a grave because the ground was frozen. Author Gary Roberts located evidence that other bodies were transported to the Linwood Cemetery at the same time of the month that year. Contemporary newspaper reports explicitly state that Holliday was buried in the Linwood Cemetery, but the exact location of his grave is uncertain. Though there is no official evidence of this, some claim that Holliday’s father, Major Henry Holliday, a man of means and influence, had his son exhumed and re-buried in Griffin’s Oak Hill Cemetery in Griffin, Georgia.
“I found him a loyal friend and good company. He was a dentist whom necessity had made a gambler; a gentleman whom disease had made a vagabond; a philosopher whom life had made a caustic wit; a long, lean blonde fellow nearly dead with consumption and at the same time the most skillful gambler and nerviest, speediest, deadliest man with a six-gun I ever knew.”
– Wyatt Earp speaking of Doc Holliday
Last Days of 357 Blake Street
Perry’s Palace theatre.
In 1879 Edward Chase again became proprietor of 357 Blake and renamed it the Palace theatre.
In 1888 William Devere was proprietor of the Palace Theatre (aka Palace Variety Theatre).
Bat Masterson would eventually become the proprietor later in 1888 after purchasing the theatre from Ed Chase.
The Palace Theatre was sold in 1892. In 1893 the Palace became The Palace Lodging House.
By 1902, the building was in bad shape…
…but remained open as The Palace Lodging House, or the Palace House, and made the papers often with headlines noting drunken deaths, overdoses, suicides, arrests, broken necks, and assaults. For some time after the lodging house was closed the building stood vacant, perhaps even condemned. In 1929 357 Blake Street made the papers again.
Currently, the Palace Lofts built c1995 occupy the former site, and then some.
“The Palace’s crimson carpet had gallons of blood from fights and murders.”
– Denver old timers.