The annual Doc Holliday Sinners and Saints festival returned to downtown Denison Saturday, transporting visitors and residents back to the city’s early, Wild West days in the late 1800s through re-enacted gunfights, carriage rides, costumes, musical performances, art and games.
“It really is a good time,” Main Street Director Donna Dow said. “And it’s always surprising how many people really enjoy either dressing up or looking back and reliving the early boom days of Denison.”
Dow said preparation for this year’s festival began as soon as last year’s celebration ended, with volunteers and city staff splitting into teams, coordinating entertainment events and conducting monthly meetings.
“One thing that we’re doing new this year is posting fun facts about Denison, Doc Holliday and this history throughout downtown,” Dow said. “The idea is to get people, kids and families to go explore around downtown. They can learn history in a way that’s exciting.”
Stickball games hosted by representatives of the Choctaw Nation and an artisan village assembled at the Katy Depot were among the new offerings at this year’s festival. Dow said and both were part of the festival committee’s push to attract and interest younger visitors.
“We tried really hard to reach the kids this year,” Dow said. “So, we added to the games and tried to give them a taste of the culture back then.”
John Henry “Doc” Holliday was born in 1851 and cemented his place in American frontier history following his brief role as a deputy marshal and participant in the OK Corral shootout, which took place in Tombstone, Arizona in 1881. But before Holliday made his mark in the storied gunfight, he occasionally worked as a dentist and spent much of his time gambling and gun slinging in Dallas — habits that got him into financial trouble and forced him to hide out in Denison.
“He was here around 1875, so just after Denison was founded in 1872,” festival committee member and volunteer Brian Hander said. “They found out he was here because of unclaimed mail that was sent to him, but he never received it. Eventually someone noticed the name and it was put in the newspaper that he might be here.”
Michael Self, an actor with the Heroes of the Old West re-enactment group, played Holliday at Saturday’s festival. Self said, while many film actors have put their own spin on the character, Holliday was a complex man and one shaped by his surroundings. Holliday died in 1887 after he contracted tuberculosis.
“Wyatt Earp was a friend of Doc Holliday’s and said that he was a philosopher, turned into a sarcastic wit by life,” Self said. “I totally believe that. He was a fast thinker, and he was fast with a gun. He had to be.”
Karla Nunley took four of her five grandchildren to the festival and set off on a horse-drawn carriage ride down Denison’s Main Street. Nunley said as a 25-year resident of the city, she always enjoyed seeing Denison celebrate its colorful past and the chance to share it with her family.
“I love it,” Nunley said. “Our family in Texas goes back to the 1800s and this is where our roots are. We love Texas and this is part of the city’s history and our history.”