Members of Denison’s downtown community will take visitors back in time to the city’s heyday as a railroad hub in the 1870s later this month when the it holds the Doc Holliday: Saints and Sinners festival. The event, now in its second year, will celebrate John Henry “Doc” Holliday and his times in the city.
The event was first held in 2016, and brought crowds of about 5,000 to the streets of downtown Denison. Activities and attractions for the event were focused on what life was like in Denison during its infancy and what the notorious gunman, gambler and dentist did during his time in town.
“At one point, he had an office in Denison and we just wanted to take a fun look at his history and give an opportunity to look at our history,” Denison Main Street Director Donna Dow said Thursday.
Jon Henry “Doc” Holliday was a well-known gunfighter and deputy U.S. marshal best known for his involvement in the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. The showdown saw Holliday fight alongside Wyatt Earp and his brothers against a group of outlaws in Tombstone, Arizona.
Holliday was born in Griffin, Georgia in 1851. In 1872, at age 20, he received his degree in dental surgery while studying in Philadelphia.
One year later, Holliday was involved in a shooting in Georgia. Historians believe a combination of this incident and a diagnosis of tuberculosis lead Holliday to travel west, possibly looking for relief from his disease in warmer climates. Soon after, Holliday arrived in Dallas where he practiced dentistry.
It was a series of run ins with Dallas Police over illegal gambling in 1874 and 1875 that lead Holliday to travel north to the railroad boom town of Denison, a hub for the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad. Dow said it is believed Holliday briefly practiced dentistry in Denison, likely operating out of a hotel room.
For this year’s festivities, Dow said organizers will bring back several events from the first year while adding new events that highlight the city’s history from 1870 through the 1890s. Author Victoria Wilcox will return for this year’s festival to give two lectures on Holliday’s past and to separate the man from the myth.
This year, the festival will also feature guided tours of the downtown’s historic churches and Doc’s adventure, a scavenger hunt across the festival for children.
Other events will include an encampment and frontier village in the 700 block of Main Street, carriage rides, storytelling, musicians and gunfight re-enactments.
Dow said she expects this year’s attendance to match last year’s numbers.
“It went well last year, so we are trying to maintain that energy and enthusiasm this year,” she said.
Among those who will be presenting at the event this year is John Akers, director of the Eisenhower Birthplace. Akers said he will be doing a display on how laundry and other household chores were done in the early days of Denison’s history.
“We thought with all the glamour of gun fighting and all the rest, we’d salute the common people of Denison,” he said.
As a historian with some experience in Arizona, Akers said he is familiar with the events in Tombstone and the “23 seconds that changed their lives.” With that sort of recognition, Akers said it was easy to view Holliday as a folk hero, but it can become difficult to separate the actual man from the romanticized myth.
The event will be held throughout Downtown Denison from 9 a.m. through 6 p.m. on April 29.