Festival season: Doc Holliday returns to Denison

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
The Doc Holliday: Saints and Sinners festival will return to Denison on April 24. The festival was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After a two-year hiatus, downtown Denison will take once again take visitors back to its past as a bustling boomtown and tell the story of one of its more notorious residents. The Doc Holliday: Saints and Sinners festival, a celebration of one of the city's past and the renowned gambler, gunfighter and sometimes lawman who once called it home, is back again.

The festival was one of the first major annual events that was cancelled last year during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, city officials have said conditions have improved to the point that the festival can return, albeit in a modified form.

"We planned for a variety of outcomes: being able to modify it and go very low key, with only the businesses involved, to going full blown," Main Street Director Donna Dow said. We feel like we have settled with somewhere in the middle."

The fifth festival is scheduled to take place on April 24 in downtown Denison.

"For 2020, the pandemic was really just getting started and we didn't know what we were facing. It was an obvious decision that we would not be able to hold the festival," Dow said, describing it as, "the best decision for public safety."

John Henry "Doc" Holliday was born in August 1851 in Georgia. Rather than starting his career as a gambler, Holliday instead studied to be a dentist by trade and received his degree at the age of 21. However, his passion for cards and games of luck often interfered with his professional work.

Holliday traveled west to the burgeoning city of Dallas in his early 20s following a diagnosis of tuberculosis. Holliday moved his dental practice out of Dallas following charges of gambling around 1875 and turned his attention north to the railroad town of Denison.

"Doc Holliday came to Denison and it is documented that he was here. He visited and spent some time here practicing (dentistry)," Dow said. "There are different thoughts about where his office was. We think we know that his practice was in a hotel near the railroad tracks, but that is our best guess based on what we've pulled together."

Following his time in Denison, Holliday continued to move west into what was frontier territory. These journeys eventually led him to the city of Tombstone, Arizona where he participated in the famous Gunfight at the OK Corral by siding with lawmen Virgil, Morgan and Wyatt Earp.

For this year's festival, Dow said many of the traditional events will return, but modified to allow for social distancing. Re enactors will still have mock gun battles in the streets of Denison, and the 700 block of Main Street will be transformed into an old west encampment.

However, many of the vendors will be set up in the Radiovision parking lot rather than lining the streets this year.

"We are putting the vendors there to spread them out more," Dow said. "We are not having the wagon parade this year. Those are the two biggest changes."

The decision to cancel the parade followed the cancellation of other parades throughout the region, she said.

"It felt like a gathering we could avoid easily and not sacrifice our festival," Dow said.

Dow said the return of Doc Holliday following the pandemic signaled something of a return for other annual festivities. However, the city will continue practices aimed at keeping people safe.

"I think the governor, in the middle of us planning this event, said we don't have to wear masks any more, so that took the pressure off," Dow said. "That doesn't mean that we can't implement COVID protocols locally, because we want to keep people safe."