All Things Writing

A Writing Lesson From A Long Dead Gunslinger

June 05, 2021 Bryan the Writer Season 2 Episode 16
All Things Writing
A Writing Lesson From A Long Dead Gunslinger
Show Notes Transcript

The Impromptu Show:
 
 I was on my way to Glenwood Springs, Colorado. What’s in Glenwood Springs, you might ask? That is the last place that the world’s most famous dentist lived and where he died. The world’s most famous dentist? Why on earth would we even want to talk about the world’s most famous dentist? I did leave out the part where I should have said he is not famous for being a dentist.

Of course, I’m referring to the legendary Dr. John Henry Holliday. Most people just knew him as Doc Holliday.

When I was a kid, and some of you older people will remember this, Time Life Books came out with a special edition dedicated to gunfighters. As a child these fascinated me. The idea of gunslingers calling out their enemies to the Main Street at high noon fascinated me.

While I was on the trail going up to the cemetery, I met a family. The man I met was an obvious stoner, his wife was desperate to get downhill, their kids were dressed in dirty pajamas, and tuckered out.

It would be easy to dismiss these people and ignore them. I had a nice chat with the father. For them it was an early morning walk outside. They were enjoying the day.

My author brain went into high gear and it was easy to paint these people into a story where this family was running for their lives from the unsettled spirits in the graveyard just up the hill where Doc Holliday and Kid Curry were battling for supremacy over their final resting places.

In my version of the story the family would have to take refuge behind headstones of deceased spirits implored them to take cover or end up joining them in the great beyond.

The day after my trip to Glenwood Springs I found a masseuse in Colorado Springs who could address my pulled muscle in my back. As I was driving to the appointment, I began thinking about what my trip to Glenwood Springs really meant. What did it truly leave me with?

I suppose, for me, it left me with a deeper appreciation of what life must’ve been like on the frontier in the 1800s. I now see Doc Holliday in a different light. While it would be easy to paint him as this steely eyed gunfighter, I saw another side of him. I saw the once infamous gunfighter, wracked with tuberculosis, laying there in the bed dying.

It’s a different side of him to be sure, that we normally see. And that is how you write characters who are three-dimensional. Don’t see them as what is simply portrayed at first glance. Walk around in their shoes a bit, or in my case their boots and try to see the world through their eyes. Not just at their best, but also their worst.

This is Bryan the Writer for All Things Writing, signing off.

 

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S2E16

 

Welcome to the show everyone. I know, those of you listening who have been listening to the show the whole time will correctly point out that I said I wasn’t going to do a show this week. Well, let me explain myself.

I have been in Colorado for a month now. I’m anxious to get home, but I have to say that I’ve enjoyed my time here. I’ve done some things and I’ve always wanted to do, and accomplished a few things that I’ve always wanted to accomplish.

Saturday morning, I suppose that would be 29 May 2021, I was climbing into my rented vehicle when I managed to pull a muscle in my back. I know that sounds kind of strange, but with my fibromyalgia happens more often than I care to admit. But that’s not the purpose of the story.

I was on my way to Glenwood Springs Colorado. What’s in Glenwood Springs, you might ask? That is the last place that the world’s most famous dentist lived and where he died. The world’s most famous dentist? Why on earth would we even want to talk about the world’s most famous dentist? I did leave out the part where I should have said he is not famous for being a dentist.

Of course I’m referring to the legendary Dr. John Henry Holliday. Most people just knew him as Doc Holliday.

When I was a kid, and some of you older people will remember this, Time life books came out with a special edition dedicated to gunfighters. As a child these fascinated me. The idea of gunslingers calling out their enemies to the Main Street at high noon fascinated me.

Growing up in South Chicago, you really didn’t have much of a connection to places like tombstone Arizona for Dodge City. And yet, I found myself glued to television shows like Gunsmoke and Bonanza. At that time both shows were in rerun syndication but were still super popular.

So what’s my point about all this? How does this apply to writing?

Let’s go back to my pulled muscle in my trip out Glenwood Springs. In Glenwood Springs there are four things you can do which have a direct connection to Doc Holliday. The first and most obvious is to visit what is believed to be his final resting place.

Although there are some questions about where he is buried, most historians generally agree that he’s buried in Linwood Cemetery, which sits atop a hill overlooking the valley. You access the cemetery by way of the Dock Holiday’s Trailhead. If you’re interested in these places you can Google them and just add the place name Glenwood Springs after them. They should pop right up for you.

The trailhead parking area is literally in a residential area. You essentially have to park in front of people’s houses to access trail. I said hello to few people were out in front of their houses working on their gardens, they were all very nice.

The trailhead has a few signs and a little sitting area. The signs have to do with the town’s most famous resident, Doc Holliday. It’s also important to note that no slouch the violence, Harvey Logan, a.k.a. Kid Curry, is also buried in the graveyard. However, they know where he’s buried.

The trail from the little seating area with signs to where the graveyard is I believe is about 1/3 of a mile. However, in that 3rd mile run to climb up 240 feet of elevation. While calculation is not exact, that’s essentially climbing the height of the 24 story building.

As I walked the trail which moved from somewhat improved to completely unimproved, I thought about the rocks in the dusty dirt I was trudging up. I can almost see the dusty and scarred leather boots worn by Doc Holliday and Marshall Wyatt Earp as they pursued their last prey through those hillsides.

I know it sounds crazy, but that dust has a smell to it. And it’s almost like I would imagine it watching an old Western. At several points I had to stop myself from being convinced I too had been sucked back in time to place where men with badges doggedly pursued outlaws into the underbrush knowing full well that it any moment they can lose a gunfight.

Once you reach the top of the hill, it’s very easy to see where the monument Doc Holliday is. That’s literally where everybody is going to be headed.

Time for a side story off of our main story. I love cemeteries. I know it sounds like a macabre pastime, but I absolutely love wandering the headstones looking at people who have been. Those headstones tell a tale.

Especially in older cemeteries, if you take time to look at the stones will notice intricate carvings and symbols. The symbols tell you little bit about the person who lay in repose under the ground are standing on.

I know it sounds vaguely superstitious, but I love walking through graveyard and looking at the headstones which seem to been forgotten about. For me I feel like by saying the names of the people their souls may take a moment and realize that someone, still amongst the living, remembered that they were there. Can’t think of anything sadder than having lived on this earth and having left no mark for people to remember you by.

So, back to the story. When you’re up there, take some time to walk among gravestones. Some fascinating people have lived and died in Linwood Springs and it’s worth spending a little bit of time finding out more about them.

I mentioned Kid Curry. Kid Curry was the child in a family that turned outlaw. He was shot down during a train robbery. As train robberies are largely a thing of the past, I was pleased to see that along with his grave marker, can also read a sign which tells you about his life, and how he died.

While it’s impossible to know exactly what happened on the day the kid Curry died, that’s where imagination comes in. For that is what we writers do, we take the details of real-life events twist them and turn them into stories for readers.

Needless to say, the cemetery was well worth the visit. Also in Glenwood Springs, you can visit the spot where the hotel used to sit where Doc Holliday passed away. The Doc Holliday Museum since the basement of a clothing store. For the perfectly reasonable price of five dollars you can gain entrance to this one room Museum.

I know what you’re thinking, why an earth where I spent five dollars to go into one room? Well, let me tell you it’s well worth the money. While there is not a lot of information in there that you can’t learn on the Internet, there are few items in there that you’re going to want to see with your own eyes. For example, there is a derringer that is said to it once belonged Doc Holliday.

The inscription on the derringer suggests that it was a gift from Mary Katherine Horony-Cummings, also known as Big Nose Kate. Kate was long time confidant and common-law wife of Doc Holliday.

Official record suggests that she was working as a prostitute Dodge City, where she met the wife of James Earp, was the eldest brother of the Earp brothers. In 1877, she met Doc Holliday and the two became inseparable until sometime during their stay in Tombstone where Doc put her on a stage out of town for several reasons. And a theory I won’t go into here.

There is also a watch which was allegedly made and engraved by Marshall Wyatt Earp to be placed on Doc Holliday’s grave. At some point watch made its way to Glenwood Springs. As Wyatt and Doc travel together to Glenwood Springs, it was highly likely that he would have known where to find Doc.

However, Wyatt would not have known that docs body was buried in an unmarked grave. Matter of fact I would opine that if Wyatt had known the Doc was going to end up in an unmarked grave in Potters Field, the portion of the cemetery reserved for people who are indigent, he would’ve likely come up with money himself to ensure Doc got a proper burial. The two were, after all, best friends.

The watch ended up in the city records. And, as the story goes, was found in the building was being demolished. It’s a beautiful watch.

The last place I visited when I was in town was the frontier Museum. It’s well worth the trip if you’re going to Glenwood Springs anyway. It’s a home that’s essentially set up exactly like the whole would’ve been in the 1800s. I thought it was kind of funny that some of the modern that are there are extremely similar to some of the modern conveniences we still have today. Sometimes, things just don’t change that much.

The clothing, the Native American artifacts, the Jem collections, and the little bit of information on Glenwood Springs history was well worth it. But when I find most interesting at the frontier Museum is something that the curator didn’t even realize.

They have on display what they say is the first hearse used in the town. Known as a “hurry up wagon”, or a “dead wagon” it was said to be used by JC Schwartz, Glenwood’s first mortician. According to the historical records, Schwartz was the undertaker at the time of Doc Holliday’s death. This leads me to a question that I’m trying to get resolved. Was the hearse on display at the frontier Museum the same hearse that would’ve carried the earthly remains of Doc Holliday?

It seems plausible, given the timelines. I did ask the Museum manager if it would be possible to determine from what years the hearse was in service based on the records at the Museum. Now I know you’re thinking, yes it’s entirely possible that they had more than one hearse. But that’s not really the point.

Look at it from a writer’s perspective. How much fun would it be if the hearse was haunted? Yes, those of you who are fans of the paranormal will point out that it’s highly unlikely the hearse is haunted. I say this primarily because there’s probably no way that the deceased had any connection to the hearse in the living world.

There is one other place in town that I desperately wanted to see. I wanted to go to the Glenwood Springs pool. This is a hot Springs fed pool or Doc Holliday himself would have sat to find relief from his tuberculosis.

The day that I went the line to get in the pool was so long I wasn’t really that interested in waiting. It would’ve been nice to say that I sat in the same waters that Doc Holliday once sat in. But even I have my limits.

Okay, so there I was driving from my hotel in Colorado Springs to Glenwood Springs. My back was throbbing from having just pulled a muscle.

There are times when I probably would’ve said to myself you know, I think I’m gonna take it easy today. But I didn’t, and I’m glad I didn’t.

While I was on the trail going up to the cemetery, I met a family. The man I met was an obvious stoner, his wife was desperate to get downhill, their kids were dressed in dirty pajamas, and tuckered out.

It would be easy to dismiss these people and ignore them. I had a nice chat with the father. For them it was an early morning walk outside. They were enjoying the day.

My author brain which into high gear and it was easy to paint these people into a story where this family was running for their lives from the unsettled spirits in the graveyard just up the hill where Doc Holliday and Kid Curry were battling it out supremacy over their final resting places.

In my version of the story the family would have to take refuge behind headstones of deceased spirits implored them to take cover, or end up joining them in the great beyond.

Brings me to a question. Given the reputation Doc Holliday, who in that equation actually represents good? I would argue that Doc Holliday was largely on the side of good in terms of the times that he was living in. A larger-than-life character who lived not deep in the pages of a fiction novel, but in real life.

I once read an article written by famous law man Batt Masterson, who was also writer. Masterson paints a picture of Doc as a hotheaded drunkard, who lacked any decent qualities. Counter that with Wyatt Earp’s love of Doc Holliday is a close friend and confidant. Although it’s likely that Wyatt felt some sort of debt to Doc as Doc has been largely credited as saving Wyatt’s life and probably did so on a couple of occasions.

This trip that I took, and indeed trips that I encourage you to take, are not just fun things to do on a weekend. This is research for a writer. Be wary of writing two-dimensional characters. It is exploring these real-life figures which will give you a better idea of the possibilities of humanity in either direction.

The day after my trip to Glenwood Springs I found a masseuse in Colorado Springs who could address my pulled muscle. As I was driving to the appointment, I began thinking about what my trip to Glenwood Springs really meant. What did it truly leave me with?

I suppose, for me, it left me with a deeper appreciation of what life must’ve been like on the frontier in the 1800s. I now see Doc Holliday in a different light. While it would be easy to paint him as this steely eyed gunfighter, saw another side of him. I saw once infamous gunfighter, wracked with tuberculosis, laying there in the bed dying.

It’s a different side of him to be sure, that we normally see. And that is how you write characters who are three-dimensional. Don’t see them as what is simply portrayed at first glance. Walk around in their shoes a bit, or in my case their boots, try to see the world through their eyes. Not just at their best, but also their worst.

As I stood there at the memorial erected to Doc Holliday in the cemetery, I said a quick prayer of thanks to Doc Holliday himself. I make no assertions as to his soul’s final disposition, but I thanked him for fueling the imagination of generations. Because it’s this fuel that is the combustible material fuels the writing engine.

Well that’s it for this impromptu podcast of All Things writing. Thank you very much for joining me today. Remember, if you liked this show, hit that like button so you will know when the next episode is posted. And if you have a spare couple bucks hanging out, any donation to the show is greatly appreciated as its donations which keep the lights on here at all things writing.

This is Bryan the Writer for All Things Writing, signing off.