Doc Holliday’s derringer has gone home thanks to the efforts of a Colorado town’s historical society and a graceful seller. Glenwood Springs hopes that the return of Holliday’s hold-out pistol will help cement the town’s Old West history for all to see.
The derringer was a gift to Holliday from his wife, Mary Katherine “Big Nose Kate” Horony-Cummings, a Hungarian-born prostitute. The engraved frame reads “To Doc from Kate.” It is one of the few personal objects believed to be with him on his deathbed in Glenwood Springs.
Legendary gunslinger, gambling dentist Doc Holliday died on Nov. 8, 1887, aged 36, of tuberculosis. He was visiting Glenwood’s hot springs to tend to his illness. Holliday died under the watchful eyes of nurses, not with his boots on as he always swore. Looking at his bare feet, his dying words were, “This is funny.”
The Glenwood Springs Historical Society, financed by the town’s Society Board, purchased the derringer from Jason Brierley of Vancouver, British Columbia. The pistol will be put on display as soon as they can install the right arrangements.
“It was so important to let the public know all along what we’re doing because this is for Glenwood Springs,” said society Executive Director Bill Kight, reports the Glenwood-Rifle PostIndependent. “I really appreciate the fact that the city of Glenwood Springs has gotten behind us on this.”
“Doc Holiday is a very important character in the history of Glenwood Springs, and we are extremely excited that this piece of history will return to the city where he spent his final days,” said Glenwood Springs Mayor Mike Gamba. “Along with visiting the cemetery where he is buried, we have no doubt that this will be yet one more attraction that will draw visitors to Glenwood Springs.”
“This is great news,” said Marianne Virgili, president and CEO of the Glenwood Chamber Resort Association. “Our visitors are certainly intrigued by history, and Doc Holliday is our most well-known frontier resident, so this precious piece of memorabilia will go a long way in positioning us as a historic Western town.”
Historian R.W. “Doc” Boyle confirmed the authenticity of the derringer. “The gun is real. There’s no doubt the gun is real.” Included with the derringer are an original affidavit of sale and other papers documenting provenance.
The historical society first learned about the derringer when Brierley paid a visit to Glenwood Springs last August. “This gun’s a magnet for Doc Holliday’s stuff,” said Brierley, who wanted to help the springs stand out.
Brierley bought the gun a month earlier. It was originally traded away to pay for Holliday’s funeral to William G. Wells. It stayed in the Wells family until 1968 when they sold it to Utah gun dealer E. Dixon Larson. He wrote about it in 1972 for Guns Magazine and sold it to the last owner before Brierly picked it up.
Brierley agreed to sell the derringer to the historical society for $84,000. Other Doc Holliday memorabilia has sold for a lot more in recent years, and the gun could have sold at auction for far more. Brierley said that the gun belongs in Glenwood Springs.
Just the same the purchase is a significant expense for the once-frontier town. The Glenwood Springs Historical Society is asking for help repaying their debt through ColoradoGives.