Doc Holliday and the Courthouse Incident
by Allen Folsom
Young John Henry "Doc" Holiday and his family moved to Valdosta around 1864. Henry Holiday, John's father, began fighting in the Civil War for the Confederacy soon after the move to Valdosta had taken place. After the war, Henry Holiday came home to a whole new Valdosta and Lowndes County. Many homes had been burned, farmland was demolished, and families were split apart, if they were still living. However, Holiday had better luck than most men who came back. His family was doing fine and his house was still standing (Pendleton 191). As for the farm he purchased for $34,650 in Confederate money, it was now only worth $1,700 (Tanner 53).
The Union put the Freedman's Bureau in charge of Lowndes County at the courthouse, and uneducated black people from the north along with the help of some Yankees were running the town of Valdosta. The garrison was set up a few blocks from Holiday's house. Many men, after being fed up with the way they believed the town was being governed, came up with plans to blow up the courthouse. A group of young men marched down to the courthouse square. Young Doc Holiday marched along with this group in much the same way he did several years later at the O. K. Corral with the Earp brothers. Doc Holiday later told his friend, W. A. Griffith, that he was also involved in the decision to blow up the courthouse (Pendleton 191-192). Mrs. Thannie Wisenbaker, who lived in Valdosta at the time, recorded what she remembered in her diary, "First Impressions of Valdosta":
"The Freedman's Bureau was an institution established in the courthouse and became the headquarters for carpetbaggers. The Southern men were tried here and all kinds of lawlessness was heaped upon peaceful people."
"About this time some political speaker was scheduled to speak at the courthouse. Some of the young men who felt they had stood about all they could in the way of indignation made plans for the destruction of the courthouse, carpetbaggers, and all. Many of the best local citizens attended the meeting, however, wishing to learn as much as possible at the plans for the "great moguls," as those in power were called. Fortunately for all, their presence caused a change in plans and the kegs of powder stored beneath the courthouse were removed before any damage was done. Several of the young men who were at the head of this movement left town but returned later on. No punishment was ever meted out, and all have since passed away. (qtd. in Pendleton 191)"
If it were not for the "best local citizens" who attended the meeting, Lowndes County might not have the courthouse it does today. However, the county might have lost a few of its more liberal citizens along with the courthouse because the Union was anything but lenient when punishment was due to southerners for crimes such as blowing up a courthouse full of Yankees. Many of the young men, who were forced to flee because of their attempt to rid the town of the northerners, returned after several months. However, Doc Holiday decided to stay away from Valdosta for a little longer than a few months. Shortly after the courthouse incident, he left town to go to dentistry school in Pennsylvania. It was here that he earned his title "Doc." He began practicing in Valdosta in October in 1871 (Pendleton 193).
Pendleton, Jr., Albert S., and Susan McKey Thomas. "Doc Holiday's Georgia Background." The Journal of Arizona History. Arizona Historical Society, 1973.
Tanner, Karen Holiday. Doc Holiday: A Family Portrait. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1998.