Frontier Diary: A shot at getting one of Doc Holliday’s guns |

Frontier Diary: A shot at getting one of Doc Holliday’s guns

Bill Kight
Glenwood Springs Historical Society
The inscription on the back strap of the derringer reads “From Kate to Doc.”
Provided |

They were lovers. History records this as fact. I trust history … real, down-to-earth, factual history.

Some would say they were star-crossed. Regardless, their fates intertwined. We are all fated to only a certain amount of time upon this earth. Then we become part of history, too.

The object of a gift given to her lover was a common thing among other women of the night … a .41 caliber double barrel 1866 Remington derringer. It is a handgun small enough to fit in your palm or conceal on one’s body.

No one was going to be there to protect such women when they needed it most.

At close range it was more than adequate, it was deadly.

Her lover John Henry had nothing to lose, and a gambling man needs company. They must have been quite a pair.

He was slowly dying, and if you crossed him you might be dying, too … but faster.

When he drew his last breath there were reportedly these possessions in his room: a shotgun, an 1851 converted Colt Navy .36 caliber revolver and the Remington derringer, still in the original box Kate had given him.

The inscription on the back strap of the derringer reads “To Doc from Kate.”

Apparently there wasn’t room for “with love.” Perhaps there didn’t need to be. It was understood.

Somewhat miraculously the Colt and Remington stayed in Glenwood Springs until 1963, when the derringer was sold in Utah by William S. Wells, who at the time resided in Colorado Springs, though he was originally from Glenwood Springs.

Wells testifies in a notarized affidavit that his father William G. knew John Henry well because he bartended at the Hotel Glenwood when he wasn’t mining or railroading.

The two guns came into his family as partial payment for the funeral of the gambling man called “Doc.” We are told they were close friends.

Wells says he and his friends played with the gun when young. As kids are prone to do, they broke the derringer’s hinge, but his uncle repaired it.

For some reason Wells felt a strong need to break up the family heirloom, so in 1968 he sold it in Utah. The museum and historical society wasn’t aware of the transaction at the time.

This gun that supposedly belonged to Doc Holliday then appears out of nowhere in Deadwood. According to auction items from the Internet, it sold in excess of $25,000 in July 2016.

The man who purchased the gun in Deadwood came by the Frontier Museum in August. I turned the gun over in my hands and tried not to look too interested. “No way,” I thought to myself and handed it back.

Now the gentleman is giving our community an opportunity to purchase the gun.

If it’s genuine, we have a chance to bring John “Doc” Henry Holliday’s derringer back to Glenwood Springs where it belongs.

Here’s how you can help. Take our online survey at so we can hear how much you care about our history. This will also help us plan for our organization’s future.

Thanks to historical society members Steve and April Carver, the survey results will be displayed on Feb. 22 in the third story loft of the Hotel Denver. There are two different times to better fit people’s schedules: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5-7 p.m. Food will be served both times.

We’ll talk more about this exciting opportunity then. In the meantime we at the museum are in the process of verifying the provenance.

Your input is important to us. We have a chance to make our own history.

Don’t you think “It’s about time?”

Bill Kight is the executive director of the Glenwood Springs Historical Society and Frontier Museum and for this issue is writing for Willa Kane. “Frontier Diary” appears the first Tuesday of every month and is provided to the Post Independent by the museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Fall, winter and spring hours are 1-4 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448.

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