Editorial: Let’s rally to buy Doc Holliday’s derringer and support Frontier Museum
As Post Independent publisher and editor, I’m making a personal $250 donation and a $250 donation from the Post Independent to the Glenwood Springs Historical Society toward repaying its $84,000 loan for Doc Holliday’s derringer.
I challenge 49 more Glenwood Springs leaders — CEOs, elected officials, business owners, nonprofit directors and others — to match the donation. Fifty individual gifts of $250 would raise $12,500. Obviously if both you and your organization also make a gift, we raise $25,000.
You don’t even have to do a video of getting ice water dumped on your head.
Individuals can make tax-deductible donations large and small through the Historical Society’s Colorado Gives site, coloradogives.org/GlenwoodSpringsHistoricalSociety.
— Randy Essex
Doc Holliday was a dentist, a gambler and one of the Wild West’s most famous gunfighters. So it’s fitting that his common-law wife, madam Katherine “Big Nose Kate” Horony-Cummings, gave him a gun as a gift — a .41 caliber double barrel 1866 Remington derringer.
Though likely not his weapon of choice, he apparently treasured it: When he died at the Hotel Glenwood in 1887, he was destitute, but it remained among his few possessions. It was reputed to be in the room where he died, still in the original box Kate had given him.
You know the story: Holliday, just 36, was stricken with tuberculosis and came to Glenwood Springs a few months before his death in hopes that the already-famed hot springs and vapor caves would help his ailment. Buried as a pauper, he lies somewhere in Linwood Cemetery, above 12th Street. A tombstone honors him, though it’s not possible to know his exact gravesite.
Hotel bartender William G. Wells received the gun as partial payment for Holliday’s funeral, and it remained in Wells’ family until Utah gun dealer E. Dixon Larson purchased it in 1968. Larson wrote about the derringer and other Holliday guns in a 1972 article in Guns magazine.
The early ’80s saw another individual purchase the gun. Bill Kight, the Glenwood Springs Historical Society’s executive director, wrote last month that the gun appeared “out of nowhere in Deadwood.” The current owner bought it in July, and the documentation with it proves its authenticity.
Jason Brierley, a Canadian who is an Old West fanatic, wanted to take a picture of it at Holliday’s grave in Glenwood Springs. Then he decided it belonged back in town.
Last week, the Glenwood Historical Society secured its return to the town where Holliday died, paying $84,000 for what promises to be a centerpiece of the society’s museum, a draw to our community and perhaps a catalyst to the cramped museum getting a new home.
Here’s our editorial position on the acquisition: Cool!
Beyond that, we urge the community to get behind this purchase and help the Historical Society repay the loan that enabled it to buy the gun.
The Historical Society is a 401(c)3 nonprofit, so gifts are tax-deductible. It’s easy to contribute via Coloradogives.org, an online clearinghouse featuring more than 2,000 Colorado nonprofits that’s best known for Colorado Gives Day each December.
You can donate to the Historical Society at coloradogives.org/GlenwoodSpringsHistoricalSociety.
The derringer, Kight believes, and we agree, can be a game-changer for the museum, creating a draw for both visitors and other items linked to Holliday, either on loan or as future acquisitions.
If you spend much time in Glenwood’s core in the summer, you’ll likely encounter someone asking directions to the gravemarker, taking a picture of the sign above the Doc Holliday Tavern or wearing a Holliday T-shirt.
As Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association CEO Marianne Virgili told the Post Independent, “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.”
As if to underscore the point, the story of the gun acquisition is being read around the country. Published in the Post Independent on Friday, it has been distributed by the Associated Press and by 7 p.m. Sunday alone had drawn more than 15,000 online readers, with the most coming from, in order, Dallas, Atlanta (Holliday was a Georgia native), Houston, Chicago and Los Angeles.
While Glenwood is feeling some tension about efforts tilting too far to cater to tourists and some residents thinking they and their neighborhoods need attention, this is an important opportunity. Tourists spend money that helps the town’s sales-tax dependent budget and thus helps pay for residents’ needs — and towns simply must capitalize on their assets.
To achieve that, work is ahead.
Not only does the Historical Society need to repay the loan; it needs to develop a plan to display its new prize acquisition. In time, that’s going to mean a new home.
Now cramped into a house at 1001 Colorado Ave., the museum is among local organizations looking for new locations. It’s possible, if the Center for the Arts finds new space, perhaps at the old library, that the museum could locate at the current arts center. Those moves could happen in a couple of years.
It’s also possible that the museum could be part of development of the confluence area, though we are highly skeptical of an idea for a “water museum” there.
The derringer and the opportunity it creates to elevate the museum and boost Glenwood as a whole, adds a dimension and adds urgency to discussions about community groups’ facilities and forces the museum into the equation.
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