An expected trilogy of novels on famed Old West figure “Doc” Holliday owes as much to “Gone With the Wind” as it does to “Tombstone” or “Wyatt Earp.”
This weekend, author Victoria Wilcox will sign the trilogy’s first book, “Southern Son: The Saga of Doc Holliday, Book One: Inheritance,” at the Lowndes County Historical Society Museum, and discuss the connection between Valdosta’s famous son and one of the favorite stories of the South.
It was the connection between Holliday and “Gone With the Wind” author Margaret Mitchell that inspired her to spend 17 years writing her “Doc” saga.
As founding director of the Holliday-Dorsey-Fife House Museum in Fayetteville, Wilcox was researching the family of John Henry “Doc” Holliday, the 1800s dentist who suffered from tuberculosis and rose to notoriety for assisting Marshal Wyatt Earp and the Earp brothers with the famed Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
“We knew at the start of the project to restore the house and open it as a museum that it had family links to Doc Holliday, who had visited there as a child, and author Margaret Mitchell and her classic novel of the Civil War, ‘Gone With the Wind,’” Wilcox says. “But as I continued researching, the links got more interesting — and more complicated, as family history often does.”
Wilcox discovered a cousin who inspired “Gone With the Wind’s” Scarlett O’Hara, another cousin who served as the basis for Melanie, an aunt who had first-hand knowledge of the Battle of Jonesboro during Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign, and an uncle who had fought at Gettysburg.
“And there in the middle of it all was cousin John Henry, the Southern boy who grew up to be the Western legend, Doc Holliday — such an amazing amalgam of the Old South and the Wild West,” Wilcox says. “I started out telling the stories as part of my speaking assignments for the Holliday House project, but decided they would make a great book — something like ‘Gone With the Wind’ meets ‘Lonesome Dove,’ the story of how a Southern boy became a Western legend.”
For Wilcox, Doc Holliday was never Wyatt Earp’s sidekick — as a note, Earp doesn’t enter “Southern Son” until the second book.
“Holliday’s place as Wyatt’s ‘sidekick’ is more part of his legend than his reality,” she says. “He lived a lot of life before he met the Earps and more after they parted ways. ... Wyatt was often not around when Holliday needed him, and was certainly not by his bedside when he died, as shown in the cult classic movie ‘Tombstone.’ We don’t know if Wyatt ever visited him in his last few years. The true Wyatt Earp was a lot less heroic than his usual portrayal — and the real Doc Holliday was a lot more intriguing.
“As his cousin, Mattie, said of him, ‘He was a much different man than the one of Western legend.’ The fact that you can’t make a good Wyatt Earp movie without Doc Holliday shows how strong his character is, really the star of the show.”
Though writing fiction, Wilcox adhered to the facts of her research. In some cases, she would rewrite entire scenes upon discovering new archival information. Given this dedication to authenticity, the novels also include Holliday’s connection to Valdosta.
“There are several chapters set in and around Valdosta during and after the Civil War. Much of my background for those scenes comes from the unpublished memoirs of Thannie Smith Wisenbaker, entitled ‘First Impressions of Valdosta in 1863,’ a manuscript introduced to me by my dear friend, the late Susan McKey Thomas,” Wilcox says. “Susie and I corresponded and visited together for years while I was writing ‘Southern Son,’ and I relied on her own research and knowledge of Valdosta history to paint a realistic picture of the city in those early days.”
While the first book has been published, the second one, “Gone West,” won’t be published until May 2014, while the third book, “The Last Decision,” won’t be published until May 2015.
But there will be plenty of the first book available and Doc Holliday discussion Saturday at the Historical Society.
Author Victoria Wilcox will sign her book, “Southern Son: The Saga of Doc Holliday, Book One: Inheritance,” and discuss Holliday’s connection to “Gone With the Wind.”
When: 10:15 a.m., Saturday, May 18.
Where: Lowndes County Historical Society Museum, 305 W. Central Ave.
More information: Call the museum, (229) 244-4780; or visit valdostamuseum.com; or visit victoriawilcoxbooks.com