The Posse: Doc Holliday, or a holiday for the doc?

BMJ  14 February 1998      Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:560

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I wish I’d been a doc in the Old West; that was the life. A nice little house with a white picket fence, the respect of the hardworking but hospitable townsfolk, picnics with the buckboard, barn dances, hoedowns, and each fall John Wayne would come riding through and we’d go drinking in the saloons, dancing in the streets, and necking in the parlours.

And occasionally the highlight: the posse, the ultimate male bonding experience. Just picture it; stuck in a boring surgery when the sheriff runs in: “Doc, the bank’s been robbed.”

I’d git over there as fast as a horny toad on a hot griddle and see my buddies already saddled, in cracking form at the prospect of hanging out with the lads for a few days. There’d be a brief interlude of solemnity while the sheriff would swear us in as deputies, we’d get to wear a badge, someone would inevitably shout “Yippi-eye-ay,” and away we’d gallop in the mandatory cloud of dust—if it was wet and muddy each man would have to bring his own dust—our body hair sprouting rampant even as we rode, oblivious to the lamentations of our womenfolk.

Being a doc, I couldn’t be risked in the front line, so if any shooting started I’d be safe with the chuckwagon with cookie, chewing tobaccy and waiting for casualties. These would usually involve shotgun pellets in the buttocks, which I’d remove in public under the anaesthetic cover of a slug of whiskey, accompanied by hoots of derision from the old-timers and admonitions never to stick your butt up in the air during a gunfight in case there’s someone on the other side with a warped sense of humour.

And camping under the stars, spinning yarns, eating beans, and singing songs by firelight, like “The girl I left behind me,” our eyes moist, our lower lips quivering, although inside we’d be thinking “Hey; who needs her? Git along, little doggie!”

And sometimes in the night, all quiet except for those pesky coyotes, I’d be woken in a clandestine manner by the outlaw’s trusty native American sidekick, Tonto Murphy (his mother was Irish).

“John-boy’s been hurt bad,” he’d whisper, and my Hippocratic Oath would override my badge. Lancing his haemorrhoid with a red hot poker, and dressing it with a hankie soaked in sweat, I’d find that he was a decent lad who’d fallen into bad company to support his sick Momma. I’d patch him up and promise to keep an eye on mom. “Better mend your ways, boy, or next time I’ll tan your hide,” I’d say in the appropriate gruff but kindly manner.

“Bless you doc,” he’d give the traditional reply, “but now I have to smuggle some crack cocaine over the Rio Grande, so sod off.” Things sure have changed here on Walton’s Mountain.

And as we’d ride back into town, the folks would flock to welcome us.

“There goes ol’ Doc Farrell,” they’d say. “He once shot a man in a fair fight, but it was over a woman and he came out west to forget; funny he turned out to be gay.”



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