An evening with Victoria Wilcox
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Pearce Auditorium, Brenau University, 200 Boulevard, Gainesville
How much: Free
More info: 770-534-6160 or www.brenau.edu/doc-holliday
While many people expect a cross-country move to change the course of their lives, literally and figuratively, Victoria Wilcox never thought it would lead her to change one man’s history.
After a series of events and years of research, Wilcox penned a historical fiction of John Henry “Doc” Holliday, titled “Southern Son: The Saga of Doc Holliday.”
Divided into a trilogy of novels, Wilcox discovered the real story about the Georgia-born Old West gunfighter and gambler. She traced his travels through court documents, deeds and wills as well as memoirs of others who knew.
Now, her research and novels are the focus of a special program at 7 p.m. today in Pearce Auditorium on the Brenau University campus at 200 Boulevard in Gainesville. Accompanying Wilcox will be 1979 Brenau University alum Thad “T.B.” Burton and two associates, who will be decked out in full attire as O.K. Corral adversaries, the lawman Wyatt Earp and the outlaw Ike Clanton. The trio will be on hand to answer questions and pose for souvenir photos with audience members, who are encouraged to don western apparel as well.
A writer by trade, Wilcox didn’t develop her interest in Holliday until she and her husband moved to Atlanta while he attended dental school at Emory University.
“I came here hoping to see remnants of ‘Gone With the Wind’ as people do when they come to Georgia,” she said in a recent phone interview.
The California native became immersed in the Southern culture and was fascinated with the history surrounding the novel “Gone With the Wind,” the author Margaret Mitchell and Georgia’s rich history and the stories inspired from true events.
Then she got her first taste of “Doc” Holliday after moving to Fayette County.
“I saw this beautiful old distressed home that looked just like something out of ‘Gone With the Wind’ to me,” Wilcox said. “I didn’t know anything about it at all. But as soon as I saw it, I knew I would have something to do with it. And I’ve never felt that way about any place or person hardly, but it was very strong.”
Then a suggestion from her father during a visit motivated Wilcox to hunt down the history about the white-columned house occupying her mind.
“I finally contacted the local historical society,” Wilcox said. “They told me two things that just stunned me about that house. (I was told) it was authentically old, built 1855 before the Civil War. So it really was history.
“And it was owned by the uncle of Doc Holliday, who played there as a child.”
Shortly after learning the house’s history, Wilcox discovered the house was scheduled for demolition to make room for a parking lot.
Wilcox then formed a community action group to save the aging residence. As a focal point to lead the battle, she used a picture of “Doc” Holliday visiting his uncle in the small Georgia town before heading west to ride with Earp and the other guys from the O.K. Corral.
“In doing research for saving the house, I was put in touch with lots of family members, Holliday family members, and they had stories to tell that I had never heard about his life,” Wilcox said.
One such story involved the girl who became the model for Melanie in “Gone With the Wind.”
“They say she was his sweetheart when they were young,” Wilcox said. “She said of him later that he was a much different man than the one of western legend. I wanted to know who that man was.”
Therefore, Wilcox decided to write down all of her discoveries about Holliday.
“I was interested in writing about how a Southern boy raised during (the) Civil War, raised with a Confederate officer father, how that Southern boy ended up being a western legend,” she said, noting she was torn between which kind of book she wanted to pen. “I had to decide whether I was going to write a straight biography, which historians would read, or was I going to write this as a story, as historical fiction, filled with the facts but with a wonderful story tying it all together so that everyone would want to read it?”
She chose the latter, and for 18 years Wilcox traveled around the country to trace Holliday’s life. When she finished, the story had to be broken into three separate novels: “Inheritance,” “Gone West” and “The Last Decision” to be released in May.
Along with the trilogy, Wilcox and Jim Dunham, historian and director of special projects for the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, will discuss the history of “Doc” Holliday in films and television. Dunham was credited as a technical consultant to the screenwriter for the movie “Tombstone.”
“(Brenau is) doing this whole multidimensional educational experience with the Doc Holliday story, which I think is brilliant,” Wilcox said.