Brenau Alum Heads ‘O.K. Corral’ Group at March 3 ‘Doc Holliday’ Program
When Thad “T.B.” Burton returns to his alma mater in full regalia on Tuesday, March 3, instead of the academic cap and gown of a Brenau University graduate he will wear a Stetson and a sixgun. Those are part of his normal attire in his portrayal of the legendary 1880s era Old West gunfighter-gambler Doc Holliday.
Burton, a U.S. Marines Vietnam veteran, earned a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice at Brenau on the G.I. Bill in 1979. He will lend an air of authenticity to the special program about the life and legend of the Georgia-born dentist who went West to notoriety as Wyatt Earp’s wingman in the infamous 1881 “Gunfight at O.K. Corral” in Tombstone, Arizona.
The program in Pearce Auditorium, which was built during Holliday-Earp era, features Georgia Author of the Year Victoria Wilcox, who has produced a trilogy of novels based on the life of Holliday titled Southern Son: The Saga of Doc Holliday.
Starting at 7 p.m. with pre-show activities at 6:30 p.m., the program is free and open to the public. Those who attend are encouraged to wear their own interpretation of Wild West apparel.
Before and after the program, Burton and two associates, decked out in full attire as O.K. Corral adversaries, the lawman Wyatt Earp and the outlaw Ike Clanton, will be on hand to answer questions and pose for souvenir photos with members of the audience. There will also be opportunities for students and other audience members to participate in a “selfie” contest, posting photos they take of themselves at the event with specific event hashtag. Those attending can dress in costume if they chose to do so, but the university’s theater department will also have some props and accessories on hand.
Burton, who has been performing as Doc Holliday for close to two decades, is part of the organization Doc Holliday’s Shadows of the Past, a group of dedicated historians/re-enactors that specializes in recreations of famous events in western history, particularly the gunfights of the 1870-80s.
For the Brenau event, Ronnie Moore, a retired civil service employee who is also a U.S. Marines Vietnam veteran, will appear as Wyatt Earp. Allen Clark, who works for Kimberly-Clark Corporation and a regular actor and director in local theater productions, appears as Ike Clanton.
Although there will be no gunplay at Brenau, that was not the case when those two got together in October 1881. Earp and his two brothers, lawmen in Tombstone, deputized Holliday for a face-off, with Clanton’s clan on the street outside of the O.K. Corral livery. The ensuing gun battle lasted only 30 seconds. However, those were, indeed, shots that have been heard around the world for the past 134 years in books, movies, TV dramas (there’s even a bizarre episode of Star Trek in which members of the Starship Enterprise face the Earps and Holliday at O.K. Corral), books and other media.
Veteran Atlanta film critic Eleanor Ringel will appear with Wilcox at the Brenau program, titled Doc Holliday: Man, Myth & Movies.
Burton, a retired construction maintenance manager, since 2009 has written Western novels with co-writer Cindy Smith: the Time in Contention series, a trilogy of Western love stories set in Arizona in 1880-81. Smith had done some re-enacting with the Shadows from the Past group, most notably as the infamous Dodge City and Sweetwater madam Elizabeth “Libby” Thompson, also known “Squirrel Tooth Alice.”
Burton says he fell into the Holliday re-enactment business when he was involved in hobby shooting organizations that employed only the types of firearms used in the 19th century – the kind of single-action pistols (you have to cock the hammer before you pull the trigger) that Holliday and Earp really used. A friend from one of those groups asked Burton to appear with him at a Doc Holliday festival in Griffin, Georgia, where Holliday was born.
Shadows of the Past emerged from that and, among other things, has led to re-enactments of the Gunfight at O.K. Corral. One of those was for the 2003 Turner South Network’s Liars and Legends television program, which won a Southeastern regional Emmy award. The group has also shot it out every October since 2003 at the Booth Museum of Western Art program in Cartersville, Georgia.
Burton remains active in shooting organizations, and in 2005 won the Classical Fast Draw Society World Championship in the Cowboy Action Class.
“My wife says I forgot to grow up,” he told one interviewer, explaining why he followed the cowboy path.
He was initially supposed to portray Wyatt Earp in that first Griffin re-enactment, but before rehearsals began, his friend asked if he would do Holliday instead.
“I thought Doc was a very interesting character,” he said, “and I liked the fact that he was from Georgia.”