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Guns of Pop Culture: Doc Holliday & His Street Howitzer

In this Guns of Pop Culture, we revisit "Tombstone" but this time to look at Doc Holliday's weapon of choice.

As a kid, the movies of your youth are also often the movies your parents like, and my dad’s favorite movie is the film Tombstone

We watched Tombstone so many times that we wore the VHS copy out. My dad owns a single Blu-ray and it’s Tombstone. He loves the film, and it’s honestly a family classic. 

Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday (left) with Kurt Russel as Wyatt Earp (right)
Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday with Kurt Russel as Wyatt Earp

Even now, when I watch it, it’s nostalgic for memories of my youth punctuated by groans when my dad picked the movie for the evening. 

There is a lot to be said about the facts surrounding the lives of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. Over time the facts and truth about the men have been largely lost to legend, conflicting accounts, and even some purposeful suppression of the truth. 

That would require a book, so forgive me if we don’t dive into that today. 

Earp aims the Howitzer at the OK Corral
Earp aims the Howitzer at the OK Corral

Today, we’re talking about Tombstone and Val Kilmer’s awesome portrayal of Doc Holliday.

To be more specific, we are talking about Doc and his Street Howitzer. 

The Street Howitzer 

The focal point for any story about Wyatt Earp will always be the Shootout at the O.K. Corral. This single event defined Earp’s life and future.

In the film, it’s portrayed fairly accurately, or at least as accurately as it could be. 

Wyat, Virgil, and Morgan make their way through town to supposedly disarm a group of Cowboys. Joining them is Doc Holliday. Virgil initially carries a double-barreled shotgun, but upon instruction from Wyatt, hands the shotgun to Doc Holliday. 

Virgil Earp aims the Street Howitzer
Virgil Earp aims the Street Howitzer

“Give Doc the shotgun. They’ll be less apt to get nervy if he’s on the street howitzer.” Virgil trades Doc a shotgun for his cane, and the men approach. 

Virgil hands Doc a Belgium Meteor 10-gauge double-barrel shotgun. For the time, this was the premier close-quarters weapon. It’d put a man in the ground quite quickly. 

The film uses an authentic Meteor, and reportedly in real life, Virgil handed Doc a Meteor as well. It’s a fun little detail the film got right. Doc borrowed the Meteor but, in real life, apparently owned a side-by-side 10-gauge Colt. 

Doc Holliday
The real life Doc Holliday

From there, they encounter the cowboys, and we get a tense standoff. We zoom in on the men’s faces in a way that would make Sergio Leone proud. Then it all goes to hell. 

In real life, the shootout only lasted a few seconds, and the same goes for the film, although they found a clever way to artificially extend it.

We see the shootout from multiple angles, with certain actions being shown from different angles, thus repeated. 

This editing trick has made many an entry of IMBD’s goofs entry for Tombstone.

You see, it makes it seem like Doc fires three rounds from his shotgun when in reality, he only fires two, but we see him fire three due to the repeating actions for different shots. 

Doc’s opponent takes cover behind a horse, and he fires the weapon in the air to scare the horse. When the horse kicks and bucks, his target’s exposed, and he places a load of buckshot in the bad guy’s torso and calls it a day for his time with the shotgun. 

The Eclipse Meteor 

Earp aims the Howitzer at Johnny Ringo under the table
Earp aims the Howitzer at Johnny Ringo under the table

The Belgium Meteor shotguns are an interesting bunch. They were imported and often considered a cheaper alternative to American and English doubles. These Meteor shotguns were very common in 10-gauge with their ‘rabbit’ ear hammers.

Their barrel lengths were typically a long 30 inches, and Doc’s has been cut down to a coach gun length. These guns boasted Damascus barrels, and the soft Damascus was fairly easy to cut, especially in a time before power tools were common. 

Whoever cut the gun didn’t even attach a bead. These old guns fired a mighty large load of buckshot, and their spread was much more rapid than what we are used to with modern shells.

Earp shoots the Howitzer at the OK Corral
Earp shoots the Howitzer at the OK Corral

In real life, Doc carried the shotgun and hid it under his long overcoat to not scare people. In the film and real life, Doc shoots one man with the shotgun.

In the film, Doc hardly aims and is moving when he shoots but still scores a hit. He and Wyatt later shoot another man together after Doc discards the shotgun for his revolver.  

Holliday with his SAA revolver at the OK Corral
Holliday with his SAA revolver at the OK Corral

The Damascus barrels were soft metal, much easier to cut down than harder steels, especially when stuck with hand tools. 

The Meteor 10-gauge shotgun would have been the premier weapon to take to a street fight. It’s powerful, brutal, and allowed the shooter to fire two rapid rounds of ten gauge in a flash. As a shoulder-mounted gun, it’s easy to control and accurate. 

Morgan Earp takes his own brief turn with the Street Howitzer
Morgan Earp takes his own brief turn with the Street Howitzer

I’m shotgun biased, but if I had to go to a street fight in the old west, a side-by-side shotgun would be my choice of weapon too. 

What do you think of Holliday’s weapon of choice? Sound off in the comments below. If you want to see my rundown of another gun from Tombstone, check out my look at Wyatt Earp’s Buntline Special.

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4 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Kurtis Hughes

    You guys KICK @$$ !! One of my fav movies as well. Keep up the good work. And don't let the
    "Typo whiners" get you down.....

    October 27, 2022 5:12 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Fun double gun

    October 27, 2022 1:52 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Mr. Mark

    One of my favorite movies as well. I have a used VCR copy, an unwrapped (still in the cellophane) VCR tape, and the DVD. It's also in my DirectTV library!
    I.C is right...picture captions show Holiday (Kilmer) but say Earp.

    October 27, 2022 9:46 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    I.C. Mistakes

    y'all need an editor to catch the typos and grammar snafu's

    October 26, 2022 10:45 am
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