Big Nose Kate - Doc
Though she was born to a
would grow up to be just one of the many "soiled doves" of the
West, as well
claiming a small slice of fame as
and off girlfriend.
Born Mary Katherine Haroney in Hungary on November 7, 1850, Kate was the daughter of a
physician who had been appointed as the personal surgeon of Mexico’s
Emperor, Maximillian, in 1862. With the appointment, the family left
Hungary for Mexico, but in 1865 Maximillian’s rule crumbled. The Haroney
family fled the country and settled in Davenport, Iowa.
On March 26, 1865, when
just fourteen years old, her mother died and just two months later, her
father passed away too.
the rest of the children were placed in foster homes.
Kate was in the care of a man by the name of Otto Smith, but the
young woman cut her stay with Smith short, stowing away on a steam
ship headed for
Though the ship’s captain, a man named Fisher, found her, he did not
put her off the ship, but rather, allowed her to stay on to St. Louis. There, she assumed Fisher’s name and enrolled in a convent school.
married a dentist by the name of Silas Melvin and the couple had a
child. However, both husband and child passed away in the same year.
was said to have been in Wichita,
and later she was working in a sporting house for Nellie Bessie
the wife of James
Kate always stated that she did not meet
until she was in
she and Wyatt Earp were in Wichita at the same time, and it has been
speculated that she had a relationship with
at that time.
In 1875 she was
going by the name of
Elder and was listed as being in
working as a dance hall girl. A couple of years later she moved
Fort Griffin, Texas,
Doc Holliday at John Shanssey’s Saloon,
where Holliday was dealing cards. By this time,
had earned the nickname "Big
Nose” Kate. While the dance hall girl and prostitute was
attractive, she did have a prominent nose. Kate
was tough, stubborn, and with a temper that matched Doc’s. She said she worked the business because she liked it, belonging to no
man, nor to any house!
would spend the next several years with Holliday,
Their relationship was often rocky, with
still plying her trade as a prostitute from time to time.
While still in
Fort Griffin in 1877,
was dealing cards to a local bully by the name of Ed Bailey, who was
accustomed to having his own way without question. Bailey was
unimpressed with Doc’s
reputation and in an attempt to irritate him; he kept picking up the
discards and looking at them. Looking at the discards was
strictly prohibited by the rules of
a violation that could force the player to forfeit the pot.
warned Bailey twice, the bully ignored him and picked up the discards
again. This time, Doc
raked in the pot without showing his hand, nor saying a word. Bailey
immediately brought out his pistol from under the table, but before the
man could pull the trigger, Doc’s
lethal knife slashed the man across the stomach. With blood spilled
everywhere, Bailey lay sprawled across the table.
Knowing that his actions
were in self-defense, Doc did
not run. However, he was still arrested and incarcerated in a local
hotel room, there being no jail in the town. Bully or no, a
vigilante group formed to seek revenge on Holliday. Knowing that the mob would quickly overtake the local lawmen, "Big Nose”
devised a plan to free Holliday
from his confines. Setting a fire to an old shed, it began to burn
rapidly, threatening to engulf the entire town. As everyone else was
involved in fighting the fire, she confronted the officer guarding
with a pistol in each hand, disarmed the guard and the two escaped.
Front Street, 1874,
courtesy Ford County
Hiding out during the
night, they headed to Dodge City, Kansas on
stolen horses the next morning, registering at Deacon Cox’s Boarding House
as Dr. and Mrs. J.H. Holliday. Doc so
appreciated what Kate did
for him, that he was determined to make her happy and gave up gambling,
hanging up his doctor’s shingle once again. In return, Kate
promised to give up the life of prostitution and stop hanging about the
Consequently, the two
split up, as they were destined to do many times during the remainder of
life. Doc headed to Colorado
in Dodge City.
wound up in Las Vegas,
where he got into an argument with a local gunman named Mike Gordan. The argument inevitably lead to a gunfight in the street and Gordan
was left dead. When a lynch mob formed Holliday
hightailed it back to Dodge City
to find that not only was Wyatt Earp
gone, but Kate
was no where to be seen.
had headed to
to a new silver strike, Doc
headed in the same direction. Unknown to Doc,
Kate was also in route to the new boom town of Tombstone
and the two ran into each other in Prescott, Arizona. Doc
was winning heavily at the tables and pocketing $40,000 in winnings,
was happy to keep him company. In the early summer of 1880, the
two reached Tombstone.
Kate was running a boarding house in Globe, Arizona, some 175
miles away from Tombstone. However, she was known to often stay with
when she visited.
Many times when Kate visited Holliday,
they were known to have frequent arguments, most of which were not
serious until Kate
got drunk. Often, her drunkenness would escalate to abuse, and
in early 1881, Doc
had finally had enough and threw her out.
On March 15, 1881, four masked men attempted a hold up on a stagecoach
near Contention and in the attempt, killed the stage driver and a
passenger. The Cowboy faction of Tombstone
immediately seized upon the opportunity and accused Doc Holliday of being one of the holdup men. The sheriff who was
investigating the hold-up, found Kate
on one of her drunken binges, still berating Doc
for throwing her out. Feeding her yet even more whiskey, the
sheriff persuaded her to sign an affidavit that Doc
had been one of the masked highwaymen and had killed the stage driver.
While Kate was sobering up, the
were rounding up witnesses who could verify Doc's
whereabouts on the night in question. When Kate
realized what she had done, she repudiated her statement and the
charges were thrown out. But, for Doc,
this was the "last straw” for Kate,
and giving her some money, he put her on a stage out of town.
From 1882 until the
time of his death in 1887, Doc Holliday was in Colorado. During this time,
was apparently also in the state, at least part of the time, as her
brother owned property in Glenwood Springs. According to some
reports, Doc may have actually spent time with Kate
and her family as her brother's home was very near to the Sulfur
Springs that Holliday
visited to try to help his tuberculosis.
Kate stayed in Colorado
until after Holliday's
In 1888, Kate
married a blacksmith by the name of George M. Cummings, and the two moved
to Bisbee, Arizona, only a few miles from Tombstone.
They also lived for a time in Pearce, Arizona. In
left her husband and moved to the tiny railroad town of Cochise, Arizona at
the junction of the Arizona
Eastern and Southern Pacific railroads. John J. Rath hired Kate to
work in his Cochise Hotel in 1899, although the customers never knew her
true identity. She left the Cochise Hotel in the summer of 1900, and moved
in with a man named Howard, from the mining town of Dos Cabezas.
She lived with Howard
until his death in 1930, inheriting his property. In 1931, she wrote to
the Governor of Arizona, George W.P. Hunt, requesting admission to the "Arizona
Pioneers Home." Being foreign born, she was not eligible for
admission, but claiming she had been born in Davenport, Iowa, she was
accepted to the home. Kate
stayed at the Pioneers Home until her death on November 2, 1940. She
was just five days shy of her 90th birthday.
of America, updated June, 2017.
John Henry "Doc" Holliday
Tombstone - The Town Too Tough to Die
Tombstone Photo Gallery
Wyatt Earp -
Frontier Lawman of the American West
Arizona in 1882.
image available for photographic prints
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