and the Devil himself...

and the Devil himself...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Big Nose Kate, Doc Holiday's True Love

Wedding Photos, Doc Holiday and Big Nose Kate

Katie Elder, aka as Kate Fisher, Big Nose Kate, Nosey Kate, Mrs. John H. "Doc" Holliday, Kate Melvin, and Kate Cummings was born Mary Katharine Haroney in Hungary on November 7, 1850. She died in 1940, buried under the name Mary K. Cummings in Prescott Arizona.

She was born November 7, 1850 in Budapest, Hungary, the eldest daughter of a wealthy physician/aristocrat named Dr. Michael Haroney. Very well educated, she spoke several languages, including Hungarian, French, Spanish and English.

In 1862, Dr. Haroney left Hungary for Mexico to accept a position as personal surgeon to Emperor Maximilian of Mexico. When the government crumbled in 1865, Dr. Haroney took his family to Davenport, Iowa. When his wife died that March, the doctor in May of that same year, both of unknown causes. 14-year-old Kate and her younger siblings were placed in the home of their uncle, Gustav Susemihl, and in 1870, they were left in the care of an attorney, Otto Smith.

At 17, Kate stowed away on a steamboat to St. Louis, Missouri. The captain adopted her and sent her to a convent school in St. Louis. Kate claimed after that to have married a dentist named Silas Melvin and to have had a child with him, though no record survives of either. She said that both her husband and the baby died of fever.

By 1874, Kate had made her way to Dodge City, Kansas. She worked in a brothel run by Nellie Bessie Earp, James Earp's wife. Some historians speculate that she had a relationship with Wyatt at the time, but Kate denied it and, in fact denied knowing him, (impossible in a town that size!). The fact that she denied knowing him in a way supports that something had gone on at some point. 

Either way, by 1878 Kate had moved to Fort Griffin, Texas. There, through Wyatt, she met Doc Holliday. Doc once said that one of the reasons he had loved her was that she was his intellectual equal. She's said to have been as tough and stubborn as he was, with just as much of a temper.

By the time she met Doc, she was a hard drinking, gun slinging prostitute. The pair may or may not have been married at some point, (historians can't seem to agree on that). The deciding moment of their love affair seems to have been when she helped Doc escape from the law after he knifed and killed a man in a barroom brawl. She saved him from hanging by an angry mob. He must have made quite an impression on her.

The two registered in a rooming house in Dodge City Kansas the following year as Dr. and Mrs. John H. Holliday. They both gave up their lawlessness for a while, but he ultimately returned to gambling and she to prostitution. They're said to have had terrible fights, and finally, one was so bad that he left her in Dodge City and went to Colorado then to Las Vegas, New Mexico.

Doc returned to Dodge City after a gunfight went bad in Las Vegas but found both Kate and Wyatt Earp, who had also been there, were gone. He heard that Wyatt was headed to Tombstone so decided to follow him there. Kate was on her way to Tombstone too and the two ran into one another in Prescott, Arizona. They arrived in Tombstone together. However, there, Kate and Doc got into another argument. She reportedly became drunk and abusive, so Doc threw her out.

A few days before the incident, 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 to accuse Doc Holliday of being one of the holdup men. The sheriff who was investigating found Kate drunk and berating Doc for throwing her out. He gave her even more whiskey and talked her into signing an affidavit that Doc had been one of the men who killed the stagecoach driver.

Kate sobered up and the Earps rounded up witnesses who could verify Doc's whereabouts on the night in question. Realizing what she'd done, Kate repudiated her statement and the charges were thrown out. But Doc was over it. He gave her some money and put her on a stage out of town. The two reconcilled, however, and seem to have continued an on-again off-again relationship until Holiday's death.

Wyatt told a colorful tale of how Kate got Doc out of trouble in Fort Griffin: Doc was dealing cards to a difficult man named Ed Bailey, who was used to getting his way and not being questioned. Bailey was unimpressed with Doc’s reputation and was trying to irritate him by picking up the discards and looking at them. (Looking at the discards was strictly prohibited by the rules of Western Poker to the degree that doing it was understood to forfit the pot.)

Holliday warned Bailey twice, but Bailey ignored him and picked up the discards again. Doc raked in the pot without showing his hand, or saying a word. Bailey immediately brought out his pistol from under the table, but before the man could pull the trigger, Doc slashed the man across the stomach with a knife. Bailey lay sprawled across the table, blood and guts spilling across the floor.

Doc didn't run because he'd acted in self defense. He was arrested but imprisoned in a local hotel room because there was no jail in town. A vigilante group formed to seek revenge. Knowing that the mob would quickly overtake the local lawmen, Kate devised a plan to free Holliday. She set fire to an old shed, which started to burn rapidly, threatening to take the entire town.

While everyone was busy fighting the fire, Kate, a pistol in each hand, confronted the officer guarding Holliday, disarmed him, and she and Doc escaped. 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. Sources say that Doc was so happy about all of this that he gave up gambling for a while and returned to being a dentist. Kate gave up saloons and prostitution. But neither lasted long in 'normal' life.

They spent the next few years together going to Dodge City, Kansas, Deadwood, South Dakota, Las Vegas, New Mexico Territory, and Prescott, Arizona Territory. Their relationship was allegedly turbulent and sporadic.

Kate rented a boarding house to miners in Globe, Arizona Territory. In 1880, she may have run the Grand Hotel in Tombstone, (or it may have been run by another Tombstone prostitute named Rowdy Kate, who she's often confused with). Doc Holliday, had a great run playing faro and poker in Tucson and joined her in Tombstone later that year.

Kate went back to live in Globe, and in 1887, she traveled to Glenwood Springs, Colorado to see Holliday before he died. He also spent some time in a cabin owned by one of her brothers near Glenwood Springs, when he was ill but he ultimately went into town to die. Kate went with him. Since Holliday is known to have been destitute by this time and it's probable that Kate helped support in his final months.

After Holliday's death, Kate married a blacksmith named George Cummings in Colorado. They moved to Bisbee, Arizona, where she briefly ran a bakery. After returning to Willcox, Arizona, Cummings became an abusive alcoholic and they separated. She worked at the Cochise Hotel, where no one was aware of her real identity. Cummings committed suicide in Courtland, Arizona, in 1915 and Kate then lived with a homestead miner in Dos Cabezas, Arizona, until his death in 1930. She does not appear to have received very much in his will.

Using the name Cummings, Kate, increasingly frail, applied to the Arizona Pioneers Home, a state establishment in Prescott for elderly and destitute Arizona residents from frontier days. Though a lifelong friend of the Governor at the time, who helped her become one of the first residents of the home, it took six months to place her there because she had never become a U.S. citizen. She became an outspoken advocate of residents rights and helped others while there, writing many letters to the Arizona state legislature, and when she was not satisfied contacting the governor.

When she was 89 she wrote a letter to her niece revealing that she was with Doc in his room in Fly's Boarding house, next to the O.K. Corral, and that she actually witnessed the shootout.

"In Kate's story, on the day of the gunfight, a man entered Fly's boarding house with a bandaged head and a rifle. He was looking for Holliday, who was still in bed after a night of gambling during which he'd had one argument with Ike Clanton that had been stopped by onlookers. The man was turned away by Mrs. Fly. He was probably Ike Clanton, although how Clanton's head had come to be bandaged is unknown.

"Clanton was known to have headaches, and perhaps he had been treated for that even before Virgil Earp hit him over the head and removed his weapons a short time later. In any case, Clanton's actually entering Holliday's rooming-house with a rifle would have given Holliday and the Earps all the reason they needed to believe that a gunfight between Holliday and the cowboys was inevitable.

"While Clanton was being disarmed, arrested, and taken before a judge, Kate claims that Holliday put on his clothes and went up to see the Earps. They had gathered at the corner of 5th Street and Allen, where they could keep an eye on the courtroom to the South, the O.K. Corral a block west, and the various cowboys who were believed to be coming and going from out of town.

"Eventually, the Earps and Holliday walked down Fremont Street to confront the cowboys in the vacant lot West of Fly's (and Holliday's) boarding house. Kate would have been able to see the fight, just feet away, from her window overlooking the vacant lot. In Kate's version of the gunfight, Holliday had a problem with this "rifle" after the shooting started. He threw it to the ground and drew his pistol. This report fits with what is known of the events, although what Holliday actually threw down would have been his double-barrelled short shotgun (the gun he had emptied when killing Tom McLaury)."

After the fight, Kate said that Doc Holliday went back to his room, sat on the edge of the bed and wept from the shock of what had just happened. "That was awful," Kate claims he said. "Just awful." Kate stayed at the Arizona Pioneers' Home until her death on November 2, 1940, five days before her 90th birthday.

Kate said of life: "Part is funny and part is sad, but such is life any way you take it."


  1. Dear Sir or Ms I now have a matching photograph of Doc and Kate it is Robert Alexander Holliday and is taken by the same photographer in Atlanta Ga in 1876 Regards John C. Bullock.

    1. I would LOVE to see it! Would you please email me?