Big Nose Kate

She was born November 7, 1850 in Budapest, Hungary, the eldest daughter of a wealthy physician named Dr. Michael Haroney. She received an education befitting an aristocrat's daughter. She was literate, and 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 Maximilian of Mexico. When Maximilian's government crumbled in 1865, Dr. Haroney took his family to Davenport, Iowa. Mama Horoney died in March, followed by Dr. Horoney in May of that same year, both of unknown causes, and 14-year-old Kate was placed in the foster home of Otto Smith.

At the age of 17, Kate left Smith and stowed away on a steamboat to St. Louis, Missouri. Upon discovering his stowaway, Captain Fisher took pity on her, and placed her under his protection. She took the Captain's name and, under the name of Kate Fisher, entered a convent school in St. Louis, graduating in 1869.

By 1874, Kate had made her way to Dodge City, Kansas, calling herself Kate Elder. She worked as a prostitute in a brothel run by Nellie Bessie Earp, wife of James Earp, an older brother of the better-known Virgil, Wyatt, and Morgan, the Earp brothers. Some historians speculate that she had a relationship with Wyatt, but Kate wrote that she did not meet him until several years later.

By 1878 Kate had moved to Fort Griffin, Texas. There she met and hung out with Wyatt Earp and it was through him that she began her long-time involvement with Doc Holliday. Considering the probable low IQs of cowboys and outlaws in those days, it's possible that the educated Doc reminded Kate of her father.

Wyatt Earp told a colorful tale of how Kate got Doc out of trouble in Fort Griffin: Doc 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 Western Poker, a violation that could force the player to forfeit the pot. Though Holliday warned Bailey twice, Bailey ignored him and picked up the discards again. This time, 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's lethal knife slashed the man across the stomach. Bailey lay sprawled across the table, his blood and guts spilling over the floor.

Knowing that his actions were in self-defense, Doc did not run. However, he was still arrested and imprisoned in a local hotel room, there being no jail in the town. Bully or no, a vigilante group formed to seek revenge. Knowing that the mob would quickly overtake the local lawmen, "Big Nose" Kate devised a plan to free Holliday from his confines. Setting 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, Kate, a pistol in each hand, confronted the officer guarding Holliday, disarmed him, and she and Doc escaped. (Much later, in 1940, Kate herself explicitly denied that it had ever happened. Then again, by that time, she was nearly 90 years old and her memory might have been somewhat faulty.)

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 dentist's shingle once again. In return, Kate promised to give up the life of prostitution and stop hanging around the saloons. Neither resolution lasted.

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

It is known that Kate rented a boarding house in Globe Arizona Territory. In 1880, she also stayed for a time in the booming silver town of Tombstone, Arizona Territory, where she prospered by running a bordello. An inveterate gambler, Doc Holliday, had a great run playing faro and poker in Tucson, joining Kate in Tombstone later that year. The two renewed their relationship, and things returned to the erratic romance they had previously enjoyed.

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

After Holliday's death, Kate married George Cummings, a blacksmith by trade, in Colorado. The marriage lasted about a year and the couple split up. Kate found work in Cochise, Arizona for awhile, before taking a job with John Howard as a housekeeper in Dos Cabezas, Arizona, where she worked until his death in 1930.

Second, Kate’s portrayal also provides some insight into the chronology of their relationship. Her knowledge of Doc and the accuracy of certain details, such as placing Doc’s practice in St. Louis on Fourth Street near the Comique Theatre and the Planters Hotel, make it almost certain that Kate and Doc first met in 1872 when she was working at the Comique as “Kate Fisher” and he was practicing temporarily at the office of his friend and classmate, A. Jameson Fuches, a few blocks away. Her knowledge of Doc’s inheritance, although confused in detail, is sufficient to demonstrate first hand information she could have acquired nowhere other than from Doc.

She does appear to have linked up with Doc by 1877, probably at Fort Griffin, and to have enjoyed a reasonably constant relationship from that point through Doc’s peregrinations in Texas, his eventual move to Dodge City, Kansas, and his subsequent sojourn in New Mexico. Wyatt Earp’s arrival in Las Vegas, New Mexico, in the fall of 1879, appears to have ended the halcyon days of the relationship. In Arizona, Kate and Doc parted company in Gillette (she says over Doc’s decision to go to Tombstone) with Kate going to Globe and Doc first to Prescott, back to Las Vegas, possibly to Albuquerque, again to Prescott, and eventually to Tombstone.

Doc visited her in Globe in October, returning with her to Tucson and eventually to Tombstone four days before the fateful confrontation on Fremont Street between the Earps and the Clanton-McLaury bunch. She later wrote touchingly of Doc’s determination that day and his emotional reaction to what happened, but when Doc was remanded to jail with Wyatt because of the shootings, she left Tombstone on money provided by John Ringo, according to her own account, which also rather pointedly notes that she needed help because “Doc had lost all my money, about $75.00, playing faro while we were at the Tucson Fiesta.”

No real evidence exists of contact between Doc and Kate between November, 1881, and the summer of 1887, when Doc apparently wrote her and asked her to come to Glenwood Springs, Colorado, to care for him in the last stages of his battle with tuberculosis. Kate went, whether out of love or loyalty or duty, and, to her credit, stood by him until the end.

she was arrested in 1874 in Witchita for prostitution, and was a dancehall girl in Dodge City in 1875, which did not necessarily mean she was a whore.

In 1888 Kate returned to AZ, gave up prostitution and earned a living cooking for area miners.  She married a blacksmith, George Cummings and the two lived in Bisbee, AZ, a few miles from Tombstone, before moving to Pearce. The marriage lasted only about a year. Cummings’s drinking might have been acceptable; his spending Kate’s own earnings on booze was not.

 In 1889 Kate moved to the small town of Cochise, AZ where the AZ Eastern and Southern Pacific Railraods met. In 1899 she was working as a clerk at John J. Rath’s Cochise Hotel. At the turn of the twentieth century, the fifty-year-old Kate found work as a maid for John Howard in Dos Cabeza. She would live in his home for the next three decades, inheriting the property upon Howard’s death. A year later Kate entered the Arizona Pioneers Home in Prescott, a state-run home for the elderly. There she would spend her final years documenting her privileged childhood, tragic adolescence, and wild youth with Doc Holiday.

Kate died in 1940, days before her 90th birthday. Her gravestone, which modestly memorializes a Mary K. Cummings, gives no hint that the woman buried there held many names – Mary Katherine Haroney, Katie Elder, Mrs. John Holliday and of course, Big Nose Kate.  Katie herself never denied that she was a rip-roarin', hard-drinkin,' gun-slingin' prostitute.