Big Nose Kate

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Mary Katherine Horony Cummings
BigNoseKate at 40.JPG
Big Nose Kate at about age 40, photo about 1890
Born(1850-11-07)November 7, 1850
Pest, Hungary
DiedNovember 2, 1940(1940-11-02) (aged 89)
Prescott, Arizona, United States
OccupationProstitute
Dance hall girl
Boarding house owner
Baker
Spouse(s)Doc Holliday (common-law), George Cummings
Childrennone
 
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Mary Katherine Horony Cummings
BigNoseKate at 40.JPG
Big Nose Kate at about age 40, photo about 1890
Born(1850-11-07)November 7, 1850
Pest, Hungary
DiedNovember 2, 1940(1940-11-02) (aged 89)
Prescott, Arizona, United States
OccupationProstitute
Dance hall girl
Boarding house owner
Baker
Spouse(s)Doc Holliday (common-law), George Cummings
Childrennone

Mary Katherine Horony Cummings (November 7, 1850 – November 2, 1940), known as Big Nose Kate, was a Hungarian-born prostitute and later long-time companion and common-law wife of Doc Holliday in the American Old West.

Early life[edit source | edit]

Mary Katherine Horony (also spelled Harony, Haroney, and Horoney)[1] was born on November 7, 1850, in Pest, Hungary, the second-oldest daughter of a Hungarian physician, Dr. Michael Horony.

Immigration to the United States of America[edit source | edit]

Kate Horony (seated at left) and younger sister named Wilhelmina in about 1865, at the time they were orphaned. Kate is about 15-years-old.

In 1860, Dr. Horony, his second wife Katharina, and his children left Hungary for the United States, ultimately reaching New York on the German ship Bremen in September 1860. Although no conclusive evidence or records exist, Dr. Horony is said to have accepted a position as personal physician to Austrian-born Emperor, Maximilian I of Mexico. Many authors[who?] have stated, without proof, that Horony left Mexico in 1863 with his family long before Maximilian's rule crumbled.

The Horony family settled in a predominantly German area of Davenport, Iowa in 1862. Horony and his wife died in 1865 within a month of one another. Mary Katherine and her younger siblings were placed in the home of her brother-in-law, Gustav Susemihl, and in 1870, they were left in the care of attorney Otto Smith.[2] The 1870 United States Census records for Davenport, Iowa show Kate's younger sister, 15 year old Wilhemina (Wilma), living with and working as a domestic for Austrian-born David Palter and his Hungarian wife Betty.

St. Louis and Dodge City[edit source | edit]

At age 16, Kate ran away from her foster home and is reported[who?] to have stowed away on a riverboat bound for St. Louis, Missouri. While in St. Louis, Kate claimed she married a dentist named "Silas Melvin" and that the two had a son. Subsequently, husband and son were said[who?] to have died of yellow fever. No record currently proves the marriage, birth of a child, or the deaths of either Melvin or the child.[original research?] United States Census records report that a Silas Melvin lived in St. Louis in the mid-1860s but was married to a steamship captain's daughter named Mary Bust. The census also shows that another Melvin employed by a St. Louis asylum. Since Kate met Doc Holliday the early 1870s, there is speculation[who?] that she may have confused the two and their occupations when recalling the facts later in her life.[3]

By 1874, Kate left St. Louis and moved to Dodge City, Kansas. She was fined for working as "sporting women" in a sporting house run by Nellie "Bessie" (Ketchum) Earp,[4] James Earp's wife. Historians and biographers generally agree that Kate was a prostitute.[5][6][7]

Joins Doc Holliday[edit source | edit]

Big Nose Kate's Saloon in Tombstone. It was originally called the "Grand Hotel" and was built in 1880. Ike Clanton and two Mclaury brothers stayed there the night before the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

In 1876, Kate moved to Fort Griffin, Texas, where she met Wyatt Earp and began her long-time involvement with Doc Holliday. Doc said at one point that he considered Kate his intellectual equal. There are unproven reports that Kate owned and operated a bordello in Tombstone. (Amongst amateur historians, Big Nose Kate has often been confused with a Tombstone sporting woman who went by the name "Rowdy Kate".) She did own a miner's boarding house in Globe, Arizona, along Broad Street.[citation needed]

By her own account, Kate and Doc went to Trinidad, Colorado, and then to Las Vegas, New Mexico, where Holliday was briefly a barkeeper at a saloon on Center Street. Doc and Kate met up again with Wyatt Earp and his brothers on their way to the Arizona Territory. Virgil Earp had already been in Prescott before Wyatt persuaded his brothers to move to Tombstone. Holliday was making money at the gambling tables in Prescott, and Kate parted ways when Kate left for Globe, Arizona but she rejoined Holliday soon after he arrived in Tombstone.

Move to Tombstone[edit source | edit]

Holliday, like his friend Wyatt, was always looking for an opportunity to make money and joined the Earps in Tombstone during the fall of 1880.[2] On March 15, 1881 at 10:00 pm, three cowboys attempted to rob a Kinnear & Company stagecoach carrying US$26,000 in silver bullion (by the inflation adjustment algorithm: $618,531 in today's dollars) near Benson, Arizona, during which the popular driver Eli "Budd" Philpot and passenger Peter Roerig were killed.[8] Cowboy Bill Leonard, a former watchmaker from New York, was one of three men implicated in the robbery, and Holliday and he had become good friends.[9]:181 When Kate and Holliday had a fight, County Sheriff Johnny Behan and Milt Joyce, a county supervisor and owner of the Oriental Saloon, decided to exploit the situation.

Behan and Joyce plied Big Nose Kate with alcohol and suggested to her a way to get even with Holliday. She signed an affidavit implicating Holliday in the murders and attempted robbery. Judge Wells Spicer issued an arrest warrant for Holliday. The Earps found witnesses who could attest to Holliday's whereabouts elsewhere at the time of the murders. Kate said that Behan and Joyce had influenced her to sign a document she didn't understand. With the Cowboy plot revealed, Judge Spicer freed Holliday. The district attorney threw out the charges, labeling them "ridiculous."[10] After Holliday was released, he gave Kate money and put her on the stage. Kate returned to Globe for a time, but she returned to Tombstone in October that year.[10]

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral[edit source | edit]

In a 1939 letter to her niece Lillian Rafferty, Kate claimed that she was in the Tombstone area with Holliday during the days before the shoot out. Kate reminisced about her stay with Holliday at Fly's Boarding House, above the photography studio, and alongside the alley where the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral took place. Kate is precise regarding minor details and states that she was with Holliday in Tucson. She recalled attending a fiesta, which was the San Augustin Feast and Fair, in Levin Park on October 1881. On October 20, 1881, Morgan Earp rode to Tucson to alert Holliday of the impending trouble. According to Kate, Holliday asked her to remain in Tucson for her safety, but she refused, instead going with Holliday and Earp.[citation needed]

Kate wrote that 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. Kate recalled that the man who was turned away by Mrs. Fly was later identified as Ike Clanton, who City Marshal Virgil Earp had buffaloed earlier that day when he found Clanton carrying a rifle and pistol in violation of city ordinances.[11] Clanton's head was bandaged afterward.

However, it's unlikely that Clanton could have both been bandaged and carrying a rifle. Virgil Earp had disarmed him earlier that day and told Ike he would leave Ike's confiscated rifle and revolver at the Grand Hotel, which was favored by Cowboys when in town. Ike testified afterward that he had tried to buy a new revolver at Spangenberger's gun and hardware store on 4th Street but the owner saw Ike's bandaged head and refused to sell him one.[12] Clanton was unarmed at the time of the shootout later that afternoon.[2][3] Ike testified that he picked up the weapons from William Soule, the jailer, a couple of days later.[12]

Author Glenn Boyer disputes that Kate saw the gunfight through the window of the boarding house. She would have been able to see the fight only if she stuck her head out the front window of Fly's. It is more plausible that Kate had heard testimony from accounts of the actual gunfight and then repeated them in her letter to her niece.[3]

Kate stated that after Doc Holliday returned to his room, he sat on the edge of his bed and wept from the shock of what had happened during the close range gunfight. "That was awful," Kate claims he said. "Just awful."[2][3] Other researchers dispute her account of events.

After the OK Corral and later life[edit source | edit]

Kate is reported to have made trips to Tombstone to see Holliday until he left for Colorado in April 1882. In 1887, Kate traveled to Redstone, Colorado, close to Glenwood Springs, Colorado, to visit with her family, brother Alexander. Some historians have attempted to connect Kate and Doc in attempts at a possible reconciliation between the two. After Holliday had died, Kate married Irish blacksmith George Cummings in Aspen, on March 2, 1890. After working several mining camps throughout Colorado, they moved to Bisbee, Arizona, where she briefly ran a bakery. After returning to Willcox, Arizona, in Cochise County, Cummings became an abusive alcoholic and they separated. In 1900, Kate moved to Dos Cabezas or Cochise (which is now a ghost town) and worked for John and Lulu Rath, owners of the Cochise Hotel. Cummings committed suicide in Courtland, Arizona, in 1915.

In 1910, Kate is enumerated in the U.S. Census in Dos Cabezas, Arizona, as a member of the home of miner John J. Howard. When Howard died in 1930, Kate was the executrix of his estate. She contacted his only daughter who lived in Tempe, Arizona, and settled the inheritance.[13]

In 1931, now 80, Kate contacted her long-time friend, Arizona Governor George Hunt, and applied for admittance to the Arizona Pioneers' Home in Prescott, Arizona. In 1910, the home was established by the state of Arizona for destitute and ailing miners and male pioneers of the Arizona Territory. It took Kate six months to be admitted, since the home had a requirement that residents must be United States citizens. According to the 1935 Bork interview, Kate was owed money by the Howard estate but the amount owed was not enough to buy firewood through the winter as Kate had complained in her letters to the governor.[14]

She was admitted as one of the first female residents of the home. She lived there and became an outspoken resident assisting other residents with living comforts. Kate wrote many letters to the Arizona state legislature, and when she was not satisfied she would contact the state governor.[15]

Death and discrepancy[edit source | edit]

Kate died on November 2, 1940, just five days before her 90th birthday, of acute myocardial insufficiency, a condition she showed symptoms of for one day before her death. Her death certificate states that she also suffered from coronary artery disease and advanced arteriosclerosis. Kate's death certificate showed significant discrepancies regarding her parents' names and her stated birthplace. While history has always stated Kate was born in Hungary, her death certificate states she was born in Davenport, Iowa, to father Marchal H. Michael and mother Catherine Baldwin. The birthplaces for both parents on the certificate state "unknown".[16] However, it is unknown who provided the information for the death certificate.

Near the end of her life, several reporters tried to record Kate's life story, her relationship with Doc Holliday and her time in Tombstone. She only talked to Anton Mazzonovich and Prescott historian A.W. Bork.[citation needed]

Kate was buried on November 6, 1940,[16] under the name of "Mary K. Cummings" below a modest marker in the Arizona Pioneer Home Cemetery, Prescott, Arizona.[17]

In other media[edit source | edit]

Big Nose Kate was depicted by Joanna Pacuła in Tombstone (1993 film), and Isabella Rossellini in Wyatt Earp (1994 film) respectively.

References[edit source | edit]

  1. ^ MacKell, Jan (2009). Red Light Women of the Rocky Mountains. UNM Press. p. 458. 
  2. ^ a b c d 1935 Bork interview, Arizona Historical Society, Boyer Collection, Tucson, AZ
  3. ^ a b c d Glenn Boyer, Who Is Big Nose Kate?
  4. ^ Thrapp, Dan L. (1991). The Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography Volume 1: A-F (Paperback ed.). Lincoln, Nebraska: Universit of Nebraska Press. p. 445. ISBN 978-0803294189. 
  5. ^ "Big Nose Kate - Doc Holliday's Sidekick". Old West Legends. Retrieved 18 April 2013. 
  6. ^ Lackmann, Ron (1997). Women of the Western Frontier in Fact, Fiction, and Film. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. p. 57. ISBN 978-0786404001. 
  7. ^ Pryor, Alton (2006). The Lawmen. Roseville, CA: Stagecoach Pub. p. 107. ISBN 978-0974755168. 
  8. ^ "Tombstone, AZ". Retrieved 17 May 2011. 
  9. ^ Weir, William (2009). History's Greatest Lies: the Startling Truths Behind World Events our History Books Got Wrong. Beverly, MA: Fair Winds Press. p. 288. ISBN 1-59233-336-2. 
  10. ^ a b "Wyatt Earp Trial: 1881 - A Mysterious Stage Coach Robbery - Clanton, Holliday, Told, Leonard, Doc, and Ike". Retrieved 2011-02-08. 
  11. ^ Douglas Linder (2005). "Testimony of Wyatt S. Earp in the Preliminary Hearing in the Earp-Holliday Case". Famous Trials: The O. K. Corral Trial. Retrieved 2011-02-06. 
  12. ^ a b Douglas Linder (2005). "Testimony of Ike Clanton in the Preliminary Hearing in the Earp-Holliday Case". Famous Trials: The O. K. Corral Trial. Retrieved 2011-02-06. 
  13. ^ Ancestry.com.[clarification needed]
  14. ^ Letters to Governor Hunt, Arizona State Legislature[clarification needed]
  15. ^ Letters to A.N. Kelly, State Legislature[clarification needed]
  16. ^ a b ADHS Arizona Genealogy Birth and Death Certificates online. Retrieved 2010-03-11.
  17. ^ Big Nose Kate at Find a Grave

Additional reading[edit source | edit]

External links[edit source | edit]