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
Died November 2, 1940(1940-11-02) (aged 89)
Prescott, Arizona, United States
Occupation Prostitute
Dance hall girl
Boarding house owner
Spouse(s) Doc Holliday (common-law), George Cummings
Children none

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

Early life[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 Hungarian physician Michael Horony.

Immigration to the United States of America[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. Glenn G. Boyer was the first to claim that Kate was royalty and after her father received appointment as personal physician to Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico the family accompanied the emperor to Mexico. However, in none of his published works did Boyer ever cite a source for these assertions. Furthermore, Gary L. Roberts, in his book, Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend, the definitive work on the subject, commented: “Patrick A. Bowmaster, “A Fresh Look at ‘Big Nose Kate,’” NOLA Quarterly 22 (July –September 1998): 12-24, exposes the fallacy of this tale.”[2]

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.[3] The 1870 United States Census records for Davenport, Iowa, show Kate's younger sister, 15-year-old Wilhelmina (Wilma), living with and working as a domestic for Austrian-born David Palter and his Hungarian wife Betty.

St. Louis and Dodge City[edit]

At age 16, Kate ran away from her foster home and is reported to have stowed away on a riverboat bound for St. Louis, Missouri.[4] While in St. Louis, Kate claimed to have married a dentist named "Silas Melvin" and that the two had a son. Subsequently, husband and son were said[by whom?] to have died of yellow fever. No record currently proves the marriage, birth of a child, or the death 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 that he was married to a steamship captain's daughter named Mary Bust. The census also shows that another Melvin was employed by a St. Louis asylum. Since Kate met Doc Holliday in the early 1870s, there is speculation[by whom?] that she may have confused the two and their occupations when recalling the facts later in her life.[5]

By 1874, Kate left St. Louis and moved to Dodge City, Kansas. She was fined for working as a "sporting woman" in a sporting house run by Nellie "Bessie" (Ketchum) Earp,[6] James Earp's wife. Historians and biographers generally agree that Kate was a prostitute.[7][8][9]

Joins Doc Holliday[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 longtime 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 he and Kate parted ways when Kate left for Globe, Arizona, but she rejoined Holliday soon after he arrived in Tombstone.

Move to Tombstone[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.[3] 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: $635,386 in today's dollars) near Benson, Arizona, during which the popular driver Eli "Budd" Philpot and passenger Peter Roerig were killed.[10] Cowboy Bill Leonard, a former watchmaker from New York, was one of three men implicated in the robbery, and he and Holliday had become good friends.[11]: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".[12] 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 of that year.[12]

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral[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 shootout. 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, whom city marshal Virgil Earp had buffaloed earlier that day when he found Clanton carrying a rifle and pistol in violation of city ordinances.[13] Clanton's head was bandaged afterward.

However, it's unlikely that Clanton could have been both 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 they were 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.[14] Clanton was unarmed at the time of the shootout later that afternoon.[3][5] Ike testified that he picked up the weapons from William Soule, the jailer, a couple of days later.[14]

Author Glenn Boyer disputes that Kate saw the gunfight through the window of the boarding house. Boyer's work, however, has been rejected by serious scholars.

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."[3][5] Other researchers dispute her account of events.

After the O.K. Corral and later life[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 brother Alexander. Some historians have tried to connect Kate and Doc to possible reconciliation attempts between the two. After Holliday died in 1887, 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.

Kate is enumerated in the 1910 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.[15]

In 1931, now 80, Kate contacted her longtime friend, Arizona Governor George Hunt, and applied for admittance to the Arizona Pioneers' Home in Prescott, Arizona. The home had been established in 1910 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.[16]

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, often contacting the governor when she was not satisfied with their response.[17]

Death and discrepancies in records[edit]

Kate died on November 2, 1940, just five days before her 90th birthday, of acute myocardial insufficiency, a condition she started showing symptoms of the day before her death. Her death certificate states that she also suffered from coronary artery disease and advanced arteriosclerosis. Kate's death certificate contained significant discrepancies regarding her parents' names and her birthplace. Although she was born in Hungary, her death certificate states she was born in Davenport, Iowa, to father Marchal H. Michael and mother Catherine Baldwin. The birthplace of both her parents is shown on the certificate as "unknown".[18] 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,[18] under the name "Mary K. Cummings" below a modest marker in the Arizona Pioneer Home Cemetery in Prescott, Arizona.[19]

In other media[edit]

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

Carol Montgomery Stone played Big Nose Kate, usually referred to as "Kate Holliday", in ten episodes in the 1957-1958 season of the ABC/Desilu western television series, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, with Hugh O'Brian as Wyatt Earp and Douglas Fowley as Doc Holliday.[20]


  1. ^ MacKell, Jan (2009). Red Light Women of the Rocky Mountains. UNM Press. p. 458. 
  2. ^ Gary L. Roberts, Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2011), 498; Patrick A. Bowmaster, “A Fresh Look at ‘Big Nose Kate,’” NOLA Quarterly 22 (July –September 1998): 12-24, available from
  3. ^ a b c d 1935 Bork interview, Arizona Historical Society, Boyer Collection, Tucson, AZ
  4. ^ Horony Family Group Record; Beckwith to Boyer, January 22, 1977
  5. ^ a b c Glenn Boyer, Who Is Big Nose Kate?
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ "Big Nose Kate - Doc Holliday's Sidekick". Old West Legends. Retrieved 18 April 2013. 
  8. ^ Lackmann, Ron (1997). Women of the Western Frontier in Fact, Fiction, and Film. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. p. 57. ISBN 978-0786404001. 
  9. ^ Pryor, Alton (2006). The Lawmen. Roseville, CA: Stagecoach Pub. p. 107. ISBN 978-0974755168. 
  10. ^ "Tombstone, AZ". Retrieved 17 May 2011. 
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ a b "Wyatt Earp Trial: 1881 - A Mysterious Stage Coach Robbery - Clanton, Holliday, Told, Leonard, Doc, and Ike". Retrieved 2011-02-08. 
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ 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. 
  15. ^[clarification needed]
  16. ^ Letters to Governor Hunt, Arizona State Legislature[clarification needed]
  17. ^ Letters to A.N. Kelly, State Legislature[clarification needed]
  18. ^ a b ADHS Arizona Genealogy Birth and Death Certificates online. Retrieved 2010-03-11.
  19. ^ Big Nose Kate at Find a Grave
  20. ^ "Fred Stone's Daughter, Carol, Now on ABC-TV". The Chicago Tribune. May 12, 1957. Retrieved 2009-06-30. "Fred Stone's Daughter, Carol, Now on ABC-TV. Carol Stone, plays Big Kate on ABC-TV's Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, is a daughter of musical comedy star ..." 

Additional reading[edit]

  • On the Paper Trail of Big Nose Kate, Angel M. Brant, Self-published September 2008. This book contains pictorial info never published by past Cummings' authors.
  • Arizona State Archives and Genealogy Division, Phoenix, Arizona.
  • Old West Researcher, A. M. Brant.
  • DeArment, Karen Holliday Tanner; foreword by Robert K. (1998). Doc Holliday : a family portrait. Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-3036-9.  Contains a great deal about Kate and debunks many older claims about her.
  • Scott County Recorder's Office (Holly), Davenport, Iowa
  • Davenport City Library, Davenport, Iowa
  • DeArment, Karen (1998). Doc Holliday: a Family Portrait. Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-3036-9.  Contains carefully researched material about Kate and Doc Holliday, avoiding mythology in favor of accounts with newspaper, legal, or other independent historical documentation.
  • Wyatt Earp, Family Friends and Foes, Volume I, Who Was Big Nose Kate, Glenn G. Boyer, Arizona University Press, 1997 (ISBN 1-890670-06-5). Boyer is the only known author to have met with members of the Horony Family. Pictures from the family are included. This work, like all of Boyer's texts on Kate, contains many assertions about Kate which have been rejected by scholars.
  • Russell, Mary Doria. Doc: a Novel (First ed.). New York: Random House. ISBN 1400068045. 
  • Roberts, Gary L. (2011). Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons. 
  • Bowmaster, Patrick A. “A Fresh Look at ‘Big Nose Kate,’” NOLA Quarterly 22 (July –September 1998): 12-24; available from

External links[edit]