Big Nose Kate

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Mary Katherine Horony-Cummings
BigNoseKate at 40.JPG
Big Nose Kate at about age 50, photo about 1900
Born(1849-11-09)November 9, 1849
DiedNovember 2, 1940(1940-11-02) (aged 90)
Prescott, Arizona, United States
Other namesMary Cummings-Haroney
  • prostitute
  • dance hall girl
  • boarding house owner
  • baker
Spouse(s)Doc Holliday (common-law),
George Cummings

Mary Katherine Horony-Cummings (born as Mária Izabella Magdolna Horony, November 9, 1849 – November 2, 1940), also known as Big Nose Kate, was a Hungarian-born prostitute and longtime companion and common-law wife of Old West gunfighter Doc Holliday.

Early life[edit]

Mary Katherine Horony (also spelled Harony, Haroney, and Horoney[1][2]) was born on November 9, 1849, in Érsekújvár, in what was then the Kingdom of Hungary,[3] as the second oldest daughter of Hungarian physician and teacher Mihály Horony (1817–1865).[4][failed verification]

Immigration to the United States of America[edit]

Kate Horony (left) and younger sister 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, arriving in New York City on the German ship Bremen in September 1860.

The Horony family settled in a predominantly German area of Davenport, Iowa, in 1862. Horony and his wife died only three years later, 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.[5] The 1870 United States Census records for Davenport 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 Bettina.[citation needed]

St. Louis and Dodge City[edit]

At age 16, Kate ran away from her foster home and stowed away on a riverboat bound for St. Louis, Missouri.[6] Kate later claimed that while she lived in St. Louis she married a dentist named "Silas Melvin" with whom she had a son, and that both died of yellow fever.[citation needed] No record has been found to substantiate 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, she may have confused the two and their occupations when recalling the facts later in her life.[7]

Researcher Jan Collins states that Kate entered the Ursuline Convent but did not remain long. In 1869, she is recorded as working as a prostitute for madam Blanch Tribole in St. Louis.[2] In 1874, Kate was fined for working as a "sporting woman" (prostitute) in a "sporting house" (brothel) in Dodge City, Kansas, run by Nellie "Bessie" (Ketchum) Earp,[8] James Earp's wife.[9][10][11]

Joins Doc Holliday[edit]

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

In 1876, Kate moved to Fort Griffin, Texas, where in 1877 she met Doc Holliday. Doc said at one point that he considered Kate his intellectual equal.[citation needed] The couple went with Earp to Dodge City and registered as Mr. and Mrs. J.H. Holliday at Deacon Cox's boarding house. Doc opened a dental practice by day but spent most of his time gambling and drinking. The two fought regularly and sometimes violently.[citation needed]

According to Kate, the couple later married in Valdosta, Georgia. They traveled to Trinidad, Colorado, and then to Las Vegas, New Mexico, where they lived for about two years. Holliday worked as a dentist by day and ran a saloon on Center Street by night. Kate also occasionally worked at a dance hall in Santa Fe.[2]

By her own account, 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 and persuaded his brothers to move to Tombstone. Holliday was making money at the gambling tables in Prescott, while Kate worked as a prostitute in the upstairs rooms at The Palace Saloon;[12] 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 Earp, was always looking for an opportunity to make money, and joined the Earps in Tombstone during the fall of 1880.[5] On March 15, 1881, at 10:00 pm, three cowboys attempted to rob a Kinnear & Company stagecoach carrying $26,000 in silver bullion (by the inflation adjustment algorithm: $675,014 in today's dollars) near Benson, Arizona, during which the popular driver Eli "Budd" Philpot and passenger Peter Roerig were killed.[13] Cochise County Cowboy Bill Leonard, a former watchmaker from New York City, was one of three men implicated in the robbery, and he and Holliday had become good friends.[14] 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 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".[15] 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.[15]

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. According to Kate, she was with Holliday in Tucson when they attended the San Augustin Feast and Fair in Levin Park during October 1881. On October 20, 1881, Morgan Earp rode to Tucson to request Holliday's assistance with dealing with Cochise County Cowboys who had threatened to kill the Earps. She wrote that Holliday asked her to remain in Tucson for her safety, but she refused, and traveled with Holliday and Earp. Kate reminisced in the letter about her stay with Holliday at C.S. Fly's Boarding House which bordered the alley where the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral took place. Kate accurately described minor details of the shootout.[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 pistol-whipped earlier that day when he found Clanton carrying a rifle and pistol in violation of city ordinances.[16] Clanton's head was bandaged afterward.

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.[17] Clanton was unarmed at the time of the shootout later that afternoon.[5][7] Ike testified that he picked up the weapons from William Soule, the jailer, a couple of days later.[17]

Author Glenn Boyer disputes that Kate saw the gunfight through the window of the boarding house. According to him also, Kate stated that after Doc Holliday returned to his room, he sat at 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."[5][7] Boyer's work, however, has been rejected by serious scholars.[citation needed]

After the O.K. Corral and later life[edit]

Kate is reported[by whom?] to have made trips to Tombstone to see Holliday until he left for Colorado in April 1882.[citation needed] In 1887, Kate traveled to Redstone, Colorado, close to Glenwood Springs, Colorado, to visit with her brother Alexander. Some historians[who?] have tried to connect Kate and Doc to possible reconciliation attempts between the two.[citation needed]

Marries George Cummings[edit]

After Doc 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 and worked for John and Lulu Rath, owners of the Cochise Hotel. Cummings committed suicide in Courtland, Arizona, in 1915.[citation needed]

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.[18]

In 1931 the 80 year-old 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 American 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.[19]

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.[20] 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]

Death and discrepancies in records[edit]

Grave-site of Big Nose Kate
Big Nose Kate's Grave marker

Kate died on November 2, 1940, seven days before her 91st 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".[21] The superintendent of the Pioneer Home is named as the informant on the death certificate.[22]

Kate was buried on November 6, 1940,[21] under the name "Mary K. Cummings" in the Arizona Pioneer Home Cemetery in Prescott, Arizona.

In other media[edit]

Big Nose Kate was depicted by Jo Van Fleet in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957 film), by Faye Dunaway in Frank Perry's film Doc (1971), by Joanna Pacula 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.[23]

Sheena Marshe played Kate Fisher in the 1966 Doctor Who story "The Gunfighters".

Christine Doidge played Kate in the 2017 independent film Tombstone Rashomon.

Chantel Riley portrays Kate in the Syfy series "Wynonna Earp".


  1. ^ MacKell, Jan (2009). Red Light Women of the Rocky Mountains. UNM Press. p. 458. ISBN 9780826346100. Archived from the original on 2016-04-27.
  2. ^ a b c Collins, Jan MacKell. "Big Nose Kate, An Arizona Amazon". Shalot Hall Museum. Archived from the original on 28 October 2014. Retrieved 28 October 2014.
  3. ^ "Baptism entry, Nové Zámky Roman Catholic church, 1849".
  4. ^ "FamilySearch".
  5. ^ a b c d 1935 Bork interview, Arizona Historical Society, Boyer Collection, Tucson, AZ
  6. ^ Horony Family Group Record; Beckwith to Boyer, January 22, 1977
  7. ^ a b c Glenn Boyer, Who Is Big Nose Kate?
  8. ^ Thrapp, Dan L. (1991). The Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography Volume 1: A-F (Paperback ed.). Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press. p. 445. ISBN 978-0803294189.
  9. ^ "Big Nose Kate - Doc Holliday's Sidekick". Old West Legends. Archived from the original on 17 April 2013. Retrieved 18 April 2013.
  10. ^ Lackmann, Ron (1997). Women of the Western Frontier in Fact, Fiction, and Film. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. p. 57. ISBN 978-0786404001.
  11. ^ Pryor, Alton (2006). The Lawmen. Roseville, CA: Stagecoach Pub. p. 107. ISBN 978-0974755168.
  12. ^ Devine, Peter (January 10, 2013). "Breathtaking scenery in and awesome surprises in Arizona". Manchester Evening News. Archived from the original on January 31, 2017. Retrieved January 13, 2017.
  13. ^ "Tombstone, AZ". Archived from the original on 24 March 2012. Retrieved 17 May 2011.
  14. ^ 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 978-1-59233-336-3.
  15. ^ a b "Wyatt Earp Trial: 1881 - A Mysterious Stage Coach Robbery - Clanton, Holliday, Told, Leonard, Doc, and Ike". Archived from the original on 2011-07-26. Retrieved 2011-02-08.
  16. ^ Douglas Linder (2005). "Testimony of Wyatt S. Earp in the Preliminary Hearing in the Earp-Holliday Case". Famous Trials: The O.K. Corral Trial. Archived from the original on 2011-02-03. Retrieved 2011-02-06.
  17. ^ 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. Archived from the original on 2010-12-15. Retrieved 2011-02-06.
  18. ^[clarification needed]
  19. ^ Letters to Governor Hunt, Arizona State Legislature[clarification needed]
  20. ^ Letters to A.N. Kelly, State Legislature[clarification needed]
  21. ^ a b ADHS Arizona Genealogy Birth and Death Certificates online Archived 2011-07-21 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 2010–03–11.
  22. ^ "Death Certificate". Garfield County, Colorado Photographs. Archived from the original on 9 April 2015. Retrieved 5 April 2015.
  23. ^ "Fred Stone's Daughter, Carol, Now on ABC-TV". The Chicago Tribune. May 12, 1957. Archived from the original on November 7, 2012. 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 ...

Further 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.
  • Old West Researcher, A. M. Brant.
  • Tanner, Karen Holliday; foreword by Robert K. DeArment (1998). Doc Holliday : A Family Portrait. Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-3036-1. Contains a great deal about Kate and debunks many older claims about her.
  • Tanner, Karen Holliday (1998). Doc Holliday: A Family Portrait. Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-3036-1.
  • 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). This source includes many assertions about Kate which have been rejected by serious scholars.
  • Russell, Mary Doria (2011). Doc: a Novel (First ed.). New York: Random House. ISBN 978-1400068043.
  • 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
  • "The Lily of the West", Kathleen Morris, Five Star Publishing / Cengage, January 2019. ISBN 978-1432847333

External links[edit]