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About Big Nose Kate
Mary Katherine Horony Cummings (November 7, 1850 – November 2, 1940), known as Big Nose Kate, was the long-time companion/common law wife of fabled gunfighter Doc Holliday in the American Old West.
Immigration to the United States of America
Mary Katherine Horony was born on November 7, 1850, in Pest, Hungary, the second oldest daughter of a Hungarian physician, Dr. Michael Harony. In 1860, Dr. Horony, his second wife Katharina, and his children left Hungary for the United States, ultimately reaching New York on board the ship Bremen in September 1860. Although no conclusive evidence or records exist, Dr. Horony was to accept a position as personal physician to Austrian-born Emperor, Maximilian I of Mexico. Many authors have stated, without proof, that Harony left Mexico in 1863 with his family long before the crumble of Maximilian's rule. However, the family settled in a predominantly German area of Davenport, Iowa, in 1862. Horony and his wife both 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. The 1870 United States Census records for Davenport, Iowa, show Kate's younger sister, Wilhemina (Wilma), living with and working as a domestic for Austrian-born David Palter and his Hungarian wife Betty when Wilhemina was 15 years old.
St. Louis and Dodge City
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. While in St. Louis, Kate claimed she married a dentist named "Silas Melvin" and that the two had a son. Subsequently, both husband and son were said 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. What is known through United States Census records is 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 further show Melvin's occupation to be an employee of a St. Louis asylum. Since it is during the early 1870s that Kate met Doc Holliday, there is speculation that she may have confused the two and their occupations when recalling the facts later in her life.
By 1874, Kate had left St. Louis and made her way to Dodge City, Kansas, where she was known as "Kate Elder." It is alleged that she and another woman were fined for working as "sporting women" in a sporting house run by Bessie Earp, wife of James Earp. Through the years, a number of historians and biographers have labeled Kate as a prostitute. To date, there is no substantial proof that this was ever the case.
Doc Holliday and the OK Corral
In 1876, Kate had moved to Fort Griffin, Texas where she met Wyatt Earp and began her long-time involvement with Doc Holliday. Doc had once stated he considered Kate to be his intellectual equal.
Wyatt Earp, in the controversial Stuart Lake biography Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal tells a colorful tale of Kate helping Holliday escape lawmen in Fort Griffin, by setting fire to a shed, but there is no other historical evidence for this tale. Kate acknowledged the story but did not admit its truth.
Picking up her own account, Kate and Doc went to Trinidad, Colorado, and then to Las Vegas, New Mexico, where Holliday was briefly a keeper of the Center Street "gin mill." 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 talked the families into moving to Tombstone. Holliday and Kate stayed behind in Prescott to advance Doc's gambling winnings at the card game blackjack. Holliday and Kate parted ways with Kate leaving for an Arizona mining town called Globe, Arizona and Doc headed for Tombstone. Holliday arrived in Tombstone during the fall of 1880.
Despite reports, there is no conclusive evidence which proves Kate owned and operated a bordello or "sporting house" in Tombstone. She did, however, own a miner's boarding house in Globe along Broad Street. Amongst amateur historians, Big Nose Kate has often been confused with a Tombstone sporting woman who went by the name "Rowdy Kate".
Holliday, an opportunist like his friend Wyatt, had been suspected in the March 15, 1881, robbery of a stagecoach running between Tombstone and Benson, Arizona, which resulted in the murder of the coach's driver, Bud Philpot. During Kate's first visit to Tombstone in July 1881, Cochise County Sheriff John Behan discovered that Doc and Kate had a drunken fight, and he offered Kate more alcohol in exchange for her testimony against Doc for the robbery. Holliday was arrested based on Kate's testimony. The following day, Kate recanted her story, and Holliday was released from jail. After Holliday was released, Kate went back to Globe and did not return to Tombstone until later that year in October 1881.
Gunfight at the OK Corral
There is some historical evidence authenticating Kate's claims of being in the vicinity of Tombstone with Holliday during the days leading up to the fight. In a 1939 letter Kate wrote to her niece, Lillian Rafferty, Kate revealed she had stayed with Holliday at Fly's Boarding House. The room was along Fremont Street and the open alley way between the boarding house and the O.K. Corral. Kate is precise regarding minor details and states that she was with Holliday in Tucson at a "feasto". There was 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's recollections, Holliday asked her to remain in Tucson for her safety, but she refused, instead going with Holliday and Earp.
As part of Kate's recollections of 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. This follows the historical record, as Clanton's head had been bandaged after being buffaloed, or hit over the head with the butt of a pistol, by city marshall Virgil Earp.
The Earps and Holliday walked down Fremont Street to confront the cowboys in the vacant lot west of Fly's Boarding House. 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 accurate accounts of the actual gunfight and then repeated them in her letter to her niece.
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."
After the OK Corral and later life
Kate is said to have made a total of three 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 family. Although no proof exists, Kate may have ventured over to Glenwood Springs, Colorado to be with Holliday as he was dying.
Following Doc Holliday's death in Colorado, Mary Katherine Horony married Irish blacksmith George Cummings in Aspen, on March 2, 1890. 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, Mary Katherine moved to 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, Mary Katherine is enumerated as having moved onto the Dos Cabezas, Arizona, homestead of miner John J. Howard. When Howard died in 1930, Mary Katherine was the executrix of his will. She contacted his only daughter who lived in Tempe, Arizona and settled the inheritance.
In 1931, now aged 80, Mary Katherine contacted her long-time friend, Arizona Governor George Hunt, and applied for admittance for 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.
She was granted admittance as one of the first female residents of the home. She lived there and had become a very 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.
Death and discrepancy
Kate died on November 2, 1940, of acute myocardial insufficiency, a condition she showed symptoms of for one day prior to 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".
Near the end of her life, several reporters had tried to record Kate's past life story of her relationship with Doc Holliday and her time in Tombstone. She only allotted time, however, to two authors: Anton Mazzonovich and Prescott historian, Dr. A.W. Bork.
Kate was buried on November 6, 1940, under the name of "Mary K. Cummings" below a modest marker in The Arizona Pioneer Home Cemetery, Prescott, Arizona.