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Big Nose Kate, More than Doc Holliday's Woman

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
June 7, 2023 3:01 am

Big Nose Kate, More than Doc Holliday's Woman

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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June 7, 2023 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, she is remembered in history as Doc Holliday’s on-and-off girlfriend-turned wife. But Big Nose Kate was much more than that. Here's the History Guy with the story.

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Exclusions apply. This is our American stories and our next story comes to us from a man who's simply known as the history guy. His videos are watched by hundreds of thousands of people of all ages over on YouTube. The history guy is also heard here in our American stories. Mary Catherine Horany, also known as Big Nose Kate, was more than just a beautiful woman who was associated with one of the most dangerous men in the Wild West. He was more than just Doc Holliday's on and off girlfriend turned wife.

Here's the history guy with the story of Big Nose Kate. Virgil Morgan and Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday walked into history on October 26th, 1881 when they exchanged gunfire with a group of outlaws in the town of Tombstone in the Arizona Territory. What happened there is fairly well known, but much less well known was the story of the woman who briefly accompanied Doc Holliday at his time there in Tombstone and who may have saved his life earlier in his career.

Without her, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday may not have walked side by side into the most famous gunfight in the history of the Wild West. Mary Catherine Horany, better known as Big Nose Kate, was another larger than life colorful character of the Wild West and hers is a story that deserves to be remembered. Some historians say Kate was born in Hungry Slovakia in November 1849, others claim the year was 1850. Whatever the truth, Kate's parents died when she was a teenager at 14 or 15 and left her and her siblings without parents in Iowa. Unhappy with her situation, she ran away from the foster home that took her in and stowed away on a riverboat that was traveling down the Mississippi. In later memoirs, Kate claims that she was discovered by the riverboat captain on this trip was taken under his wing. She began to use his last name, Kate Fisher, and enrolled in a school at a convent in St. Louis. She claims that in St. Louis she married a man named Silas Melvin and had a child with him, but both he and the child died of an illness.

But again, the historical record is unable to prove that claim, but it also appears to be in St. Louis where she first began working as a prostitute. It was there, some historians claim, that Kate first met a man named John Henry Holliday, who would go on to fame in the West with the moniker Doc Holliday. Holliday had recently graduated from a dental school in Pennsylvania, but could not yet get a license to practice because he was too young, not yet 21 years of age.

Holliday was in St. Louis because a friend, A. Jimison Fuchs Jr., offered Holliday a job in his practice in the interim. Fuchs' office was only a few blocks away from where Kate was plying her trade. Holliday, with his Georgia drawl and legendary manners, was probably quite memorable to Kate among the other men she entertained.

He returned to Georgia in 1872 to open his own dental practice, leaving her behind plying her trade. After this, historians believe Kate was working as a prostitute in Dodge City, Kansas. We know Kate changed locations because there is documentation showing she was fined in Dodge City for being a sporting woman, which was what officials called prostitution at the time. She was working at a brothel owned by Nellie Earp, the wife of James Earp, who was one of the lesser known Earp brothers. Throughout her busy life, Kate was known by many nicknames because of her marriages and reputation of moving from place to place. In addition to Big Nose, she was also known as Katie Elder, Mrs. John H. Doc Holliday, Nosey Kate, Kate Cummings, and Kate Melvin. The nickname Big Nose Kate was actually used by Wyatt Earp in an article he wrote for a San Francisco newspaper in 1896. Earp wrote that this wasn't a comment on her actual nose, but referred to her strong, bold character. He said she had a legendary temper and valued her freedom over most anything else. Despite numerous film depictions to the contrary, Kate wasn't particularly fond of Earp and the feeling was reciprocated. She was not a blushing violet and never apologetic for her profession or her hard drinking ways. The men around Kate may not have appreciated the way she didn't ask for permission to live the way she wanted to.

They may also have been intimidated by her intelligence, which Holliday was known to have said was equal to his own. In the 1870s, Kate was living with J. S. Elder, a saloon keeper in Wichita, who gave her the surname made famous in the 1965 Western film, The Sons of Katie Elder, starring John Wayne and Dean Martin. She was arrested for prostitution in June of that year and that brush with the law may have encouraged her to move somewhere more friendly to her profession. Kate went up spring from Dodge City to Great Bend and her protector, J. S. Elder, went elsewhere.

Unfortunately, trouble found her again in Great Bend and Kate was fined $10 for assault and battery. She found another man to protect her, a saloon owner, gambler and gunslinger named Tom Sherman, a man with a fearsome reputation. Sherman wasn't someone to mess around with. According to one story, after shooting a man in a gun fight, Sherman said to the people watching, I'd better shoot him again, hadn't I boys?

And he did, walking up to point blank range to do so. Kate and Sherman wandered the West, going from town to town seeking opportunities for both prostitute and gambler. She was working in Fort Griffith, Texas when Doc Holliday blew into her life again. In the time since she had known him in St. Louis, Holliday had been shot in the leg and now walked with a limp. He had also picked up what people at the time called lung disease or consumption, doctors today call it tuberculosis. It would eventually kill him, but in the meantime, Holliday went West seeking the drier climates that were believed to help those with his condition.

Along the way, he was developing his own reputation for violence, and no patience for those he felt were short changing him. In addition to reuniting with Kate, it was at Fort Griffin that Holliday met Wyatt Earp, then Adepti US Marshal was on the trail of the notorious outlaw, Dirty Dave Roudebaugh. Holliday had played cards with Roudebaugh and described him as an ignorant scoundrel. It is entirely possible that Wyatt and Doc Holliday were introduced by Kate, who was probably already familiar with Earp, having worked at James Earp's Saloon earlier in her career.

Later, Earp told a story about what happened in Fort Griffin. According to Earp, Holliday was playing cards with a notorious gambler named Ed Bailey when things went awry. Bailey, apparently not trusting Holliday to play fairly, was looking through the discard pile after every hand that was blatantly against the rules of the card game. Holliday asked Bailey to stop and when he didn't, Holliday raked in the pot, apparently intending to leave. Bailey drew his gun to make Holliday put the money back, but Holliday gutted Bailey with a knife, killing him.

The townspeople nabbed Holliday and threw him in jail, rumbling about ropes and murder. Kate jumped to Holliday's rescue by setting a huge fire to attract the town's attention and then showed up at the jail, toting a gun in both hands, demanding Holliday's release. However the jail make happened, Kate and Holliday fled town and were at Dodge City, Kansas shortly thereafter. She claims that they married sometime before arriving in Dodge City and they registered at the hotel there under the name Dr. and Mrs. Holliday. Now together, Holliday continued to work as both a dentist and a gambler, while Kate continued to practice the world's oldest profession. They continued on Western after Holliday was accused of burglizing a store in Dodge City, his cough was becoming worse.

They weren't tied down to any one place for very long. Holliday established a saloon in Las Vegas, New Mexico territory, but the town was already guarding a reputation for violence, so he sold up and the couple moved on. When the Earps encouraged Holliday to move to Tombstone, a rustic silver mining camp in Arizona territory, Kate lived elsewhere for a time but joined him before the big shootout for which he is most well remembered. By some account she may have witnessed the shootout. Their relationship throughout their time together was tempestuous. Once after a serious argument, Holliday's enemies took advantage of their estrangement and talked Kate into filing a false claim with authorities that Holliday helped to rob the Benson stage coach. She'd been very drunk at the time that she made the statement, but it was a very serious accusation. Two men had been killed in the holdup. The Earps stepped in and provided witnesses, proving Kate's statement false, but the damage to Kate and Holliday's relationship seemed permanent.

They were never as close after that time. Things deteriorated further after Tom Marshall Virgil Earp arrested Kate for disorderly conduct and she left town, furious. Holliday died in Colorado in 1887. Kate married again in 1890 to George Cummings, a minor and, according to Kate, abusive alcoholic. They moved to Bisbee, Arizona.

Kate opened a bakery that failed. She divorced Cummings and moved in with Jack Howard, another minor. This final relationship seemed to be a good fit as Kate put down roots and stayed with Howard for 30 years. Howard left her the home they lived in after his death in 1930. She remained feisty and outspoken to the end.

Died of heart disease in November of 1940. She's buried at the cemetery at the Arizona Pioneer's home in Prescott, Arizona. While she was at the Arizona Pioneer's home, several authors came to her offering to write her story.

At first she was angry because they didn't offer her money and then she was angry because the story never seemed to get written. But those conversations still tell us something about her relationship with Doc Holliday. She said of him, I loved Doc, thought the world of him and he was always kind to me until he got mixed up with those Earps. One wonders what nickname Big Nose Kate used when she was referring to Wyatt Earp. She said of her life once, part is funny, part is sad, such is life any way you take it. Very reminiscent of a quote about life that Doc Holliday gave when he said, there is no normal life, there is only life. And that famous couple represented life in the Wild West. And great job on that as always by Greg Hengler. And again, go to YouTube and type in the history guy and you'll see all of his work.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-07 04:38:25 / 2023-06-07 04:44:14 / 6

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