One of Dodge City’s soiled doves is best known for who she partnered with than for her profession.
Big Nose Kate was born as Mary Katherine Horony on November 7, 1850 in Hungary, the daughter of physician Miklós Horony. In 1860, Dr. Horony, his second wife Katharina, and his children came to the United States. The family settled in Davenport, Iowa in 1862. In 1865, the children were orphaned when their parents died within a month of each other.
Mary Katherine "Kate" and her younger siblings became wards of the State of Iowa. Kate spent time at a Catholic girl’s school. She did not fit in and, at age 16, ran away to St. Louis, Missouri. As she grew older, she found prostitution was a way to gain independence and support her love of gambling.
In 1874, Kate was fined for working as a "sporting woman" in Dodge City in a house run by Nellie "Bessie" Earp, James Earp’s wife.
In 1876, Kate moved to Fort Griffin, Texas, where, in 1877, she met Doc Holliday. Kate introduced Holliday to Wyatt Earp. Kate and Doc went with Earp to Dodge City for the cattle drives in 1878. Doc was a dentist during the day, but a gambler and drinker by night. The two had a lot in common, they loved the nightlife and fast living.
However, their relationship was fiery. They fought often and sometimes violently. In a conversation between Wyatt and Doc — which took place after Kate drank too much and began to wreck their hotel room — Doc said, "You know, I had to quiet her Wyatt, I just hit her gently over the head with the butt end of my gun, had to quiet her."
According to Kate, the couple got married in Valdosta, Georgia, moved to Trinidad, Colorado, and then to Las Vegas, New Mexico, where they lived for about 2 years. Holliday continued his dental career during the day and operated a saloon at night. Kate carried on her trade, occasionally working at a dance hall in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Their time together was off and on, but they joined each other shortly after Doc got to Tombstone in the fall of 1880. Here, after a fight with Doc, Kate was taken advantage of by Sheriff Johnny Behan who got her drunk and compelled her to falsely implicate Doc in a robbery in which two men were killed. Fortunately, witnesses who saw Holliday elsewhere got him off the hook. This didn’t totally end their relationship, but Kate visited with Doc only intermittently until his death in 1887. Supposedly, Kate was in Tombstone during the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral on Oct. 26, 1881.
On March 2, 1890, Kate married blacksmith George Cummings in Aspen, Colorado.
After living in Colorado and Arizona, Kate and Cummings separated in 1900. The 1910 U.S. Census shows Kate lived in the household of miner John J. Howard in Dos Cabezas, Arizona. She was the executrix of his estate when he died in 1930.
In 1931, Kate applied for admittance into the Arizona Pioneers’ Home in Prescott. Because Kate was not a U.S. citizen it took 6 months for her to be admitted as one of its first female residents. She was outspoken and assisted her fellow residents.
Five days before her 90th birthday, Kate died on November 2, 1940, of heart failure. Kate is buried under the name "Mary K. Cummings" in the Arizona Pioneers’ Home Cemetery in Prescott.
Kathie Bell is the curator of collections and education at Boot Hill Museum.