Big Nose Kate was a Hungarian-born prostitute and common-law wife of Old West gunfighter Doc Holliday

Goran Blazeski
Featured image

Mary Katherine Harony, commonly known as Big Nose Kate, was a Hungarian-born prostitute and lover of the notorious gambler and gunslinger Doc Holliday. She was born in Budapest, Hungary, on 7 November 1850, to Dr. Michael Harony and his second wife, Katharina Baldizar Harony. Her father was a wealthy physician and was appointed as the personal surgeon of French-controlled Mexico’s Emperor Maximillian.

The Harony family settled in Mexico, but when France withdrew its forces back to Europe and Maximillian’s rule crumbled, they fled Mexico and moved to Davenport, Iowa. She was fourteen years old when her parents died within months of each other, so Kate and her five siblings were placed in foster homes.

Kate Horony (left) and younger sister Wilhelmina in about 1865, at the time they were orphaned. Kate is about 15 years old.

Kate was put in the care of a man named Otto Smith, who reportedly tried to rape her. She decided that the best thing to do was run away, so she stowed away on a steamship headed for St. Louis, Missouri. Once there, under the name of Kate Fisher, she enrolled in a convent school and graduated in 1869.

She claimed that she later married a dentist named Silas Melvin and that they had a child, but both husband and baby died of a fever in the same year.

Big Nose Kate at about age 50, photo about 1900

Calling herself Kate Elder she went to Wichita, Kansas, where she worked as a prostitute in a sporting house for Nellie Bessie Earp, Wyatt Earp’s sister-in-law. She was also known as Big Nose Kate, Nosey Kate, Mrs. John H. “Doc” Holliday, Kate Melvin, and Kate Cummings.  It is said that while she was in Kansas she had a relationship with Wyatt Earp, but she claimed that she met Wyatt several years later in Fort Griffin, Texas. There she also met gunslinger Doc Holliday, who would become the love of her life.

She traveled with Holiday to Kansas, Colorado, South Dakota and New Mexico, often still working as a prostitute. She claimed that they were married at Holliday’s home in Georgia, but it is believed that the marriage was a common-law one.

Doc Holliday

There are many fascinating stories about Big Nose Kate and Doc Holliday. In one of those stories, Big Nose Kate set fire to a hotel just to get Doc out of trouble. While Doc Holliday was dealing cards in Fort Griffin, he got into a fight with a man named Ed Bailey. Reportedly Bailey tried to shoot Holliday, but Doc stabbed him with a knife and killed him. He was arrested and imprisoned in a nearby hotel since there was no jail in the town.

Big Nose Kate came up with a perfect plan to help him escape. Reportedly she set fire to an old shed and while people were trying to prevent the fire from engulfing the entire town she entered the hotel, disarmed the officer who was guarding her lover and the two escaped.

Big Nose Kate’s Saloon in Tombstone. It was originally called the “Grand Hotel” and was built in 1880. Photo Credit

The escapees stole two horses and headed to Dodge City, Kansas, registering themselves at Deacon Cox’s Boarding House as Dr. and Mrs. J. H. Holliday. The couple separated as a result of one of their many arguments and Doc went to off to Colorado, leaving Kate in Dodge City. He couldn’t stay out of trouble in Colorado and after he killed a local gunman named Mike Gordan he returned to Dodge City, but Kate had already left. They ran into each other in Prescott, and in 1880 they went together to Tombstone. They split up again and Kate moved to Globe, Arizona, where she ran a boarding house.

Doc managed to convince Kate to move to Tombstone, but in the fall of 1881, after the Gunfight at the OK Corral, the couple split up again since he was worried for her safety and asked her to return to Globe.

Tombstone in 1881

Doc died in 1887 and the next year, Kate married a blacksmith and moved to Bisbee, Arizona. However a year later she left her husband and went to Cochise, Arizona, where she worked in a hotel.

Here is another story from us: Fannie Porter- The most iconic “Madame” of the Old West

In 1900 she moved in with a man named Howard, who she lived with until his death in 1930. She spent her last years in the Arizona Pioneers Home, in Prescott. She died on November 2, 1940.