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Big Nose Kate – Doc Holliday’s Rough and Tumble Lover who Broke him out of Jail

Tijana Radeska

She is remembered in history as Doc Holliday’s on-and-off girlfriend with the big nose. But Big Nose Kate was much more than that.

She showed true grit when it came to situations like saving her life or the life of her beloved man.

She was born Mary Katherine Horony in 1850, in Hungary. Her father was a physician who in 1862 was appointed as the personal surgeon of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico.

So, all the family moved to Mexico. Unfortunately, only three years after leaving Hungary, Maximilian’s rule collapsed and the Horony family left Mexico and settled in Davenport, Iowa.

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

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

As if there was some curse on the family, in 1865, the same year that they moved to the U.S., Katherine’s mother passed away. Only two months later, her father died. Kate became orphan at the age of fourteen and along with her siblings was placed in a foster home.

Whatever happened in that foster home remains unknown, but Kate ran away to St. Louis with the help of a ship’s captain who became her friend. She went to a convent school and later married Silas Melvin, a dentist with whom she had a child.

Big Nose Kate at about age 50, photo circa 1900.

Big Nose Kate at about age 50, photo circa 1900.

Tragedy appeared as an entwined part of Kate’s life. She lost both her husband and child to yellow fever. In 1869, Kate started working for madam Blanch Tribole in St. Louis, as a prostitute. By 1874, she was known as a “sporting woman” who worked in the “sporting house” of Nellie “Bessie” Earp, James Earp’s wife, in Dodge City, Kansas.

Kate was independent, stubborn, and tough. She always said that she was in the “sporting business” because she liked it, belonging to no man, nor to any house.

It is most likely that it was during her time in Dodge City that she met Wyatt Earp, although Kate later claimed that the two met in Fort Griffin, Texas. There were many speculations that Kate and Wyatt had a romantic relationship.

Wyatt Earp, 1870s.

Wyatt Earp, 1870s.

Whether true or false, their acquaintance didn’t matter much after Kate met Doc Holliday, the love of her life, in Fort Griffin in 1875. He was a dentist and a gambler who worked in Shanssey’s Saloon, dealing cards. Kate was an attractive dance hall girl and a prostitute, known for her big nose. However, their temperaments somehow matched perfectly and they fell madly in love with each other.

Their relationship was always on-and-off; they were frequently living together and separating, leaving each other and then longing. Their relationship might have inspired fiction.

Doc Holliday, as he appeared in the early 1880s.

Doc Holliday, as he appeared in the early 1880s.

In 1877, Big Nose Kate saved Doc’s life in a movie-like scenario. He was arrested for killing a bully during a card game. Although it was self-defense, Doc was imprisoned and the town seemed keen on hanging him.

But Kate intervened. She set the whole jail on fire and while everyone’s attention was on putting it off, she threatened a jailer with a gun to release Doc from his cell. They escaped to Dodge City together, but couldn’t last together long and split up.

Big Nose Kate Horony.

Big Nose Kate Horony.

After three years, in 1880, they reunited in Tombstone. But after the Gunfight at the OK Corral in 1881, they split up again because Doc was worried about Kate’s safety. She moved to Globe, Arizona, where she ran a boarding house.

Later, she moved to Colorado, where Doc spent his last years before succumbing to tuberculosis in 1887.

Gravesite of “Big Nose Kate.” Photo by MB CC BY-SA 4.0

Gravesite of “Big Nose Kate.” Photo by MB CC BY-SA 4.0

It is unknown how much or whether they had any contact at all during this time. But it was only after Doc’s death that Kate married another man, in 1888, a blacksmith named George M. Cummings.

A year of marriage was too overwhelming for Kate and she left her husband. She traveled around Arizona living in various towns. Eventually, she met a man with whom she lived until his death in 1930.

Read another story from us: She Wanted Her Men to Suffer – History’s Most Sadistic Courtesan

In 1931, she wrote to George W.P. Hunt, Arizona Governor, asking to be admitted in the Arizona Pioneer Home. She was granted admission and she died in the home on 2 November 2, 1940, only five days shy of her 90th birthday.