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Ford County Historical Society
Dodge City, Kansas

"Big Nose" Kate Elder

November 7, 1850 - November 2, 1940

Mary Katharine Haroney, known as "Big Nose" Kate Elder, was born in Pest (Budapest), Hungary, on 7 November 1850 and died 2 November 1940 in Prescott, Arizona. In between, she was the lover of John Henry "Doc" Holliday, and before she met Holliday, knew Wyatt S. Earp. Kate is also known as Kate Fisher and Mary Cummings. John Wayne made a movie "The Sons of Katie Elder." based on her best known name.

Kate was the eldest of seven children of a physician named Dr. Michael Haroney, M.D., and his second wife, Katharina Baldizar Haroney. She received an education fitting her family's position. Kate spoke Hungarian, French, Spanish and English. Her father was appointed as the personal surgeon of French-controlled Mexico's Emperor Maximillian in 1862. Kate lived in Mexico City until 1865 -- when Maximillian's support ended from France and the start of his overthrow began -- he was executed in 1867. The Haroney family fled Mexico, moving to Davenport, Iowa.

On March 26, 1865, Kate's mother died; two months later her father passed away. Kate and the rest of the five surviving siblings were placed in foster homes. Kate was fourteen years old.

In 1867, Kate was in the care of a man by the name of Otto Smith, but the young woman cut her stay with Smith short, stowing away on a steam ship headed for St. Louis, Missouri. Though the ship's captain, a man named Fisher, found her, he did not put her off the ship, but rather, allowed her to stay on to St Louis. In St. Louis, Kate assumed Fisher's name and enrolled in a convent school. Later, Kate married a dentist by the name of Silas Melvin and the couple had a child. However, both husband and child passed away in the same year -- there is no record of either.

By 1874 Kate was in Wichita, Kansas, working as a soiled dove in a sporting house owned by Nellie "Bessie" Earp, the wife of James Earp, Wyatt's brother. Though Kate always stated that she did not meet Wyatt Earp in Wichita, Wyatt was there and it was a very small town. It is likely they knew each other, but Kate protect her long-time lover, John Henry Doc Holliday by not admitting it - and Wyatt was clearly silent about it.

Kate did meet Doc Holliday in Fort Griffin, Texas, and is well-known for an Old West legend of burning a hotel to sneak Doc out of jail. Kate and Doc went to Dodge City then, where Wyatt Earp was working. Living in the famousDodge House Hotel, on Dodge City's Front Street, Doc did run one advertisement for dental services. However, his main work was gambling in the wide-open faro and poker games of the 1870s. After a very short period of time -- months -- Kate and Doc followed Wyatt Earp and his brothers to the new boom town of Tombstone, Arizona Territory.

Kate Elder was a probable witness to the 1881 "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" never saying much, but being the witness to Doc Holliday immediately after the shootings. His return to their room, and his crying about the terror of the Gunfight, are among Kate's best known stories in her journal.

After Tombstone, and the wave of shooting that Doc and Wyatt carried out after Wyatt's brother Morgan was assassinated, Kate followed Doc to Colorado, where he died in Glenwood.

After Holliday's death, Kate married a blacksmith named George Cummings, but their marriage lasted only a year due to Cummings's alcoholism. Later, she moved back to Arizona where she worked as a housekeeper until 1930. Finally, a frail Kate (Mary) Cummings entered the Arizona Pioneers Home in Prescott, a state establishment for elderly Arizona residents, where she lived out her life. Kate was able to get her life story written down, with help. She is one of the tough women of the West.

(© 2006, Ford County Historical Society, Inc. George Laughead, author.)

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