Mary Katherine Haroney
Alias: Big Nose Kate, Kate Elder, Kate Fisher, Kate Melvin, Mary K. Cummings
Doc Holliday's Long Time Companion
Yesterday, November 30, 2003, we stepped through the swinging doors of The Palace, the oldest bar west of the Mississippi, located in Prescott, Arizona, on the legendary Whiskey Row. The beautiful original 1880's Brunswick back bar was on the left, dark, ornate and gleaming. Live piano music set the scene. I felt as though I stepped back in time. Hanging on the wall to my right was a large photograph of one of the West's most interesting, best educated and toughest women, "Big Nose Kate." I smiled.
Late in the afternoon, as the sun was setting, I found her. I stood in front of her headstone in the Arizona Pioneers Home Cemetery in Prescott, marked simply as Mary K. Cummings. Flowers had been placed around her grave from other admirers of this iron-willed woman. (Photographs at the end of this page.)
Born on November 7, 1850 in Budapest, Hungary, Mary Katherine Haroney was the daughter of Dr. Michael Haroney. Her first years were spent as part of the aristocracy, leading a life of privilege.
In 1862, Mexico's Emperor Maximilian, Archduke of the Austrian-Hungarian Hapsburg Empire, appointed Dr. Haroney his personal surgeon, so the family moved to Mexico. In 1865, Maximilian's rule crumbled; the Haroney family fled Mexico and moved to Davenport, Iowa. On March 26, 1865 Kate's mother died and the following May her father passed away (causes of the death's are unknown). Kate and the rest of the children were placed in foster homes. In 1867, Kate was put in the care of Otto Smith. The stay with Smith was short: Kate ran away and, by her account, stowed away aboard a steam ship headed for St. Louis. The captain of the ship, named Fisher, found Kate but didn't put her off the boat. Kate assumed Fisher's name and enrolled in a convent school in St. Louis, graduating two years later. Kate said she married a dentist, Silas Melvin, and the couple had a child. Both husband and child passed away the same year.
1874 found Kate working in a sporting house for Nellie Bessie Earp, the wife of James Earp. According to her, she didn't meet Wyatt Earp until she was in Fort Griffin, Texas, but Wyatt was in Wichita at the same time as Kate, and speculation is that she had a relationship with Wyatt at that time.
In 1875, Kate, still using the name Elder, is listed as being in Dodge City working as dance hall girl.
By 1878, Kate moved on to Fort Griffin where she met Doc Holliday . According to Wyatt Earp, Kate spent the next few years with Holliday, traveling to Colorado, South Dakota and New Mexico. With Kate still plying her trade as a prostitute from time to time, their relationship was an "on again-off again" affair.
Kate, the Earps and Holliday were all in Prescott, Arizona at the same time. Bessie Earp was running a sporting house, Doc was gambling successfully and the Virgil Earp was an assistant constable. Visit the Palace bar on the west side of Prescott's town square to see where the action took place. The silver strike in Tombstone lured the group to southeast Arizona for boom town riches.
By 1880, Kate was running a sporting house in Tombstone, Arizona and doing quite well. Doc had stayed in Prescott where he had a good run with the cards (reports were of over $10,000) and soon followed Kate; whether this was to reconcile with Kate or not isn't known, but they did get back together in Tombstone.
On March 15, 1881, a stage coach was robbed and Doc was accused of being in on the robbery. Kate and Holliday had just had one of their many fights; the Cowboys got Kate drunk then persuaded her to testify to the fact that she knew Doc was involved. Holliday was arrested on her testimony. The next day, after she sobered up, she recanted her statement and Doc was released. This ended her relationship with Holliday.
Kate would go on to Globe where she worked at a hotel, going back to see Doc from time to time, but Doc never forgot the fact that she betrayed him with her testimony. Kate stayed in Globe until around 1887 when it is said she made a trip to see Holliday in Glenwood Springs, Colorado before his death.
After Holliday's death, Kate married George Cummings, a blacksmith by trade, in Colorado. The marriage lasted about a year and the couple split up. Kate found work in Cochise, Arizona for awhile, before taking a job with John Howard as a house keeper in Dos Cabezas, Arizona, where she worked until his death in 1930.
Using the name Cummings, she applied to the Arizona Pioneers Home and was finally accepted after a six month wait. Kate had never become a citizen of the United States.
On November 2, 1940, a week before her 90th birthday, Kate passed away. She's buried at the Pioneer Cemetery in Prescott, Arizona. Her headstone simply reads Mary K. Cummings.