Big Nose Kate: True Stories and Pictures of Doc Holliday’s Girlfriend

By: Alyssa Miller | Published: Dec 06, 2023

Mary Katherine Horony, also known as Big Nose Kate, was a prominent figure in the American West, both as an independent, gun-slinging woman and as Doc Holliday’s on-and-off-again girlfriend.

Self-described as a “rip-roarin’, hard-drinkin’, gun-slingin’ prostitute,” Big Nose Kate lived long enough to see the stories of her life become legends of the Wild West (via Western Heritage Center). Let’s get into who Big Nose Kate is and the legacy she left behind.

Who Is Big Nose Kate?

Born as Mária Izabella Magdolna Horony on Nov. 9, 1849, the Wild West legend spent the first 10 years of her life in present-day Slovakia, then known as the Kingdom of Hungary.

A drawing of Davenport, Iowa in 1865.

Source: Barber and Howe/Wikimedia Commons

Big Nose Kate and her family, which included her seven siblings, left Europe in 1860 in pursuit of the American dream. The Horony family settled in Davenport, Iowa. Unfortunately, Kate’s parents died, and she and her siblings were sent to foster care. When her foster parent, Otto Schmidt, attempted to assault her, she reportedly hit him with an ax handle and fled (via All That’s Interesting).

Big Nose Kate Before the Wild West

Big Nose Kate changed her name to Kate Fisher and sneaked onto a steamship headed to St. Louis, Missouri. Kate would spend the next several years trying on new identities, which included becoming a nun at Ursuline Convent, a wife, and a mother.

Horizontal wood engraving of St. Louis, MO from Harper's Weekly, October 14, 1871

Source: Public Domain/Missouri History Museum

After her husband Silas Melvin and son supposedly died of yellow fever, Kate turned to sex work and became a madame. She then ended up in Dodge City, Kansas, where she found work with lawman Wyatt Earp’s sister-in-law.

Why Was She Called Big Nose Kate?

Big Nose Kate earned her nickname due to her prominent nose. Pictures of Big Nose Kate showcase her nose, which was considered large by the standards of the time.

A dance hall behind a crowd of people walking on a sandy path.

Source: Library of Congress/Picryl

While her nose became a distinct marker for her, Big Nose Kate was a razor-sharp woman who was well-read and could speak several languages, according to Erika Owen’s “Lawbreaking Ladies.”

Doc Holliday and Big Nose Kate

Around 1877, Doc Holliday met Big Nose Kate at John Shanssey’s Saloon in Fort Griffin, Texas.

At Shaunissy’s Saloon in Fort Griffin, Wyatt Earp first met Doc Holliday

Source: Kathy Alexander/Legends of America

Holliday was working as a dealer at the saloon. Kate was a dance hall girl, which was a chief attraction in many saloons and dance halls. They were both known for their strong personalities and quick tempers but found love and attraction for each other.

Why Did Doc Holliday Fall for Big Nose Kate?

Some reports suggest that Doc Holliday was drawn to Big Nose Kate’s voluptuous beauty, intellect, and independence. Kate liked Holliday for his reckless sophistication.

Pictures of Doc Holliday and Big Nose Kate

Source: Wikimedia Commons

After starting a fire and holding two guards at gunpoint to help Holliday escape from jail in Fort Griffin, which he was in for possibly stabbing someone in the stomach for cheating during a prohibited gambling game, Kate showed herself as a loyal companion to Holliday.


Big Nose Kate and Doc Holliday End Up in OK Corral

After escaping from Fort Griffin, the two made their way to Dodge City and promised to give up prostitution and gambling. Big Nose Kate introduced Doc Holliday to Earp and his brothers.

Dodge City, Kansas in 1875

Source: Wikimedia Commons

In 1880, Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp made their way to the volatile Wild West town of Tombstone, Arizona. Kate lived nearby in the town of Globe, where she ran a hotel. While Big Nose Kate was never Doc Holliday’s wife, some sources referred to her as his common-law wife.


What Happened to Big Nose Kate After Doc Holliday?

After Doc Hollliday, the 36-year-old dentist and lawman, died of tuberculosis in 1887 in Colorado, Big Nose Kate could sense the end of the Wild West coming. She once again found herself changing with the times.

How old was Big Nose Kate when she died

Source: Western Heritage Foundation Inc

Kate married a blacksmith named George Cummings in 1888, changing her name to Mary Katherine Horony Cummings. She later implied that Cummings was an alcoholic and ended their marriage. Kate then worked as a housekeeper for a miner, John J. Howard, who left her everything after his death.


Big Nose Kate’s Death 

Big Nose Kate applied to Arizona Pioneers Home in Prescott, a caring facility. She massaged the truth in her admissions application, stating that she was born in Iowa (since the facility only accepted American citizens) and that she was married to Doc Holliday.

This is one of the oldest known photographs of the Arizona Pioneers' Home

Source: Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons

In her final years, Big Nose Kate rarely discussed her Wild West adventures or life. Dr. Albert W. Bork, a local historian, worked on her autobiography. On Nov. 2, 1940, Big Nose Kate died of acute myocardial insufficiency. She died peacefully in her sleep.


How Old Was Big Nose Kate When She Died? 

Big Nose Kate was 90 years old when she died in her sleep on Nov. 2, 1940. She was five days away from celebrating her 91st birthday.

Mary K. Cummings, aka Kate Elder (second from left), age 80, and Mrs. Alexander Haroney (far left), stood for their portrait in 1930 in Prescott

Source: Boyer Collection, Sharlot Hall Museum Library/Archives, Arizona

Kate’s legacy is one of mystery and intrigue. Many unanswered questions about her life will most likely never be answered. This has only served to enhance her mystique as an important figure in the history of the Wild West.


Where Is Big Nose Kate Buried? 

Big Nose Kate’s tombstone is located in Arizona Pioneers’ Home Cemetery in Prescott, Arizona. Big Nose Kate’s grave is located in a quiet section of the cemetery near the graves of other well-known figures from the Wild West, such as Johnny Ringo and Mattie Blaylock.

Big Nose Kate Grave in Arizona

Credit: Marine 69-71/Wikimedia Commons

Also known as Rowdy Kate according to her tombstone, Big Nose Kate lived a noteworthy life as a teenage runaway, a dance-hall girl, a sex worker, and the lover of Doc Holliday.


Was Big Nose Kate in “Tombstone”?

Big Nose Kate was a minor character in the 1990 film, “Tombstone.” Joanna Pacula was who portrayed Big Nose Kate in “Tombstone,” and was said to have given a generally accurate portrayal of the notable Wild West woman.

Joanna Pacuła as Big Nose Kate sitting on Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday's lap in "Tombstone"

Source: Walt Disney Studios/YouTube

Because the film largely focuses on the relationship between Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer) and Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell), Big Nose Kate is not a prominent figure in the story but still plays an important role as a supportive friend to Holliday.