Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Big Nose Kate In Dos Cabezas

Mary Katherine Horony-Cummins was born in 1849 in what was then the Kingdom of Hungary.  Her father was a physician and her mother a teacher.  In 1860, they left Hungary for the United States in hopes of a better life.  Sadly, it didn't turn out that way.

They settled in Davenport Iowa.  Three years later, both parents died within a month of each other.  Mary Katherine and her younger sister Wilhelmina ended up in the house of a lawyer, finally working as domestics (housekeepers).
Hard to believe that at 16, Kate snuck out and stowed away on a riverboat for St Louis.  By 1869, with no chance of getting regular work of any kind, she became a prostitute.  In 1874, she was working as a "sporting woman" in a "sporting house" (brothel) in Dodge City Kansas, run by Bessie Ketchum Earp.  You've heard that name before.  Bessie was married to James Earp, Wyatt's brother.
In 1876 (she moved around a lot this girl) she ended up in Fort Griffin Texas where one year later, she made the acquaintance of Doc Holliday.  In no time, they hooked up and moved to Dodge City where Doc opened a dental practice.  With many more moves under their belts, Doc ended up making money at gambling in Prescott while Kate worked as a prostitute in the Palace Saloon.  They finally ended up in Tombstone.
In 1881, three cowboys tried to rob a stagecoach near Benson Arizona, killing the popular driver, along with one passenger.  It was thought Bill Leonard (a former watchmaker from New York and good friend of Doc Holliday) did the dirty deed.  

When Kate and Doc had one of the infamous fights, Sheriff Behan made a beeline for Kate, getting her drunk and convincing her to sign an affidavit implicating Doc in the murder.  In the end, she testified in court that it was not true and Doc was released.  Needless to say, she moved out of town for a time, eventually landing back in Tombstone just in time for the big shootout at the OK Corral, which didn't even happen there.  It happened behind the stables and down the street a bit in an empty lot.
I'll skip that part about the shootout.  Kate says she saw it through her hotel window, but apparently Kate lies a lot, or at least had a hard time remembering the truth.  After Doc died, she married blacksmith George Cummings in Aspen Colorado.  They eventually ended up in Willcox Arizona where George became an abusive alcoholic.  
Kate left him in 1900, which brings me to why Miss Patty and I visited this little ghost town of Cochise.  Kate moved to Cochise and worked in the hotel owned by John and Lulu Rath.  The hotel is not only still standing, but up until recently, was available for rent.

Starting back at the top, that's the church, still standing but not in use as far as we could tell.  At it's height, Cochise had about 3,000 people here, only because it became a stop on the railroad for water and coal.  It was also a good shipping point for cattle.

The next picture with the red roof is the post office, as evidenced by the sign on the highway, Post Office.  As we drove through, this magnificent abode came into view.  
Although approximately 50 people still live here, we only saw three cars and one human.  It being summer and all, maybe the town is shut down until cooler temperatures prevail.  It was rather hard to tell which places were really old and which were just in disrepair.
This is the hotel, in very nice condition I might add, that Big Nose Kate worked at.  I wonder if anyone called her that name to her face?  The sign says it's available for weddings, barbecues and whatever event you may have.  
In the 1910 census, Kate was listed as living at the home of miner John J. Howard.  When he passed away, she was the executrix of his estate.  By this time she was 61 years old.  
She said the money she received as Executrix wouldn't even buy wood for the winter to keep her warm.
Directly across from the hotel is the railroad line.  I can just imagine huge corrals full of cattle and cowboys, waiting for the train.
In 1931, Kate contacted her old friend Arizona Governor George Hunt and applied for entrance to the Arizona Pioneers' Home in Prescott for destitute and ailing MALE miners.  It took six months to be admitted, even though she was female, because the home had citizenship restrictions.  Amazingly, a birth certificate appeared with her name on it.

The old general store is also still standing in Cochise.  By the way, the town was originally named Dos Cabezas.  Two Heads, named for the two granite peaks of the nearby mountains.  This building would make a good quilt store, yes??  I could live in the back.
There are lots of discrepancies in Kate's life, as her death certificate says she was born in Iowa,  which probably allowed her into the Pioneers' Home.  She recited many memories until her death, none of which could be verified.  She died in 1940 and was buried under the name Mary K Cummins in the Arizona Pioneers' Home Cemetery in Prescott Arizona.  

That was a pretty exciting life for a prostitute.  Driving through the little town of Cochise Arizona, I could just imagine the hustle and bustle of cowboys and robbers, gamblers and ladies of the evening.  The town is just off Highway 191 heading from Highway 10 to Douglas.

In case you were wondering, the Big Nose Kate Saloon in Tombstone was originally called the Grand Hotel, built in 1880.  The McLaury brothers stayed there the night before the gunfight.  The main entrance was in to the hotel.  The bar was downstairs.  It basically burned to the ground in 1882 and was rebuilt and renamed.  If you haven't been, check it out ... the food is good ... and wander down the spiral staircase to the original bar.


  1. Thanks for the tour and more interesting history of Big Nose Kate. The Saloon in Tombstone is a favorite for us to visit and my favorite the overstuffed Rueben, Always check out the downstairs as well.

  2. Very interesting. Thank you. Elva Shannon

  3. Replies
    1. Yes there is ... and the characters are fascinating!

  4. Well, that's a great story, and she lived a long life! So much for being virtuous.
    Have been enjoying your posts....thanks for the work.

    1. Wasn't she something? I'm sure many gals went down that road, but most didn't live that long.