With a handle like that, we know that we're not checking out a beauty queen here. But then, back in her day, she was considered as better looking than many women of the wild west.Mexico's Emperor, Maximillion. But after Maximillion's regime crumbled, her family fled all the way to Davenport, Iowa, where they settled.
After the death of her mother, Kate became somewhat of a drifter at the young age of 14. Then a riverboat captain named Fisher took pity on her and helped her to find a place to stay in St. Louis where she assumed Fisher's last name before entering a convent school. Later, Kate married a dentist. The couple had a child, but tragically, the baby and her husband, Silas Melvin, died the same year.
After that, some of Kate's history starts to get a little bit sketchy. Some stories locate her in Wichita, Kansas in 1874, as a 'sporting house' girl where she met James Earp, who was supposed to be the husband of the owner of the establishment. Then in 1875, Kate took on the name of Kate (Katie) Elder while she worked as a dance hall girl in Dodge City, Kansas. Several years later, Kate moved to Griffin, Texas, where she happened to meet Doc Holiday, who at that time was a card dealer in a saloon. It is somewhere in that time period that Kate acquired the moniker of Big Nose Kate. It is said that Kate was actually considered an attractive girl in those days, but her noticeably large nose eventually got her stuck with that not-so-flattering nickname.
While Kate preferred to be mostly a loner and was stubbornly independent, she liked traveling from town to town with Doc Holiday. And when Holiday got himself arrested after shooting a cheater in a card game, Kate decided to rescue him from his temporary hotel room jail before an agitated group of vigilantes got hold of him. Her plan was successful. She set fire to an old shed as a distraction, and as the blaze spread to other buildings, Kate took advantage of the confusion and grabbed two pistols and used them to disarm the lone officer who was guarding Holiday.
Kate was then running a boarding house in Globe, Arizona, but liked to visit Doc from time to time back in Tombstone. But Kate's bad temper and drunken altercations with Doc finally forced them apart. Kate even gave false testimony against Doc when he was accused of killing a stage coach driver during a hold up. But after she sobered up and realized what she had done, she withdrew her false testimony and the charges against Doc were dropped. But that was enough for Doc. He gave Kate some money and put her on the next stage coach out of town.
Our story of Big Nose Kate could end here with her death on November 7, 1940, where Kate passed away in the Arizona Pioneer's Home just a few days shy of her 90th birthday under the name of Mary K. Cummings. 'Katie Elder' was portrayed as the title character in the hit John Wayne movie, “The Sons of Katie elder” (see below).
Yes, checkered past or not, Big Nose Kate managed to not only endure the hardships of the old west, but she will also be remembered for her unique ability to survive in those most difficult times. --Gary Miller