Monday, April 18, 2016

Big Nose Kate

April 11, 2016 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The following story is certainly filled with much speculation, but still has some interesting and valid historical points. One of Arizona’s most infamous characters was a madam by the name of “Big Nose” Kate.  She was born Mary Katherine Harnoy, in Budapest, Hungary, on November 7, 1850.  Her father was Michael Harnoy, a physician, and her mother was Katherina Boldizer Harnoy.

 The Harnoy family moved to Mexico City in 1863 when Kate was thirteen years old.  Kate’s father was one of the court physicians to Maxmillian, Emperor of Mexico.

After the fall of the Emperor Maxmillian, the Harnoy family escaped from Mexico to the United States with nothing but their lives. They finally ended up in Davenport, Iowa in 1866. Shortly afterward, Kate’s mother passed away.

Kate Harnoy left home in 1867 at the age of seventeen and took the alias of Kate Fisher. She was working for Bessie Earp at a saloon and hotel in Wichita, Kansas, in 1874. The next year Kate was working in Dodge City, Kansas, at another hotel and saloon. Kate acquired the name of Kate Elder in 1877 and moved to Fort Griffin, Texas. Kate met Doc Holiday in 1877 in Fort Griffin.  Kate broke up with Doc Holiday in 1881 while living in Tombstone. It was in Tombstone she acquired the nickname “Big Nose” Kate. She worked as a madam and gave special favors to certain Tombstone citizens.
Mary Katherine Harnoy (alias Big Nose Kate)
with John Henry “Doc” Holliday in an undated photo.

After Kate’s breakup with Doc Holiday in Tombstone she moved to Globe in 1882 and operated a hotel and served as a madam. Kate met many of the prominent male citizens of Globe during her stay. There is some speculation she may have met George P. Hunt for the first time long before he became Arizona’s first governor.

Kate lived in Pinal and Silver King for a short time in 1884. She rekindled her friendship with Cecilia N. Blaylock Earp, Wyatt Earp’s first wife, during her brief stay at Silver King.  Blaylock is buried in the old Pinal Cemetery.

“Big Nose” Kate returned to southern Arizona by 1887.  She married George M. Cummings, a blacksmith, in 1888.  Kate and George worked in several of the mining camps from 1888 through 1897. They worked briefly in Pearce, Arizona in 1897. Some historians say she separated from George Cummings in 1898.

“Big Nose” Kate was managing a hotel in Cochise, Arizona, 1899 and another hotel in Dos Cabeza, Arizona, in 1900. Between 1900-1920 “Big Nose” Kate operated hotels and brothels throughout the mining districts of Arizona. Kate had made a significant impact on Arizona history, but maybe not a page most historians would like to record for posterity.

Kate in later years.
George M. Cummings died in Courtland, Arizona in 1930 and left “Big Kate” a small estate. The estate amounted to a house and some mining claims.

At her advanced age of 81, Kate petitioned the Office of the Governor in 1931 for permission to live at the Arizona Pioneer’s Home in Prescott.

“Big Nose” Kate, the most infamous madam in Arizona history was accepted into the Arizona’s Pioneer’s Home in Prescott. She died there on November 2, 1940, at the age of 89. She is buried in the Prescott Pioneers Cemetery as Kate Elder Cummings.

You might ask. How is this story linked to the Superstition Wilderness Area? Much of the following is speculation and supposition. I have no direct documentation or evidence to support this story except the word of a few old pioneers.

It is said that Kate Elder Cummings wrote a letter to old George P. Hunt explaining her destitute situation. There is also the story about three men who made a trip over to the Silver King Cemetery from Globe and made a grave cap out of concrete. These three young men were survivors of a Typhoid epidemic where Kate had courageously cared for the ill. On this grave cap they printed the letters, “Big Nose Kate” 1850-1884. Hunt allegedly recommended the Kate Elder Cummings petition to be approved because he knew “Big Nose Kate” was buried at Silver King at the time and that the petitioner was a lawful pioneer citizen of Arizona and deserved the rights of such. After all, the old woman that had petitioned Hunt for residency in Arizona’s Pioneer Home certainly was not the infamous “Big Nose” Kate of Tombstone history.

We must thank many people for the above information. I would like to thank Marshal Trimble, Ben Traywick, Malcom Comeaux, Grace Middleton, Jack Kinslow, and many others. Any mistakes or supposition not documented are my responsibility.