1878 Kate had moved to Fort
Griffin, Texas. There she met and hung out with Wyatt Earp and
it was through him that she began her long-time involvement with Doc
Holliday. Considering the probable low IQs of cowboys and outlaws
on those days, it's possible that the educated Doc reminded Kate of
Earp told a colorful tale of how Kate got Doc out of trouble in Fort
Griffin: Doc was dealing cards to a local bully by the name of
Ed Bailey, who was accustomed to having his own way without question.
Bailey was unimpressed with Doc’s reputation and in an attempt to
irritate him, he kept picking up the discards and looking at them.
Looking at the discards was strictly prohibited by the rules of Western
Poker, a violation that could force the player to forfeit the pot.
Though Holliday warned Bailey twice, Bailey ignored him and picked
up the discards again. This time, Doc raked in the pot without showing
his hand, or saying a word. Bailey immediately brought out his pistol
from under the table, but before the man could pull the trigger, Doc’s
lethal knife slashed the man across the stomach. Bailey lay sprawled
across the table, his blood and guts spilling over the floor.
Knowing that his actions were in self-defense, Doc did not run. However,
he was still arrested and imprisoned in a local hotel room, there
being no jail in the town. Bully or no, a vigilante group formed to
seek revenge. Knowing that the mob would quickly overtake the local
lawmen, “Big Nose” Kate devised a plan to free Holliday from his confines.
Setting a fire to an old shed, it began to burn rapidly, threatening
to engulf the entire town. As everyone else was involved in fighting
the fire, Kate, a pistol in each hand, confronted the officer guarding
Holliday, disarmed him, and she and Doc escaped. (Much later, in 1940,
Kate herself explicitly denied that it had ever happened. Then again,
by that time, she was nearly 90 years old and her memory might have
been somewhat faulty.)
out during the night, they headed to Dodge City, Kansas on stolen
horses the next morning, registering at Deacon Cox’s Boarding House
as Dr. and Mrs. J. H. Holliday. Doc so appreciated what Kate did for
him, that he was determined to make her happy and gave up gambling,
hanging up his dentist’s shingle once again. In return, Kate promised
to give up the life of prostitution and stop hanging around the saloons.
Neither resolution lasted.
Kate and Doc spent the next few years together on the road. They went
to Dodge City, Kansas, Deadwood, South Dakota, Las Vegas, New Mexico
Territory, and Prescott, Arizona Territory. Their relationship was
allegedly turbulent and sporadic.
It is known that Kate rented a boarding house in Globe, Arizona Territory.
In 1880, she also stayed for a time in the booming silver town of
Tombstone, Arizona Territory, where she prospered by running a bordello.
An inveterate gambler, Doc Holliday, had a great run playing faro
and poker in Tucson, joining Kate in Tombstone later that year. The
two renewed their relationship, and things returned to the erratic
romance they had previously had.
Here's the real skinny about how Kate came to betray Doc, thereby
losing him forever. Holliday, who had been friendly with one of the
actual robbers, was suspected of participating in a stagecoach robbery
and murder that occurred near Tombstone, on March 15, 1881. Holliday's
enemies discovered that he and Kate had just had a fight. They got
her drunk and persuaded her to swear that he had been involved. Holliday
was arrested based on her testimony. The next day, a sober Kate recanted
her story, and Holliday was released from jail. Their relationship
never fully recovered despite her recantation.
Kate went back to live in Globe, and in 1887, she traveled to Glenwood
Springs, Colorado to see Holliday before he died. He actually spent
some sick time in a cabin owned by one of Kate's brothers near Glenwood
Springs, but he ultimately went into town to die, and Kate went with
him. Since Holliday is known to have been destitute by this time,
it is probable that Kate helped support in his final months.
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, Kate, increasingly frail, applied to the
Arizona Pioneers Home, a state establishment in Prescott for elderly
and destitute Arizona residents from frontier days. She was finally
accepted after a six month wait. Kate had never become a citizen of
the United States.
While there, the paparazzi of the day swooped down to find out about
her life with Doc and their time in Tombstone. Kate wanted money to
tell them, but they refused to pay, so most of her story will never
she was 89, however, she wrote a letter revealing that she was with
Doc in his room in Fly's Boarding house, next to the O.K. Corral,
and that she actually witnessed the shootout. Many details were included
in her writings that strongly suggest she was telling the truth.
page - O.K. Corral...
"A Balloon In Cactus" May
26, 2006 column
- A series:
Vintage photos of Doc Holliday, Big Nose Kate, Wyatt Earp, Josephine
Earp, Mattie Earp, the Clanton's, Johnny Behan, John Clum, Jesse James,
the Younger Brothers, the Masterson family, and many more.