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Columns | "A Balloon In Cactus"

Katie Elder: Her True Story
Page 3

Eye-witness version of the
gunfight at the O.K. Corral

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand

Page 2
When 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.

In Kate's story, on the day of the gunfight, a man entered Fly's boarding house with a bandaged head and a rifle. He was looking for Holliday, who was still in bed after a night of gambling during which he'd had one argument with Ike Clanton that had been stopped by onlookers. The man was turned away by Mrs. Fly. He was probably Ike Clanton, although how Clanton's head had come to be bandaged is unknown. Clanton was known to have headaches, and perhaps he had been treated for that even before Virgil Earp hit him over the head and removed his weapons a short time later. In any case, Clanton's actually entering Holliday's rooming-house with a rifle would have given Holliday and the Earps all the reason they needed to believe that a gunfight between Holliday and the cowboys was inevitable.

While Clanton was being disarmed, arrested, and taken before a judge, Kate claims that Holliday put on his clothes and went up to see the Earps. They had gathered at the corner of 5th Street and Allen, where they could keep an eye on the courtroom to the South, the O.K. Corral a block west, and the various cowboys who were believed to be coming and going from out of town. Eventually, the Earps and Holliday walked down Fremont Street to confront the cowboys in the vacant lot West of Fly's (and Holliday's) boarding house. Kate would have been able to see the fight, just feet away, from her window overlooking the vacant lot. In Kate's version of the gunfight, Holliday had a problem with this "rifle" after the shooting started. He threw it to the ground and drew his pistol. This report fits with what is known of the events, although what Holliday actually threw down would have been his double-barrelled short shotgun (the gun he had emptied when killing Tom McLaury).

It is only from Kate that we know what happened after the fight. Doc Holliday went back to his room and examined a minor flesh wound on his hip, which he had gotten from a bullet fired by Frank McLaury. He sat on the edge of the bed and wept from the shock of what had just happened. "That was awful," Kate claims he said. "Just awful."

Kate stayed at the Arizona Pioneers' Home until her death on November 2, 1940, five days before her 90th birthday.

Kate was a larger-than-life character who lived to see stories of her own life and death (in that alleged gunfight in Bisbee) told as a legend of the Old West. In real life, she died in bed, having survived a world that was hard on both women and horses.

Kate said of life: "Part is funny and part is sad, but such is life any way you take it."

Katie Elder: Her True Story - Page 1 | Page 2 |


© Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus" May 26, 2006 column

Sources:
  • Doc Holliday: A Family Portrait, Karen Holliday Tanner, University of Omaha Press, 1998 (ISBN 0-8061-3036-9).
  • Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal, by Stuart Lake, Pocket Reprint, July 1994 (ISBN 0671885375)
  • Wikipedia Encyclopedia: Katie "Big Nose" Elder
  • Website: www.legendsofamerica.com
  • Related Topic
    The Phillips Collection - 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.
    A superb documentary of Big Nose Kate:
    Norman Fisk of Prescott, Arizona has created a superb documentary of Big Nose Kate. Rich with photos and masterfully narrated, it explains the life and times of this complex and one-of-a-kind personality. Click Here >

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