Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Ghost of Big Nose Kate

In the frontier west, poker was king—a lucky draw could turn a broken man into a winner. Professional gamblers of the time mostly cheated and were not admired. 

John Henry “Doc” Holiday was a dentist, a gunfighter, and a gambler, but he was not a cheat. Doc’s closest friend was Wyatt Earp, who had a solid reputation as a tough but fair lawman. 

In the early 1870s, Doc was playing poker with a local bully, Ed Bailey, in Fort Griffin, Texas. As he watched, he noticed Bailey cheating. Bailey was picking up discarded cards and looking at them—this was strictly forbidden in Western Poker, and often resulted in the player being forced to forfeit the pot.

Doc Holiday warned Bailey, but Bailey used to getting his own way, was unimpressed with Holiday’s reputation as a gunfighter. He continued to pick up and look at the cards. 

Without saying a word, Doc raked in the pot without showing his hand. Bailey angry brought his pistol from under the table but before he could pull the trigger Holiday slashed a knife across his stomach. Bailey took his last breath laid out on the table, his blood dripping onto the floor.

Big Nose Kate
Doc stayed in town knowing his actions were in self-defense. But the law viewed it differently. 

He was arrested and placed in a hotel room—the town did not have a jail. Despite the fact, Bailey was a bad man, the townsfolk saw red. A lynch mob formed and headed toward the hotel. 

Knowing this mob could overpower the local lawmen, Mary Katherine Horony or as she was known—Big Nosed Kate devised a plan to free Holiday. She set an old shed in Fort Griffin on fire—it burned rapidly—in fact, this fire threatened to engulf the whole town.

She was interested in Doc Holiday because before moving to Fort Griffin in 1876, she had lived in Dodge City, Kansas and had worked for Bessie Earp, the wife of James Earp. Once in Fort Griffin, she met Wyatt Earp, James’ brother. Some state Big Nose Kate was a prostitute, but history does not back up this fact. 

As most of the town fought the fire, Kate confronted Holiday’s guard, a pistol in each hand. She disarmed him, and she and Doc escaped.

The two spent the next few years on the road together. They traveled to Trinidad, Colorado and then to Las Vegas, New Mexico, a territory at the time, where Holiday briefly was a barkeep in a saloon. 

The two lovers had a tumultuous romance at best because of Doc’s gambling and Kate’s drinking. 

They parted ways in the fall of 1880. Kate went to Globe, Arizona where she ran a miner’s boarding house, also a territory at the time and Doc traveled to Tombstone, Arizona to join the Earp brothers in what they hoped would be a good business venture.

Later, Kate joined Holiday in Tombstone but their relationship, always rocky, followed its course. The lovers had a big fight. 

Two men, who were enemies of Doc’s and the Earp’s, got wind of the pair's fallout. They decided to take advantage of the situation. 

Finding Kate drunk and disenchanted with Holiday, they convinced her she could get back at him by signing their affidavit. They had her testify that Doc had participated in a March 1881 stage robbery where one man had been killed.

Based on this testimony, Holiday was arrested. But the next day Kate, now sober, recanted her story and Doc was released from jail. After this, Kate was most likely a witness to the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. But her and Doc’s relationship never recovered. 

He gave her some money and put her on a stage. Some accounts state Kate met up with Doc again in Colorado, to nurse him while he was dying, but there is no record this happened.

After Holiday’s death, Kate married a blacksmith, George Cummings in 1890. The couple worked in several Colorado mining camps, then they traveled to Bisbee, Arizona where Kate briefly ran a bakery. By this time George a heavy drinker, even more so than Kate. He became extremely abusive, so she left him.  

Kate died at the age of 89, in 1940, while living at the Arizona Pioneer’s Home in Prescott, Arizona. She was buried under the name Mary K. Cummings. 

Her ghost stays in one specific saloon in Tombstone. Some say this is because she was still with Doc, while she lived there.

Big Kate's Saloon
There is a saloon in Tombstone that is called, “Big Kate’s Saloon.” Some people confuse this establishment with Big Nose Kate. 

Crystal Palace Saloon
She instead haunts the “Crystal Palace Saloon,” also located in Tombstone. This saloon first opened its doors in July of 1882. 

When Kate lived in Tombstone, this establishment was one of her favorite places to hang out. Even today, it is stated her ghost lurks in this building. 

Witnesses, including staff, have reported objects move to different locations with no logical explanation, and that lights turn on and off without cause. One of the gambling wheels also spins of its own accord. 

The sounds of mysterious voices have been heard in the building late at night. It is believed that Big Nose Kate is not the only ghost in the Crystal Palace. Cowboys are seen at the bar and walking around the saloon.

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