Born Mary Katherine Horony, Big Nose Kate didn’t actually have a big nose. According to a nice older gentleman we met at her gravesite, she got that moniker from being a well-known gossiper who had her nose in everybody’s business. She’s a Wild West icon, one of the few women of the time to make their mark, and basically a hometown hero of Prescott. Her grave is located at the Arizona Pioneers Home Cemetery, in the heart of Prescott, Arizona… overlooking a Walmart.
Born in 1850, in Érsekújvár, Kingdom of Hungary, she immigrated at age 10 to the United States in 1860. Her family settled in Davenport, Iowa, but after her parents’ deaths in 1865, she was sent to live with relatives. By age 16, she was a runaway. She made her way to St. Louis, Missouri before eventually ending up in Dodge City, Kansas, where she worked as a prostitute in a brothel run by James Earp’s wife Nellie “Bessie” Earp.
By 1876, Kate was living in Texas, where a year later she met the infamous Doc Holliday. Allegedly the two fought violently, but always reconciled. According to Kate, the couple married in Georgia; however, some historians claim it was a common-law marriage. Either way, they were certainly together, and Kate even joined Doc, Wyatt Earp, and Virgil Earp in Tombstone, Arizona, where she was present at the famous O.K. Corral gunfight. After Doc died in 1887, Kate moved on to Irish blacksmith George Cummings, marrying him in Aspen, Colorado in 1890. They traveled the Southwest together, going from mining town to mining town. However, after a volatile and abusive relationship, the two split.
So, how did Big Nose Kate end up buried in Prescott? Well for starters, Kate and Doc called Prescott home for a handful of years, and Kate even worked as a prostitute at the infamous Palace Saloon (The Palace Restaurant and Saloon: Step into a Wild West Time Machine.). In 1931, at age 80, Kate wanted to live at the Arizona Pioneers’ Home, located in Prescott. This retirement home was established to house Arizona’s early pioneers (which Kate was certainly one of). However, at the time, only men who were official U.S. citizens could live there. Kate fought for 6 months to be allowed residency at the home, eventually succeeding, and becoming one of the first women residents.
Big Nose Kate died on November 2nd, 1940, only 5 days before her 90th birthday. She died of “acute myocardial insufficiency”, more commonly known as heart failure. As she was an official resident of the Arizona Pioneers’ Home, it allowed her burial at the home’s cemetery. Kate did not have any children or relatives to claim her body to be buried elsewhere, so that is how she became the most famous eternal resident of the Arizona Pioneers Home Cemetery.
The cemetery is open and free to the public, and quite small. Be forewarned – there are no signs at the entrance pointing you in the right direction to her grave. We drove around for a few minutes before chancing upon a small sign on the side of the road with an arrow pointing down to her gravesite (please see below). You’ll have to park and walk down a slight hill, as her grave sits near the bottom and a bit away from the rest. It’s highly adorned with rocks, flowers, crosses, and something in a crushed-up box with a rock on the lid that we did not touch, making it hard to miss. She has two grave markers, a simple one with only her official name, Mary K. Cummings, and date of life. The other is far more detailed, with her nicknames, place of birth, and place of death engraved onto it (please see above for both). Her gravesite directly overlooks the town’s Walmart, something I found to be a comical reminder of how far we’ve come as a capitalistic society since Kate’s crazy Wild West heyday.
Overall, if you’re ever in the Prescott area, or perhaps Flagstaff or Phoenix, and want to visit the grave of a legitimate, tried-and-true, Wild West icon, look no further than the grave of Big Nose Kate. Of the four Wild West icons mentioned in this blog, she’s the only one buried in Arizona (Holliday is in Colorado, Wyatt Earp is in California, and Virgil is in Oregon). It’s free to visit, easy to find (the cemetery, not the grave), and simply an interesting reminder of our country’s history… of a time that was truly not that long ago. Kate died in 1940, only 82 years ago, and her grave serves as a not-so-distant reminder of those lawless gun slinglin’, horse stealin’, whiskey induced brawlin’ Wild West days.