A Davenport Connection: The Early Life of ‘Big Nose Kate’ Horony

For those fans of the Old West, we present to you the possible early life of Big Nose Kate, also known as Katie Elder, Kate Fisher, and Katherine Cummings–Doc Holliday’s girl, she was, living in Tombstone at the time of the famous gunfight between the Clantons and the Earps at the OK Corral.

But about 17 years earlier, she lived in Davenport, Iowa.

According to documents that were reportedly found in her effects, Kate was born Mary Katherine Horony in 1850, one of the seven children of Dr. Michael Horony, a prominent and wealthy physician in Budapest. According to a few sources, she was well-educated, and spoke several languages.

In 1860, Mary Kate left Hungary with her family for Davenport, Iowa. Why we do not know, but a clue may be that there was a small, but prominent Hungarian population already established in this city by the time they arrived.

Dr. Horony and his second wife, Katherina, died just a month apart in the spring of 1865. His obituary appears in the Davenport Democrat. Both their names are on the City Sexton Monthly Reports to City Council indicating the dates buried and where the graves are located in Davenport City Cemetery. 

Though the orphaned Mary Kate and her younger siblings first lived in the household of Gustav Susemihl, the husband of an older sister, their guardianship was eventually given to Otto Smith, a Davenport attorney. Western lore says that Mary Kate didn’t care much for this turn of events and took off. According to a petition signed by Otto Smith in Dr. Harmony’s probate files, Mary Horony “. . . cannot be found anywhere, because she went as it is said to parts unknown . . .”

These unknown parts may have included St. Louis, Dodge City in Kansas, and Fort Griffin, Texas, working, as it is rumored (but not proven), as a ‘sporting woman.’ It was in Texas, around 1876, that she is said to have first met that gambling, drinking, consumptive dentist John Henry Holliday–who went by the nickname ‘Doc’–and his friend Wyatt Earp.

The rest, as they say, is history, though not part of ours.

But isn’t it interesting to imagine that for a few years, we were part of hers?

(posted by Sarah)

*Part II was posted for this story on September 14, 2011.  Please click here to view.

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2 Responses to A Davenport Connection: The Early Life of ‘Big Nose Kate’ Horony

  1. Marion Meginnis says:

    I believe an abstract from a house in our neighborhood might prove a clue to the location of the Horony house. I have found in it the details of Michael Horony’s ownership. The abstract also includes the documentation mentioned in your articles, as to Mary Horony missing during some of the court proceedings that resulted after her father died. Happy to share this document with anyone who is interested.

    Marion Meginnis

  2. SCblogger says:

    We would appreciate any information on the Horony family! That would be very exciting to see (and have a copy of). Our email is specialcollections@davenportlibrary.com or mail to Special Collections at Davenport Public Library, 321 Main Street, Davenport, IA 52801. Feel free to stop in to the SC desk in the basement of Main library or give us a call too at (563) 326-7902. We would love to hear from you!

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