Big Nosed Kate – An Outlaw’s Nightmare?

Doc Holliday – 1875 An American Outlaw and Gunslinger, most famous for his part in the shootout at the O.K corral in 1881 then later died in 1887 due to Tuberculosis.| Courtesy of the Britannica encyclopedia

“I am trying to keep you alive!” said Kate Elder to Doc Holliday after he yelled at her during an argument saying “You’re an insatiable bitch!- You’ll kill me before the rot does!”1 Katie (Big Nosed) Elder was the wife of the infamous outlaw gunslinger Doc Holliday from the mid 1800’s who died after contracting Tuberculosis at a very young age.2 Katie Elder was money hungry, and she played Doc for his money. She used his amazing skills at card games to her advantage. Even Doc himself once described her as “a leech for money.” It seems Doc knew who she was, but in his own way he still loved her. However, most people, including Doc himself, saw her as someone who used Doc. If this was so, then why did Doc keep her around until he died, instead of leaving her right off the bat?

Kate (Big Nosed) Elder | 1874 | Wife to Doc Holliday, known to be a selfish whore who took advantage and used Doc for his money and intelligence | Courtesy of Wikipedia

Kate Elder met Doc after she ran into him after escaping from Jonas Stonebreak, a gunslinger that killed her friend. He took her in and over the years she ended up learning about his early life and how he used to be a dentist before becoming a gunslinger. She also learned that he had tuberculosis, a deadly lung disease that leads to a slow death, which he contracted from his mother at the age of fifteen while treating her for the same disease.3

In her time with Doc she learned about the symptoms of tuberculosis, so she could have a better understanding of his condition in order to be able to help him during the time he had left. She admitted to him many times (and even after his death) how much she loved him, and although he treated her harshly at times, Doc had a way with himself and with words, so that she felt loved and understood by him like no other man before. “He was unlike any other man before, so full of himself and knew how to play the part well.”4 Kate told stories of how she and Doc traveled to many places from Kansas, Colorado, South Dakota, and New Mexico, where they would enter a saloon and challenge any man to try and beat Doc at a game of cards. At first she didn’t like Doc going out and wasting away his life just for money while she was left stranded in the room alone for many hours of the night until Doc returned home drunk and covered in the smell of cigarette smoke. Despite knowing the symptoms of tuberculosis, and after many arguments, she began encouraging his gambling addiction and stood by him while “He ate his life away in drinking and gambling.”5 Everyday she encouraged his other addictions too, to alcohol and to cigarettes. Sometimes while he was gambling she would stick a cigarette in his mouth or order him another drink until he would eventually blackout.6

Doc Holliday – played by Val Kilmer in the movie Tombstone (1993) | Courtesy of IMDb titles

This went on for many years, until Doc eventually became numb to all the arguments, and decided to leave. Kate, explaining the fight, said “I often let my temper get the better of my common sense, but I misunderstood his bouts of anger when his body betrayed him. He turned to me as a scapegoat.”7 It was not in her interest to ever highlight the fact that he was dying in any of their arguments, but during that last argument, she said “It is not my fault you are dying! I have done my best but you don’t care about what happens to me when you go!”8 In an interview, Kate admitted that, “I failed to see that his fury at himself was taken out on me, as my good health was a constant reminder of his illness.”9 They fought and yelled at each other while Doc flung around clothes to take with him and pushed her onto the bed, where she then tried to seduce him in an attempt to calm him down. Kate explained, “If words didn’t work, maybe seduction will. He put his hands around my throat calling me a whore while I told him I just loved him. Then he kissed me and we made love in that bed.”10 However, the next morning Doc was gone. He left her so he could go die alone in peace and solitude.

Kate hated Doc for leaving, and it wasn’t until years later that she found him again in Tombstone (a small town in Cochise County, Arizona) where he was being wrongly accused of something he didn’t do. This is where it’s believed she “betrayed” him. Doc was being accused of robbing a stagecoach and murdering the driver. Doc’s enemies in Tombstone actually found Kate, got her drunk and forced her to testify against Doc saying he did it. It wasn’t until the next morning, when sober, that Kate told the truth and admitted that she was forced to testify against Doc. When Doc found out what she had done, he never forgave her, although he knew that she didn’t do it intentionally. He just couldn’t come to forgive her for even daring to say it in the first place. Kate said “That was the last time I ever saw Doc before he left Tombstone and died years later.”11

Doc Holidays tombstone – His final resting place located in Glenwood Springs, Colorado | Courtesy of Elena Sandidge Westerns
  1. Doc Holliday, quoted in Jane Candia Coleman, Doc Holliday: Doc Holliday’s Woman (New York: Warner Books, 1995), 77, 79.
  2. Forest Tennant, “Doc Holliday: A Story of Tuberculosis, Pain, and Self Medication in the Wild West,” New York: Practical Pain Management 12, No.11 (2015): 1-5.
  3. New Georgia Encyclopedia, 2009, s.v. “Doc Holliday 1881,” by John Dalton Macdonald.
  4. Katie Elder, quoted in Jane Candia Coleman, Doc Holliday: Doc Holliday’s Woman (New York: Warner Books, 1995), 88.
  5. New World Encyclopedia, 2016, s.v. “Doc Holliday,” by John Joshua Webb.
  6. George P. Cosmatos, Tombstone (1881; Tucson, AZ: Kevin Jarre, 1993), DVD.
  7. Katie Elder, quoted in Jane Candia Coleman, Doc Holliday: Doc Holliday’s Woman (New York: Warner Books, 1995), 87.
  8. Katie Elder, quoted in Jane Candia Coleman, Doc Holliday: Doc Holliday’s Woman (New York: Warner Books, 1995), 87.
  9. Katie Elder, quoted in Jane Candia Coleman, Doc Holliday: Doc Holliday’s Woman (New York: Warner Books, 1995), 87.
  10. Katie Elder, quoted in Jane Candia Coleman, Doc Holliday: Doc Holliday’s Woman (New York: Warner Books, 1995), 88.
  11. Maggie Van Ostrand, Doc Holliday and Katie Elder,” Texas: History Studies International Journal of History 10, No. 7 (2018): 1-3.

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This Post Has 38 Comments

  1. Avatar

    This was an interesting topic, to say the least, in that not many had ever heard about this story. However, it was sad to see that he was used throughout his life with her. First it involved his amazing card skills that she had taken advantage of. Secondly, once he had finally gotten rid of her she testified against him for a murder that he never even committed.

  2. Mitchell Yocham

    Unfortunately couples all over the world are experiencing abuse from their spouses, even if that person is a criminal. In this story, it just so happens to be another situation where she didn’t have anything to do to save herself. Although the ending does seem a little bit twisted, I feel like he was bound ti be caught by at least one act of crime, but the burden that gets put on Kate’s shoulders when she found out he was wrongfully accused.

  3. Avatar

    The relationship between Doc and Kate is very toxic. It seems as though they both knew of their bad traits and didn’t want to face them. Kate had some sickening actions that she committed to Doc, such as letting him get drunk until he blackout and promoting him smoking even though he suffered from tuberculosis. This article does a good job at portraying the tragic love-story these two shared.

  4. Avatar

    Such a sad story to read. A man who was involved with crime all his life ended it with being wrongfully accused. I cant imagine what Kate must have had to carry with her conscience for the rest of her life just knowing that she helped to wrongfully accuse her ex husband, and the worst part being that she never got any closure or forgiveness.

  5. Avatar

    I believe that the ending was twisted. I guess love is twisted when you think of it. When she finally stood up for herself, he responded the same way and she still loved him. I wonder the stuff he would say to make her happy. But we would never really know because back then that was probably the norm, or it wasn’t a big deal back then. Now in the modern world, it is more looked down upon, and considered as abuse and battery. Also why did they name her big nose? haha.

  6. Stephanie Cerda

    I’ve never heard this story. Like many have stated, their relationship was abusive and toxic. The dialogue spoken in between them showed this, and so did the interviews. Truly it sounds like something out of a movie, which is ironic since it did become one. His death seemed dark, and it’s sad that he died alone. His tombstone shows it. No kind words anything, just a fact. i would like to know more about Kate though.

  7. Avatar

    What stood out to me mostly in this article was the picture of Doc’s tombstone reading “He died in bed”. Most tombstones I’ve come across show compassion and significance, but his is simply stating how he died, which most people wouldn’t put on a tombstone. The dialogue was also a really great feature of the article because it gives the story actual life unlike most articles that may be written. Great job!

  8. Avatar

    This was a crazy and very well-written article. I wonder how I had never heard of this story. I think that Kate’s interviews themselves are an example of how unstable their relationship was. She goes from feeling bad about the way that she argued with him to talking about their physical and mental abused towards each other. The ending of the story really took me by surprise. It was wild, but at the same time it was less wild than I expected it to be.

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