Monthly Archives: September 2017

Big Nose Kate, An Arizona Amazon

c 2017 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article first appeared in “Days Past”, Prescott Daily Courier.

Of all of the wild women serenaded by the famous Earp brothers and Doc Holliday, Big Nose Kate was the first to woo the men who would later find fame in Tombstone. Born in Hungary in 1850 as Mary Katharine Haroney, Kate immigrated with her family in 1860. They were living in Iowa when Kate’s parents died in 1866. She and her siblings were sent to a farm, where grueling work conditions enticed Kate to run away. She stowed away on a steamship for New Orleans, where she entered the Ursuline Convent.

The idea of any young lady entering a convent on her own was quite novel in the day. The Ursuline Convents of American also offered academies, private girls’ schools for an elite set of socialites. Although New Orleans offered such an acadmey, it is unclear whether Kate paid tuition to attend classes, or whether she simply sought shelter. Either way, life in the convent failed to suit Kate, whose wanderlust soon sent her traveling West.

During her journeys, Kate adopted various aliases: the surnames of Fisher and Elder, and her infamous nickname, Big Nose Kate. She also dabbled in prostitution. By 1869, she was working for madam Blanch Tribolet in St. Louis but in 1874 she moved to Kansas and began working for madam Bessie Earp, wife of James Earp — Wyatt Earp’s older brother. The following year, she was in Dodge City working at Tom Sherman’s Dance Hall.

In late 1877, at Fort Griffin, Texas, Kate met John Henry “Doc” Holliday, the dentist-turned-gambler who was trying to alleviate his tuberculosis. Also, it was here that Kate introduced Holliday to Wyatt Earp. Later, when Wyatt moved to Dodge City, Holliday and Kate followed. The couple registered at the Deacon Cox’s Boarding House as Mr. and Mrs. J.H. Holliday. Doc set up a dental practice but he spent much of his time playing cards and drinking.

Kate would stay by Holliday’s side during his coughing fits, but the two quarreled regularly and sometimes violently. According to Kate, the couple later married in Valdosta, Georgia. They began traveling frequently, but lived in Las Vegas, New Mexico for about two years. Holliday worked as a dentist by day and ran a saloon by night. Kate also occasionally worked at a dance hall in Santa Fe.

In 1879, Wyatt came for a visit and talked Holliday and Kate into moving to Prescott. Wyatt’s brother, Virgil, was already in Prescott when Wyatt, his girlfriend Mattie Blaylock, Kate, Holliday, and James and Bessie Earp arrived. Wyatt and James traveled on to Tombstone, but Holliday hit a winning streak and stayed in Prescott. As of June 1880, he was living in a boarding house on Montezuma Street, aka “Whiskey Row”, working as a dentist and gambling. In the meantime, Kate traveled to Globe as she learned there was good money to be made there. When Holliday‘s lucky streak ended, he left for Tombstone and wrote to Kate asking her to visit him.

In March 1881, Kate arrived in Tombstone only to find Holliday very sickly. She decided to stay with him, but their reunion was hardly blissful. One night an angry Kate told Sheriff John Behan that Holliday was responsible for a local stage robbery involving two murders. Holliday was arrested, but Kate later recanted and the charges were dropped. Furious, Holliday sent her back to Globe, but by October he was writing for her to return. Kate did indeed return and moved with Holliday into Fly’s Boarding House.

By this time, Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp had become noted lawmen in Tombstone. However, the Earps’ disagreements with the McLaury and Clanton brothers, as well as Billy Claiborne, were leading up to the notorious shootout at the O.K. Corral. On the morning of October 26, Kate remembered Holliday leaving, telling her, “I may not be back to take you to breakfast, so you better go alone.” Instead, Kate remained in room only to witness the gunfight that afternoon. In the aftermath of the shootout, Kate returned to Globe and Holliday hit the road traveling. Each rarely saw one another.

Kate continued working as a prostitute in Cochise, Courtland and Bisbee, but by 1887 she was back in Globe when she heard Holliday was ill in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Kate traveled to Colorado to care for Holliday while staying at her brother Alexander Haroney‘s ranch. On November 8 Holliday died. It is unsubstantiated whether or not Kate was present at his death.

Following Holliday’s death, Kate married blacksmith George Cummings in about 1888. By 1900, she was working as John Howard’s housekeeper in Dos Cabezas, Arizona where she remained until Howard’s death in 1930. In 1931, Kate moved to the Arizona Pioneer’s Home in Prescott, claiming American citizenship to gain admittance and living there quietly until her death on November 2, 1940.

Although she had not worked in the prostitution industry for decades, a small stink arose regarding whether Kate deserved burial in Prescott’s Pioneer Cemetery. Whispers around Prescott brought up her notorious past, her notorious paramour and whether she really was just the housekeeper for Howard. Those who squawked were reminded, however, how much Kate did for advocating the rights of her fellow residents at the Pioneer’s Home. In the end, Big Nose Kate won and was buried under the name of Mary K. Cummings at Prescott’s Pioneer Cemetery. Today, she would likely be surprised at how many visitors she receives each year.

You can read more about Big Nose Kate in Jan’s books, Red Light Women of the Rocky Mountains and Wild Women of Prescott.

Early Town of Cache Creek, Colorado Still a Prospector’s Pick

c 2017 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in Colorado Central Magazine.

Hike along Cache Creek outside of Granite today, and you are certain to run into folks all along the water. These aren’t your average outdoor enthusiasts; rather, the folks scrambling along the riverbanks are on a mission. They are looking for gold, which can still be found over 150 years after being discovered.

Cache Creek’s name is derived from the French word, “cacher”, meaning “to hide”. One story goes that around 1854, French trappers hid their pelts there, while another claims that explorers Kit Carson and Lucien Maxwell hid their supplies in the vicinity as they fled some Native Americans. Because of its odd spelling, Cache Creek was sometimes referred to as “Cash Creek”.

Around 1860, placer gold was discovered along Cache Creek in what was then Lake County. They said that nuggets “big as eggs” were being found west of the creek around Lost Canyon. By late 1860, miners could be found panning for gold all through the area. Within seven years, some 49,000 troy ounces, or $200,000 of gold, would be found.

A series of small mining camps sprang up, but it was the community of Cache Creek which served as a supply town and the place to glean information about mining opportunities. In spite of being labeled “poor man’s diggings” by the Salida Mail, Cache Creek blossomed. Notably, it was the first real town in today’s Chaffee County, with a population of about 300. Prospectors could make up to $20.00 per day.

Even future silver millionaire H.A.W. Tabor tried his luck at Cache Creek. With him were his first wife, Augusta, as well as family friend Nathaniel Maxcy, miner Sam Kellogg and the Tabor’s son, also named Nathaniel Maxcy. The men made their own sluice boxes, but had trouble extracting the gold from the black sand deposits. Augusta was assigned the tedious job of using a magnet to procure the gold from the sand. Contrary to some accounts, Augusta did not run a boarding house or store at Cache Creek; within a month the party moved on to California Gulch some twenty miles away before making their fortune.

Meanwhile, Cache Creek’s supply stores served such smaller camps as Bertschey’s Gulch, Gibson, Gold Run, Ritchie’s Patch, and others. Supplies were hauled to town by horseback and mule from a trail skirting the Arkansas River over two miles away. The homes of Cache Creek consisted mostly of log cabins. A cemetery was established in 1860 after the death of a young man from pneumonia. A year later, when the town of Granite sprang up two and a half miles away on the Arkansas, its residents also began using the cemetery. In spite of the convenience of Granite, however, many miners and their families preferred living near the diggings around Cache Creek.

On August 2, 1862, the post office was established as “Cash Creek”. Cache Creek also incorporated, on January 10, 1866. Alas, the place was simply too far away from the Arkansas River trail. In October of 1866 the nearby town of Dayton established its own post office. A new mill was built near Cache Creek, but the Dayton post office was  moved to the new county seat of Granite in November of 1868. Cache Creek’s population began to falter, and the post office closed on February 27, 1871.

By 1872, much of the area around Cache Creek was owned by the Cache Creek Mining Company. In Cache Creek proper, only ten cabins remained occupied. Most of the residents probably worked for the company, which employed sixteen men on both day and night shifts, who could mine upwards of a pound of gold per day, per man.

When Chaffee County was formed in 1879, the new boundary ran between Lake Creek and Cache Creek and directly through Cache Creek Park. In 1881 the Gaff Mining Company, in business since 1865, built a new two mile long bedrock flume. The outlook was good, there being gold “disseminated through all the ground which is free from bowlders [sic] or large rocks, and is easily washed.” Thus far, upwards of $800,000 in gold had been mined.

Next, in 1884, the Twin Lakes Hydraulic Gold Mining Syndicate, which had purchased the Cache Creek Mining Company, installed a tunnel between Cache Creek and Clear Creek. The tunnel cost over $40,000, but gold production nearly tripled. Over fifty men were now employed by the Syndicate, and gold production from May to November that year totaled almost $100,000.

By 1902, Cache Creek was quickly fading as new methods of mining downplayed the value of placer mining. Still, the Salida Record noted Cache Creek as “a neglected resource” of placer deposits. More people might have panned the creek but for a complaint, issued in 1903 by Canon City some 100 miles away along the Arkansas River. Canon City charged that the water was “polluted with quicksilver from the Cache Creek placers.”

Articles about the issue appeared in local newspapers for years. The Cache Creek Placer closed in 1909, but the pollution problems continued well into 1911. This ugly turn of events was Cache Creek’s final undoing, and by 1929 nobody was mining the creek anymore. In more recent times, however, gold panning has once become a popular hobby in the area, and with good results.

Cache Creek’s empty buildings are long gone, but the historic cemetery remains. The graves consist of many residents from Cache Creek, but also Granite and other places. They include pioneer families, but also victims from some of the more violent crimes in Granite. Judge Elias Dyer, who was murdered in 1975, was initially buried there before being moved elsewhere. Other victims, such as  David “Scotty” Hornell whose neck was broken in 1887 during a fight with saloonkeeper and mine owner Enos Shaul, and railroad employee Pat Casey, whose throat was slit in 1888 by Niccolo Feminello, remain. Feminello, in fact, made history as the first man hanged in Chaffee County.

Other burials include that of miner Joseph Scheller who was killed in a mine cave—in in 1895, leaving behind a widow with five children. Deaths in 1898 included eighty-year-old Elizabeth Ball of Balltown and Nancy Bruner, wife of a Lake County constable. The deaths of these early pioneers shows the variety of people making up the area’s population. Some of those interred at Cache Creek have ancestors who still visit their graves today.

The townsite lies below the cemetery, where scant ruins identify buildings which appear in older images of Cache Creek. Walk behind the gate with the sign explaining about Cache Creek, and follow an old road down to access the town. From the townsite, you can also see the remains of a major flume up on the hill across the creek. This is all that remains of Cache Creek.