Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Doc Holliday’s Derringer Returns To Colorado

Dear Friends,

On March 9th, 2017, an article was published talking about how Doc Holliday’s derringer was returned to Glenwood, Colorado. The story talked about how the Glenwood Springs Historical Society's Frontier Museum bought the derringer for $84,000.

The backstory story about the pistol is that it was supposedly in his room when Holliday died. On the derringer's backstrap, one can clearly read the inscription, "To Doc from Kate."

Of course, "Kate" is none other than "Big Nose Kate." Though many knew her by her famous nickname, her name was, in fact, Mary Katherine Horony. She is believed to have been born on November 7th, 1850, and died on November 2nd, 1940. Yes, just five days short of her 90th birthday.

She was a Hungarian-born prostitute. She was also the longtime companion and supposed "common-law" wife of Doc Holliday. The two supposedly met in Texas in 1877 and remained involved in one way or another until he died in 1887.

Some sources list her as Mary Katherine Horony-Cummings because she married Irish blacksmith George Cummings in Aspen, Colorado, on March 2nd, 1890. It is said that they worked several mining camps throughout Colorado before moving to Bisbee, Arizona, where she briefly ran a bakery. Then while living in Willcox, Arizona, George Cummings is said to have become an abusive alcoholic. Soon enough that they separated.

As for Cummings, he committed suicide in Courtland, Arizona, in 1915. As for Kate, she died of a heart attack a few days short of her 90th birthday. She was buried on November 6th, 1940, under the name "Mary K. Cummings" in the Arizona Pioneer Home Cemetery in Prescott, Arizona.

Among the things that I find fascinating about Big Nose Kate is that she claimed that Doc Holliday wasn't the first dentist she supposedly married. She claimed that while living in St. Louis, Missouri, she married a dentist named Silas Melvin. They supposedly had a son. Both her husband and her son, she claimed, died of yellow fever. 

Of course, as with many claims made by folks back then, no one has been able to produce a record to substantiate her marriage to Melvin, the birth of a child, or even the deaths of both. Then there's the story that Silas Melvin did, in fact, live in St. Louis about the same time, but he was married to a steamship captain's daughter. So really, who knows if Kate was telling the truth or just making up a story. 

We do know that are records showing her as working as a prostitute for madam Blanch Tribole in St. Louis in 1869, And we know that Big Nose Kate was fined while working as a " sporting woman" in a whorehouse in Dodge City, Kansas, in 1874. That brothel was run by Nellie "Bessie" Earp, who was the wife of James Earp, and Sally Heckell, who was the wife of Wyatt Earp.

In 1876, Big Nose Kate moved to Fort Griffin, Texas. And in 1877, that's where she met Doc Holliday. Because she worked as a prostitute for Bessie Earp, it is believed that she actually knew Wyatt Earp before Doc Holliday did. It is said that Big Nose Kate actually introduced Doc Holliday to Wyatt Earp in Fort Griffin in 1877. 

But there is also the story about how, in October of 1877, Wyatt Earp was given a temporary commission as Deputy U.S. Marshal to track down outlaw Dave Rudabaugh who had robbed a Sante Fe Railroad construction camp. According to Wyatt Earp, Rudabaugh fled south, and he left Dodge City to chase down Rudabaugh. According to Earp, he chased Rudabaugh for over 400 miles.

At one point, Earp arrived at Fort Griffin, Texas. Earp supposedly went to the Bee Hive Saloon owned by Earp's friend John Shanssey. The story goes that Shanssey told Earp that Rudabaugh had passed through town earlier in the week. Supposedly Dave Rudabaugh, who was on the run, stopped there and played cards with Holliday. After Shanssey introduced Earp to Doc Holliday. Holliday told Earp that Rudabaugh headed back up into Kansas. Contrary to Big Nose Kate's claim, Wyatt Earp told his biographer that Shanssey introduced Wyatt Earp to Doc Holliday. As to which story is true? Who knows. 

In 1887, Doc Holliday was living in the Hotel Glenwood near Glenwood Springs, Colorado. It is said that as he lay there dying, that Holliday asked an attending nurse for a shot of whiskey. After she refused, the legend goes that he looked at his bare feet and said his last words, "This is funny."

John Henry "Doc" Holliday died in his room at the Hotel Glenwood at 10am on November 8th, 1887. He was 36. As for Wyatt Earp, he did not find out about Holliday's death until months later. 

The fact is after Wyatt Earp's now-famous vendetta came to an end, he and Warren Earp, Doc Holliday, and the other members of the posse were faced with warrants for the murder of Frank Stilwell. So the group fled Arizona Territory for New Mexico Territory and then to Colorado. 

As for Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, it's said they had an argument that had them part ways in Albuquerque. The story on that goes to a letter written by former New Mexico Territory Governor Miguel Otero. According to Governor Otero, Earp and Holliday were eating at Fat Charlie's The Retreat Restaurant in Albuquerque in early April 1882 "when Doc Holliday said something about Earp becoming 'a damn Jew-boy.' "

Supposedly, Earp got angry, got up, and left. The argument between Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday was said to be over Earp staying with a friend Henry N. Jaffa in Albuquerque. Jaffa was a prominent businessman, Jewish, and the president of New Albuquerque’s Board of Trade. Earp is said to have observed Jewish traditions while staying in Jaffa’s home. Traditions that Earp learned in his relationship with Josephine "Sadie" Marcus, who was Jewish. This is what supposedly led Holliday to say his friend was becoming "a damn Jew-boy."

Legend has it that Doc Holliday survived being ambushed on five different occasions. And while that in itself seems unbelievable, it is also said that there were four attempts made to hang him in the 17 times that he was arrested. One of the last times that he was arrested came about on May 15th, 1882.

That was when Holliday was arrested in Denver, Colorado, on the still outstanding warrant for his involvement in the murder of Frank Stilwell in Tucson, Arizona. Tucson Justice of the Peace Charles Meyer issued arrest warrants for Wyatt and Warren Earp, Doc Holliday, Sherman McMaster, and "Turkey Creek" Jack Johnson for the murder of Frank Stilwell in Tucson on March 20th, 1882.

The Earp "vendetta posse" said that they spotted Frank Stilwell and Ike Clanton hiding among the railroad cars, apparently getting ready to ambush and kill Virgil Earp. Fans of the Earps neglect to say that after the Earps arrived, they left the train station and went to dinner. It was actually when they returned that they met with Frank Stilwell. Of course, no one really talks about the fact that Stilwell and Clanton were at the train station meeting a third person who was also ordered to appear in front of the Grand Jury there in Tucson.

After killing Frank Stilwell, the Earp posse fled the scene. Yes, they fled the scene the same way as other outlaws would after committing a criminal act. Not stay there and make a report as law enforcement did even back in the day, but skedaddled away as fast as they could.

Stilwell's body was found at dawn alongside the railroad tracks. All of the Earp posse, all deputized by then-Deputy U.S. Marshal Wyatt Earp, was in on shooting Stilwell. Even though Wyatt Earp later said that he himself killed Stilwell using his shotgun, upon examination, Stilwell's body was found to have been shot several times with buckshot as well as multiple caliber pistols and rifle rounds.

Less than two months later, when Doc Holliday was arrested on May 15th, even though they had a falling out, Wyatt Earp is said to have been concerned that Holliday would not face a fair trial in Arizona. Some say he was actually concerned about his own participation in the murder of Stilwell and how Holliday's extradition would open the door to his own extradition. It is reasoned that he may have been concerned that once his infamous posse was there to be tried, that his friends in political office wouldn't be able to stop from extraditing back to Arizona to face murder charges.

Either way, while not wanting to be shown as taking a hand in stopping the extradition of Holliday, Wyatt Earp asked his old friend Bat Masterson, who was then the Police Chief of Trinidad, Colorado, to help get Holliday released to his custody instead of being shipped back to Arizona. To do this, Bat Masterson came up with the idea of fabricating fake bunco charges against Holliday to keep him in Colorado.

Within two weeks of his arrest was Holliday's extradition hearing. That was the hearing which would determine if he should be returned to Arizona to face charges of murder. That hearing was set for May 30th. But on the night of May 29th, Bat Masterson sought help from his friend Colorado Governor Frederick Walker Pitkin.

Governor Pitkin was not available at first, so Masterson is reported to have contacted E.D. Cowen, who was with the Denver Tribune newspaper. Cowen called Pitkin. Then Pitkin is said to have looked at the case and reasoned that the Arizona extradition papers for Holliday "contained faulty legal language" and that there was already a Colorado warrant out for Holliday, which of course were the bunco charges that Bat Masterson had faked. With that, Colorado Governor Pitkin refused to honor Arizona's extradition request.

As indirect as it was, that was the last dealings that Wyatt Earp had with Doc Holliday.  As for the last time they saw each other, a few years later, it is said that Holliday happened to bump into Earp while with Josie one last time in 1886 while passing each other in the lobby of the Windsor Hotel in Denver, Colorado. While previously mistakenly reported that their last meeting was at a hotel in Gunnison, Colorado, or possibly the Windsor Hotel in Del Norte, Colorada, my source assures me it was at the Windsor Hotel in Denver. Supposedly, the meeting was only momentary as they only saw each other in passing. 

So understanding that Earp and Holliday did not see each other for years before his death just goes to show that Earp's anger over Holliday's anti-Jewish remarks was more serious than some thought. And knowing this, it is understandable how Wyatt Earp did not find out about Holliday's death until months later. 

As for Big Nose Kate's claim that she attended to Doc Holiday in his final days there at the Hotel Glenwood? Most believe that she wasn't with him at the time.

As for Doc Holliday's derringer? 

The Glenwood Springs Historical Society board authorized the $84,000 purchase of Doc Holliday's derringer. As stated earlier, it is said to have been in Holliday's Hotel Glenwood room, where he died November 8th, 1887. The Glenwood Springs Historical Society bought the pistol with the hopes that it would boost the town's reputation as an Old West tourist stop. 

In March of this year, 2017, at the time of the purchase, the gun was said to have been kept in a safe-deposit box.

Glenwood Springs Mayor Mike Gamba stated, "Doc Holiday is a very important character in the history of Glenwood Springs, and we are extremely excited that this piece of history will return to the city where he spent his final days. Along with visiting the cemetery where he is buried, we have no doubt that this will be yet one more attraction that will draw visitors to Glenwood Springs."

Marianne Virgili, president and CEO of the Glenwood Chamber Resort Association said in an email, "This is great news. Our visitors are certainly intrigued by history, and Doc Holliday is our most well-known frontier resident, so this precious piece of memorabilia will go a long way in positioning us as a historic Western town."

Historian R.W. Boyle spoke of the gun's authenticity, stating. "The gun is real. There's no doubt the gun is real." But could he have been wrong? Doc Holliday historian R.W. Boyle examined the gun and the affidavit and declared the gun authentic. But Boyle may have been dubbed.

It is believed that Big Nose Kate bought the 1866 Remington derringer as a gift for Holliday while they were in Tombstone, Arizona. It's one of several Holliday items to have sold in recent years, including a flask that went for $130,000 and a shotgun believed to have been Holliday's, which sold for $200,000.

The derringer is believed to have been one of few possessions in the hotel room when he died. But the hotel burned down in 1945. Hotel bartender William G. Wells got the derringer as partial payment for Holliday's funeral. It remained in the Wells family until Utah gun dealer E. Dixon Larson purchased it in 1968.

But wait! There is a good chance that the folks at Glenwood Springs Historical Society may have been cheated out of $84,000 for the cost of the gun because it may be a fake. It seems that the whole story was made up by Larson.

"We all love a good story. Weave a tale of Big Nose Kate gifting a Remington derringer to Doc Holliday that's next to impossible to prove or disprove," Glenwood Springs Historical Society Executive Director Bill Kight wrote, "A man's reputation is judged by one's words and actions. The historical society tried hard to do just that, to peer into Dixon Larson's past."

An affidavit from the 1968 sale was the first documentation of the derringer. The 1968 affidavit signed by Larson and an unknown notary public appears to be the source of the story about the derringer being in Holliday's hotel room when he died. As a result, the historical society now questions the origins of Holliday's derringer. 

Is the gun real? Was the 1968 affidavit doctored? Did Dixon Larson make up the entire story?

Glenwood Springs Historical Society Executive Director Bill Kight said the society contacted both Remington and a gun expert in Cody, Wyoming, before the purchase. The Remington's expert was unavailable. The man in Cody couldn't evaluate the weapon without an examination. The gun's owner Jason Brierley had set a two-month deadline for the purchase because of an impending move. So with that deadline approaching, the Glenwood Springs Historical Society board moved ahead with the purchase.

The gun was part of an exhibit at the Glenwood Springs Historical Society's Frontier Museum. The Glenwood Springs Historical Society had hoped that the pistol would have lead to more museum loans of more Holliday paraphernalia. Hopefully, this will increase the museum's visibility to the public, especially those interested in Doc Holliday and Old West history. It will be interesting to find a definitive answer if the gun is fake or not. Right now, it looks like it is.

Now, though there are all sorts of con games going on out there, no one should underestimate the value of guns and other paraphernalia belonging to Old West figures of interest. For example, back in November of 2013, it was reported that famous trick shooter Annie Oakley’s shotgun sold for $293,000 at an auction in Dallas, Texas.
The 16-gauge Parker Brothers Hammer shotgun, which once belonged to famed sharpshooter Annie Oakley, was sold to a collector by Heritage Auctions. And while the shotgun once owned by one of America's most famous Old West sharpshooters sold for $293,000, please understand that a personal gold charm bracelet once owned by Annie Oakley also went up for auction. Her gold charm bracelet sold for $250,000.

Imagine that.

Tom Correa


  1. great story, thank you again.

    1. Thank you for visiting my site. I truly appreciate it.

  2. Replies
    1. That is nice of you to say that. It means a lot to me to know that people like my work.

    2. Great story! Thank you.

  3. Unbelievable! The Earp wives ran a house of ill repute?? And I see now that I never should have read this posting. My enjoyment of the movie Tombstone is forever spoiled. :(

    1. The movie Tombstone is one of my favorite Westerns. I hope you're kidding about me ruining it for you. Hollywood has it's versions of what took place, but mostly that's not really what took place. I like Tombstone for its entertainment value, not for anything else. Especially not as a history lesson. Hollywood gets a grade of "D-" for what it knows about history. Thanks for visiting my site.

    2. What's your favorite western Tom? Just curious. Mine's Lonesome Dove.

    3. Hello Pat, I really like LONESOME DOVE. I wish it was a movie instead of a mini-series. As for movies? My favorite is probably SHANE (Alan Ladd) for its realism. As for others that I really enjoy, LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL (Kirk Douglas & Anthony Quinn, MONTE WALSH (Tom Selleck), TRIBUTE TO A BAD MAN (James Cagney), THE VIRGINIAN (Joel McCrea), RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY (Joel McCrea & Randolph Scott). I've never been a fan of Italian-Westerns. By the way, here's a thought for you to chew on. As for LONESOME DOVE, isn't it interesting that Larry McMurtry’s story of two retired Texas Rangers stealing cattle from Mexico is exactly what the Clanton Gang did in the early 1880s in real life. Have a great day!

  4. good read, Thanks for the article.

  5. Tom, if it makes you feel any better, MY favorite movie is "The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly", a classic Spaghetti Western from 1966. As for Wyatt Earp films? I'd have to go with "Hour Of The Gun" with James Garner, Jason Robards, and Robert Ryan. I've always been a true Western fan and I've seen just about every Western you can think of. As for "Tombstone", I can only say that I LIKE the film but I don't LOVE it. There's a reason why. And that reason would have to be that it shows Doc Holliday killing Johnny Ringo when in fact he did not. I have two theories when it comes to that. Either Johnny Ringo died by his own hand or it was "Buckskin" Frank Leslie. That's all I'm gonna say on that. I hope this helps. See you soon.


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