Horace and Baby Doe Tabor, Scandal and Romance

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Photograph of Horace Austin Warner Tabor, taken between 1870 and 1880

The year was 1878. Horace and Augusta Tabor spent twenty years of their marriage traveling from one mining camp to another, providing the miners with groceries, postal services, and Augusta’s homemade pies. Horace also pursued his dreams of wealth by grubstaking–financially backing–prospectors, and this was the year that Horace Tabor’s business investments would finally pay off. His was a true rags to riches story and Tabor wanted to flaunt his success and power, but his wife was much more conservative. The following year, Tabor’s life took a drastic turn. It was a warm, colorful autumn in the Colorado Rocky Mountains when Horace Tabor met the equally colorful–and much younger–Baby Doe. The union between Horace Tabor and Baby Doe became a scandalous one, but the strength of their bond is legendary in the history of Leadville, Colorado.

Elizabeth McCourt Becomes Baby Doe

Elizabeth McCourt was born on September 25th, 1854, one of fourteen children in the Irish McCourt family of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. She was feisty and bold, a bit of a tomboy. She entered an ice skating contest as a teen, a sport that rarely attracted women during this time, and won the contest. It was at this contest that she first met Harvey Doe, Jr, who found the bold, young woman intriguing. Unfortunately, Elizabeth would soon learn that Harvey Doe was intrigued by many bold, young women.

Harvey’s father was part-owner of a mine in Cripple Creek and as soon as they were married, Harvey and Elizabeth packed their belongings and set out for Colorado. Elizabeth discovered that Harvey was as free with his affections as he was with their money, so she tackled their financial burdens alone, dressing as a miner and working in their Fourth of July Mine. She quickly gained the respect of the townspeople for both her determination and her unparalleled beauty and the miners gave her the nickname “Baby Doe.”

The Tabors Struggle to Succeed

Horace Austin Warner Tabor was born November 26, 1830 in Holland, Vermont. He left his family home to work the stone quarries in Massachusetts and Maine. It was in Maine that he met his first wife, Augusta Pierce. Tabor started a farm in Kansas, then returned to Maine to marry Augusta in 1857 and their son, Nathaniel Maxcy Tabor, was born the same year.

When Horace Tabor first learned that gold was discovered near the South Platte River, the family started out on a six week walked, settling near what is now Denver, Colorado in 1859. When gold was discovered in the Colorado Rocky Mountains the family moved to yet another mining camp. Horace and Augusta opened numerous grocery stores and while Augusta supervised the renting of cabins to miners and provided banking and postal services Horace grubstaked miners and panned for gold.

Building an Empire in Leadville, Colorado

Augusta and Horace were nearly exact opposites of each other. Augusta was thrifty. Horace liked to spend, wear fancy clothes, and hobnob with the wealthy. With Augusta’s careful guidance through twenty years of marriage they saved thousands of dollars and bought more farm land in Kansas. Horace spent his time investing. He grubstaked two miners for a share of The Little Pittsburg Mine.

The miners struck a vertical vein of silver and The Little Pittsburg was soon producing $20,000 a week. Horace spent freely on numerous investments, much to his wife’s dismay. He also focused on furthering his political career. He was elected Mayor of Leadville in 1878, Lieutenant Governor of the State of Colorado in 1879, and made a United States Senator that same year.

Tabor Meets Baby Doe and Purchases The Matchless Mine

In the fall of 1879, Horace Tabor purchased the legendary Matchless Mine in Leadville, which provided him with $1000 a day in pocket change. It was also 1879 when he met the equally legendary Baby Doe in Leadville. If there is such a thing as love at first sight, such was the case with Horace and his Baby Doe. Baby Doe was tall with a voluptuous build, light brown hair and big, blue, tantalizing eyes. According to Walker’s The Miners, one Colorado newspaper described Baby Doe as “the handsomest woman in Colorado” and a woman “no Colorado Venus can compare with.”

She was also 25 years younger than Horace Tabor. Nevertheless, in 1880, Horace moved out of the home he shared with his wife to start a new life with Baby Doe. His actions created scandal on many levels. Horace was still married to Augusta when he was elected to the United States Senate. Augusta filed a complaint in Denver asking for financial support–while her husband and Baby Doe lived on $100,000 a year, Augusta and her son supported themselves by renting rooms in their home. Augusta was divorced against her will and given $300,000 in support, though she invested well and died a millionaire.

A Life of Luxury

In 1882, Horace and Baby Doe Tabor married quietly in a civil ceremony in St. Louis. They married a second time in Washington, D.C. in March of 1883 with a ceremony that was both public and extravagant. Baby Doe wore a $7000 wedding dress and $90,000 diamond necklace, a gift from her new husband. In spite of his scandalous divorce and the fall of his political career, the Tabors continued to live a very public life of great luxury. According to Walker’s The Miners, Tabor was often mocked in the local newspapers, but accepted into the Denver and Leadville social circles because he was a generous and charitable man, investing in the improvement of both cities.

However, he also bought a huge diamond ring for himself, which seemed to attract a great deal of attention on its own. He purchased a lavish, Italian-style villa for Baby Doe, numerous ornate carriages, copious amounts of expensive jewelry, and commissioned five oil paintings of his young wife. In their first two years of marriage, Horace and Baby Doe had two daughters: Elizabeth Bonduel Lillie Tabor and Rose Mary Echo Silver Dollar Tabor.

The Silver Crash of 1893 and the Death of Horace Tabor

In the mid-1890s, the Tabor fortunes slowly collapsed as one by one, the investments Horace made during his marriage to Augusta fell apart. In 1893, the United States experienced a financial panic and twelve Denver banks closed in three days, including one owned by Horace Tabor. The Matchless Mine’s silver vein was tapped out and the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1893 made Tabor’s remaining silver investments useless.

In desperation, Horace invested the rest of his fortune in gold, and lost. The Tabor’s villa was sold, along with all of Baby Doe’s precious jewels. The Tabor family moved into a single hotel room and at 66 years old, Horace Tabor returned to the rivers of the Colorado Rocky Mountains to pan for gold. Then, in 1898, Horace Tabor was appointed Postmaster of Denver and the family’s situation seemed to take a turn for the better, but Horace died a year later from appendicitis.

The Death of Baby Doe Tabor

Years passed, and the Tabor’s daughters moved away to start families of their own. Baby Doe continued to live in Denver, supported by friends and family. Eventually, the new owners of the Matchless Mine allowed her to move into the shack near the entrance. On March 9, 1935, one of Baby Doe’s neighbors noticed her fire had gone out and stopped by the supply shack.

She had died two days earlier, on March 7th, of a heart attack. Some say she was found with a smile on her face, lying on the floor with her arms crossed in front of her chest as if she knew death was coming and was fully prepared to rejoin her husband. There are those who believe that the ghost of Baby Doe still guards the entrance to the Matchless Mine, waiting for the day it once again becomes prosperous and fulfills the dreams of her loving husband, Horace.

The Legacy of Baby Doe

In 1932, Warner Brothers released Silver Dollar, a movie about Baby Doe Tabor starring Bebe Daniels and Edward G. Robinson In 1956, Douglas Moore’s opera The Ballad of Baby Doe starring Beverly Sills opened in New York. There was also a restaurant chain called Baby Doe’s Matchless Mine Restaurants in the 1970s, but only a few remain open, including one in Denver, Colorado.

Resources:

  1. “Leadville, Colorado History.” Denver-Colorado Tourist Guide.Com
  2. “Leadville’s Famous Love Triangle: Horace, Augusta & Baby Doe Tabor.” Leadville.com.
  3. Wallace, Robert. “The Halls of the Mining Kings.” The Miners: The Old West. Time Life Books. New York: 1976.
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