“Went down to Leadville from Matchless – the snow so terrible, I had to go down on my hands and knees and creep from my cabin door to 7th Street. Mr. Zaitz driver drove me to our get off place and he helped pull me to the cabin. I kept falling deep down through the snow every minute. God bless him.” ···· “Baby Doe” Tabor, March, 1935
On March 7, 1935, Baby Doe Tabor was found dead of a heart attack in her small shack at the famous Matchless Mine, just outside Leadville, Colorado. She had, for whatever reason, adopted the storage shack at the Matchless Mine as her living quarters since her husband's death in 1899, 35 years earlier. Contrary to popular belief, she did not "hold on to the Matchless as it will pay millions again," as some have incorrectly reported were Horace Tabor's deathbed words. The Matchless Mine had long since been lost to foreclosure and had failed to produce even with several new attempts on the part of the new owners. Baby Doe was living in the tiny cabin only due to the generosity of the current owners of the worthless mine.
Elizabeth Bonduel McCourt “Baby Doe” Tabor, once a millionaire, had died in virtual poverty. After her death, 17 iron trunks that had been placed in storage in Denver were opened, as well as several gunny sacks and 4 trunks that had been left at the St. Vincent’s Hospital in Leadville. All that was left from the Tabor fortune were several bolts of unique, untouched and quite exquisite cloth, several pieces of china, a tea service and some jewelry, including a diamond and sapphire ring. The famous watch fob and chain given to her husband, Horace Tabor, at the opening of the $700,000 Tabor Opera House in Denver was also found, along with several memorabilia pieces.
This incredible story has captured the imagination of the world for decades.
In 1860, when the California Gulch discovery was made just south of present day Leadville by the Stevens party, Horace Tabor and his wife Augusta (the first woman in California Gulch) arrived with their son Maxcy. They had left their farm in Kansas, arrived in Denver and then, hearing about the Kelley success in the present day Leadville area, decided to head west. As Augusta later recalled, “The 19th of February, 1860, I was lifted from a bed of sickness to a wagon, and we started for the new mining district.”
The Gulch had been panned out, however and by 1862, the Tabors had left the area, heading back east over Mosquito Pass. Horace had built a cabin in Buckskin Joe and had become involved in community affairs there... he ran a grocery store, was appointed postmaster and was elected to the school board.
But the appeal of the California Gulch eventually brought the Tabors back in November of 1868, where they once again opened their store. Horace became postmaster of the town then called Oro City, located in the California Gulch. Later he built a house and moved to Leadville, and became the city’s first mayor and second postmaster.
Tabor was known to be a generous man, and that generosity paid him big dividends. On April 15, 1878, Tabor opened his store as usual. Two German immigrants, August Rische and George Hook, walked in and asked Tabor if he would grubstake them. Tabor did, three times; the first costing him a mere $17.00. A month later, on May 15th, the group knew they had a bonanza on their hands; the Little Pittsburg Mine. By the end of the summer they declared a $10,000 dividend to each; this was all that was needed to spark Tabor into quickly becoming the acknowledged leader of the silver mining community. He was later to buy, among others, the famous Matchless Mine.
In 1880, an attractive 25 year old young lady named Elizabeth Bonduel McCourt Doe, a recent divorcee, arrived in Leadville. Her presence was soon discovered by Horace Tabor, who began a discreet relationship with her. By July of 1880 however, it was no longer a secret. Horace moved out of his and Augusta’s home and asked her for a divorce. She refused. Horace then consulted with Bill Bush to secure a divorce, which he secretly did in Durango, Colorado. But it was not legal. Whether Horace knew this and was simply defiant, or whether he truly didn’t know is unknown, but the fact remains that he and Elizabeth (soon to be forever known as “Baby Doe”) were secretly married in St. Louis September 30, 1882. When Augusta Tabor learned of the marriage in St. Louis it was too late to contest it. The divorce, which Horace continued to pursue relentlessly, was fought equally as vigorously by Augusta. She asked for separate maintenance, claiming her husband was worth over $9 million (plus a number of other properties she was unfamiliar with). Tabor denied it, which is probably true. More accurate estimates put his worth at about 1/3 of that.
Horace Tabor’s fame grew, and he even served as a senator. Through political favors, he was able to secure a 30-day appointment to Henry Teller’s vacated senatorial position. He was sworn in on February 3, 1883. But the scandal of the alleged divorce and marriage raged on, and was front page news across the country. It was an embarrassment to Washington, as well as other prominent figures in high social circles.
On March 1, 1883 the marriage between Horace and “Baby Doe” was finally legalized. Augusta Tabor eventually received a good part of the Tabor fortune in a final divorce decree and moved to Pasadena, California where she died on February 1, 1895. Many say it was from a broken heart.
When Congress repealed the Sherman Silver Act, the government was no longer in the market for silver. Prices dropped lower than the operating costs needed for the silver mines, and it became impossible to continue operations. Horace Tabor, failing to listen to the advice of others and diversify, faced ruin. In the interim, and adding to the crisis, Tabor had also made a number of unsuccessful, if not unwise, investments in foreign mining ventures that failed. He lost huge amounts of money in Mexico and South America. His reserves were gone, and he and “Baby Doe” lost everything. But regardless of the now destitute condition of the Tabors, Horace never lost faith in the future, and until his dying day he always found work of some kind, hoping to recapture his lost wealth. At age 65 he was shoveling slag from Cripple Creek mines a t $3.00/day until he was finally appointed postmaster of Denver just a year before his death.
By the turn of the century, it was obvious the end of Leadville’s colorful era was at hand. Many of the famous pioneers had either died or moved on. And perhaps this was most prominently brought to the attention of the world when, on the morning of April 10, 1899, Horace Tabor died of appendicitis.
Leadville today still holds many memories of it’s glorious past as well as the impact the Tabors had on this colorful community.
Courtesy Universal Systems Inc producers, Colorado History video series - www.leadville.org