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Thursday, January 4, 2018

Baby Doe Tabor by Katherine Pym

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A new year, a new subject (not 17th century) but still history, about...

Baby Doe Tabor

Elizabeth Bonduel McCourt was born into the wrong family mid 19th century, in Oshkosh Wisconsin USA. She was vivacious and beautiful. She loved adventure whereas her family preferred quiet afternoons.  

Her skin was beautiful, her eyes sparkling, and her lips perfect for kisses. Known as the ‘Belle of Oshkosh’, men flocked around her, wrote poetry and gave her gifts.

A man’s world did not intimidate her. At the age of 22, she entered and won a figure skating contest. Her audacity shocked the town but it also attracted a young man named Harvey Doe, Jr. The two fell in love and married.

Their honeymoon was on a train to Denver, Colorado. From there, they traveled to Central City where Harvey would work in his father’s mine. It did not take long for Elizabeth to realize she’d married a dud. He couldn’t stay put, wandered from one town to another, drank and gambled. He was unfaithful and enjoyed going to brothels. Harvey became debt-ridden. She knew if she didn’t work the mine, she’d starve.

She dressed in men’s clothing and showed up one morning at her father-in-law’s mine. The men were shocked, couldn’t believe what they saw. Elizabeth nodded her pretty head and carried her lunchbox into the shafts.

The Tabor House, Leadville CO
The miners found her to be a hard worker. Every day their admiration grew. They called her Lizzy and as each one fell in love with her, she became Baby Doe. (I wonder if the spunky Elizabeth, now dubbed ‘Baby,’ had anything to do with how the writers of Dirty Dancing named their main character.) Hmmm. Something to think about.


The mine was playing out. Fed up, Baby Doe divorced Harvey. She had visited Leadville Colorado once and liked it. She decided to move there. 
Silver Dollar Tabor

As an aside: Leadville is an interesting town with an interesting history. Some say many of the buildings are haunted. I enjoyed our visit, a one night stopover on our way to California.

My son (age 10) did not like it. Something spooked him to such an extent, he could not sleep and could not wait to leave there. The next morning when we got into the car, we had a flat tire. The serviceman said the nail was ancient, as if from the old mining days. He would not give it to us, and frankly the less my son saw of the place the better. We did not argue, and left right after the fellow fixed the flat.

So Baby Doe found her way to Leadville. Her beauty attracted everyone she met. Women liked her, and her sense of humor. Soon, she found her way into the heart of a wealthy resident named Horace Tabor but he was married. His wife worked hard by his side. They supplied miners with equipment. Their days turned bright when they grubstaked a couple of miners who struck silver.

Young Augusta Tabor
The Tabors became multimillionaires within months. Horace bought up mines and entered politics. He was Leadville’s postmaster, and first mayor. His wife was unhappy. She looked old before her time. Tabor was ready for another woman and Baby Doe fit the bill. They embarked on a romance.

They tried to keep it secret but soon word leaked. Baby Doe became the ‘other woman’. Tabor wanted a divorce. His money allowed him the best lawyers who advised him the best way to do it without his wife knowing. He rode to Durango where he divorced her, then took Baby Doe to St. Louis where they married (only a little bit illegal).

Tabor devastated his first wife. She took what little money he provided and with tail tucked between her skirted legs, she fled Colorado to settle in California. It is said she died not long after of a broken heart. 

An older, unhappy Augusta Tabor
Baby Doe and Horace lived it up big. Notwithstanding his affair and consequent divorce, he became a senator and the couple headed for Washington DC. Their lifestyle made front page news. Their parties were extravagant. The president attended along with everyone on the who’s who list.  

After the DC stint, they moved to Denver, their goal to make Denver into a western Paris. Her husband continued to buy up mines that yielded silver in the millions. The Tabors had 2 daughters, Elizabeth (Lilly) & Rose Mary (nicknamed Silver Dollar). They had a son who was stillborn.

Horace did not diversify his investments. In 1893, the US Treasury lowered the value of silver. Within days, Tabor’s silver holdings were worthless. They were forced to move into a humble cottage. Vicious tongues wagged, stating Baby would leave her husband now he was penniless and find another wealthy man but they were misguided. Baby stayed with Horace until his death in 1899. Several thousand attended his funeral.

Matchless Mine, Leadville CO
Before his death, Horace believed the Matchless Mine in Leadville would come into its own again. He told Baby to hold onto it which she did for another 36 years. She tried to revive it again and again but the mine was spent. Baby Doe fell into poverty, moved into a cabin next to the mine that was more cardboard than wood.

Obsessed, she worked tirelessly to revive a lost cause. Her singlemindedness made her a legend and that same quality caused her daughters to desert her. She scribbled gibberish in her journal how the mine and her wealth would be restored.

During the harsh winter of 1935, Baby Doe Tabor froze to death. She was found on the floor of that flimsy cabin with her hands crossed over her chest. She was 81 years old.

Many thanks to:
Green, Valerie. Gamblers, Gunmen, and Good-Time Gals. Altitude Publishing, Ltd., Alberta, Ca, 2005
And of course, wikicommons, public domain

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