Medallion Name – RAGS TO RICHES
Significance – How times have changed! Today we fund new businesses with venture capital. Back in the days of the Wild West, you offered a grubstake – an agreement designed to supply material, provisions, or money to an enterprise in return for a share of in the resulting profits. Such a venture brought money and power to the men who provided these provisions, such as shopkeeper Horace Tabor…and as will read below, was the ruin of his wife Baby Doe.
Inscription – Horace Tabor’s funeral cortege passed along 17th St. As the owner of Leadville’s Matchless Mine, Tabor was once worth over $10,000,000, but lost it in the Silver Panic of 1893. He left his first wife, Augusta for Baby Doe, a divorcee of renowned beauty. On his deathbed, Tabor advised Baby Doe, “Hold on to the Matchless Mine.”
After Tabor’s death, Baby Doe moved to a cabin near the Matchless. She invested in hopeless business schemes and occasionally could be seen shuffling along 17th St. in miner’s boots calling on a succession of lawyers who found her schemes unworkable.
Baby Doe died in poverty. In March of 1935, she froze to death in her cabin by the Matchless Mine.
Location – 39°44’59.7″N 104°59’45.9″W
Details – Horace Austin Warner (“Haw”) Tabor made his reputation as the “Bonanza King of Leadville” The American prospector, businessman, and Republican politician is honored to this day.
In the spring of 1860, when Colorado was part of the western part of the Kansas Territory, Horace, his wife, Augusta, and their son, Nathaniel Maxcy, headed to a mining area called California Gulch, just south of Leadville.
As soon as the Tabors arrived at the gold camp they were instant celebrities. Apparently, Augusta was the first woman to venture into those parts. They opened a general store and Augusta endeared herself to the miners by becoming the camp’s cook, laundress, postmistress, and banker. She used the scales she and Horace had brought with them to weigh the gold “dust.” “Haw” and Mrs. Tabor were consider “sturdy merchants,” appreciated for their honesty and for Haw’s generosity.
Successful from the outset, the Tabors made a lifestyle of setting up shop in a succession of mining camps as they appeared, flourished and disappeared into history.
When Colorado became a state in 1876, the silver standard (the system by which the value of a currency is defined in terms of silver) was the practice of the day.
Horace and Augusta built a house and moved to Leadville, where they ran a grocery, post office and supply store. In the spring of 1878 while two German prospectors asked Tabor to grubstake a claim. Over three occasions he leant the miners a total of $54 in provisions and supplies. In exchange for the provisions, the miners promised Tabor a one-third interest in any ore produced by their finds. August Rische and George Hook, the German prospectors staked a claim on Fryer Hill, which they named the Little Pittsburg.
It turned out to be as fine a deal as buying Manhattan island from the Indians for $24 in wampum. By the end of the summer, the the Little Pittsburg produced a $10,000 dividend to each. Tabor was acknowledged leader of the silver mining community, and was chosen Mayor of Leadville.
Talk about a Boom Town! Leadville soon had two newspapers, a bank and a handsome opera house ALL courtesy of Mayor Tabor (Soon to be Lieutenant Governor Tabor). Son Maxcy became the treasurer of the Tabor Opera House and manager of the Windsor Hotel.
And this was just the begining, the Little Pittsburg Mine was the first of several “bonanza” mines that Tabor would own. He went on to own partial stakes in several other successful mines, including the Chrysolite which he bought with Marshall Fields of Chicago. The Chrysolite mine yielded $3 million dollars before Tabor sold his interest for $1.5 million. In 1879, he purchased the Matchless Mine for $117,000, the first he owned entirely by himself. For quite some time, there truly was no mine that was its “match” as it produced up to $2,000 per day in high quality silver ore.
He built a palatial mansion in Denver and contributed the Tabor Grand Opera House to the city.
Conversely, wife Augusta was not happy with “striking it rich.” There was no change in her dress or her conservative New England behavior. She cautioned her husband to save and spend carefully, but after all the years of hardscrabble and toil, Horace, who was pushing 50 years old, would have none of that. He wanted to live it up.
Legend has it Augusta refused to live upstairs in the master bedroom, preferring the servants quarters next to the kitchen. She also kept a cow tethered to the door, which she milked daily. Horace, now the Lieutenant Governor of Colorado, was embarrassed. His eyes began to stray. Making the rounds on day in 1880 at the Saddle Rock Cafe, he had a chance meeting with Elizabeth McCourt – aka “Baby” Doe.
“Baby” Doe was born Elizabeth Bonduel McCourt in 1854 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Called Lizzie by her family, she was said to have been the prettiest of seven children, with a lively and independent spirit with a tomboy disposition and the face of a cherub. As a young adult, she won a Church figure skating contest, and gained the attention of Harvey Doe, Jr. and the two began to court. Harvey was the only son raised in an affluent family, where he had been coddled and spoiled by his mother and his four sisters. Lizzie thought he was sweet man the two were married in 1877. Harvey’s father owned a half-interest in the Fourth of July Mine in Central City, so the young newlyweds set off to make their fortune in gold. “People do it all the time out there!” exclaimed Harvey.
But coddled Harvey Doe proved to be lazy procrastinator and a poor provider. He was having a hard time making his Fourth of July Mine profitable. Lizzie put on miner’s clothes and worked alongside him. Miners in the settlement enjoyed her lively nature and called her “Baby” Doe – the miner’s sweetheart, a name which followed her the rest of her life.
Harvey fell into debt and their three-year marriage started to falter. in 1880, Baby Doe sued for divorce on the grounds of “nonsupport” and wound up in Leadville looking for a husband.
Saga has it that it was love at first site for Horace Tabor and Baby Doe. Almost immediately, the two became sweethearts and Horace moved Baby Doe into a suite at the Clarendon Hotel next to his Tabor Opera House in Leadville. Over the next few years, Horace grew increasingly estranged from his wife Augusta as his affair with Baby Doe became a matter of public knowledge. He asked Augusta for a divorce. She refused. Horace secretly secured a divorce in Durango, Colorado. Horace and Baby Doe were secretly married in St. Louis September 30, 1882. and Augusta received $100,000 a month, the Denver mansion, as well as other properties.
Tabor served as Lieutenant Governor until 1884 – with a brief stint as U.S. Senator thrown in for good measure. To wind up his short stint in congress, Horace and Baby Doe were married again on March 1, 1883, in a lavish and scandalous public ceremony in Washington, D.C. The scandal of the alleged divorce and marriage raged on, and was front page news across the country.
They moved to Denver, where Horace bought a block-long mansion for Baby Doe. Given the scandal of the divorce and the differences in their ages, the wives of Denver’s richest men refused to accept her into society. Instead, they spread incendiary rumors and gossip about Baby Doe’s “shameless” past. Instead, the Tabors lived extravagantly, spending as much $10,000 a week on lavish parties, traveling, and other luxuries. They lived happily together for the next ten years.
The Tabor mines were yielding millions of dollars in silver. At their height, the Tabors were one of the five richest families in the country. Baby Doe was hailed as the “Silver Queen of the West,” while Horace was touted as Denver’s “Grand Old Man.” They had two daughters, Elizabeth Bonduel “Lily” and Rosemary “Silver Dollar” Echo. Tabor ran without success for governor of Colorado in 1884, 1886, and 1888. Then, Tabor opened his wallet for investments in more silver mines, new companies that needed capital, and some risky deals that did not land a dime in profits.
The fairytale ended in 1893, when finance moved to the gold standard. Silver prices dropped lower than the operating costs needed for the silver mines, and it became impossible to continue operations. As Silver was Horace’s main holding, parcels of highly mortgaged property came crashing down, along with the Tabors’ lifestyle. Horace, failing to diversify, faced ruin. Tabor’s fortune and his far-flung holdings were sold off.
Baby Doe and Horace and their daughters moved out of their Capitol Hill mansion and into a rented cottage. However, regardless of the now destitute condition of the Tabors, Horace never lost faith in the future, and until his dying day, he attempted to recapture his lost wealth. At age 65, while he was shoveling slag from Cripple Creek mines at $3.00/day, he was recalled from his Republican party exile over the issue of “free silver,” and given the position as postmaster of Denver from January 4, 1898 until his death by appendicitis in April 1899.
When Horace Tabor, flags were flown at half staff and ten thousand people attended his funeral. Baby Doe, 45 years old, would never again live a lavish lifestyle.
Tabor’s final request of Baby Doe was that she maintain the Matchless claim. Legend reports that she did but eventually went bankrupt and lost control of the mine. She lived impoverished in the tool shed of the Matchless mine for her remaining years.
On February 20, 1935, Baby Doe struggled in to town for a few supplies. A grocery delivery man gave her a ride back from town. She wrote in her diary, “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.”
That was the last time she was seen alive. The snowstorm raged on for several days. Neighbors, who kept an eye on her, became alarmed when they didn’t see smoke curling up from her chimney. On March 7, 1935, the two of them slogged through the 6-foot snow drifts and discovered the tiny, 81-year-old-woman dead and lying frozen on her cabin floor. Later reports said she had suffered a heart attack.
Elizabeth Bonduel McCourt “Baby Doe” Tabor, once a millionaire, died in poverty. After her death, 17 iron trunks that had been placed in storage in Denver were opened. All that was left from the Tabor fortune were several bolts of unique exquisite cloth, several pieces of china, a tea service and some jewelry.
The history of Horace, Augusta and Elizabeth McCourt “Baby Doe” Tabor is a great American rags to riches story strewn with Rocky Mountain scandal and intrigue. Horace Tabor, a simple merchant, grubstaked a couple of miners in Leadville and soon became wealthy and influential. He left his wife for a much younger woman – Baby Doe – resulting in high scandal. Leadville today still holds many memories of its glorious past as well as the impact the Tabors had on the community. In his remembrance, there is a Tabor Lake at the base of Tabor Peak approximately 12 miles southwest of Leadville, just south of Independence Pass.
- In what year did Colorado become a state?
- What is the silver standard?
- Why did Horace Tabor lose his fortune?
- What wisdom can you take away from the Tabor’s tale?
- How and where do we remember Horace Tabor today?