Baby Doe and the Matchless Mine

Written by on November 20, 2016 in Southwest Characters - Comments Off on Baby Doe and the Matchless Mine

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During Colorado’s halcyon days, when gold and silver poured from the mountains, there was no greater triumph and no greater fall than that of Horace Austin Warner (“Haw”) Tabor, Augusta Tabor, Baby Doe Tabor, and the Matchless Mine.

Throughout the late 1850s, ’60s and ’70s, Horace Tabor and his wife Augusta, were respectable citizens of several small mining towns in Colorado. Horace was a store keeper, and frequently postmaster, and even mayor, of one of the small towns he and Augusta lived in. His rise and eventual downfall came in 1878, when two immigrants walked into his store. They asked Horace if he would grubstake them. Being a generous man, he agreed. The two immigrants struck it big and found the Little Pittsburg Silver Mine. They remembered Horace’s generosity and gave him a 1/3 ownership share of the mine. The first dividend for Horace was $10,000. The Bland-Allison Act and the Sherman Silver Purchase Act required the U.S. government to purchase huge sums of silver every month, thus ensuring the increasing need for silver as well as the fortunes of many silver miners.

His simple act of generosity was the turning point in Horace Tabor’s life. Thereafter, he began investing in (or buying) many mines in the area, including perhaps the most famous silver mine of them all — The Matchless Mine, which earned him $2,000 a day. At one point, Horace was worth more money than he could count. Legend says his shirts cost $1,000 apiece (a sum so extravagant in those days as to be almost unbelievable).

In 1880, a young divorcee named Elizabeth Bonduel McCourt Doe arrived in Leadville, Colorado, where Horace Tabor and his wife lived. It might have been love at first site, or Horace might have been yearning for his younger days … in any case, he and Elizabeth (Baby Doe) began a secret affair … thus creating one of the most scandalous and infamous love triangles of the West.

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Within a year, Horace asked his wife for a divorce, which she refused. Of course, Horace wouldn’t take no for an answer and snuck off to Durango where he filed for divorce anyway. It wasn’t legal, but Horace didn’t care. In 1882, he and Baby Doe were secretly married in St. Louis. Augusta, humiliated, hurt and furious, fought a valiant rear-guard action, suing for separate maintenance and a large share of Horace’s $9 million (or more) in wealth (not to mention many properties she wasn’t aware of).  In 1883, Horace and Baby Doe’s marriage was finally legalized and Augusta received a huge part of the Tabor fortune. She moved to California and passed away in 1895, many claim from a broken heart.

And now we come to Baby Doe and her part in the story. Blue-eyed and golden-haired, Baby Doe was a great beauty and the darling of Denver society, where she and Horace lived in a huge mansion. While the Tabor silver mines poured forth riches, she lived the life of a queen, waited on by dozens of servants. She presented Tabor with two daughters, Silver Dollar and Lilly. Swathed in silk and satin, wearing $75,000 in diamonds on her neck, eating caviar and drinking champagne, Baby Doe thought the good times would last forever. Then the government repealed the Sherman Act and the price of silver dropped below the operating costs of the mines. Horace, having made many bad investments, had also failed to listen to the advice of friends who suggested he should diversify. The Tabors lost everything!

For many years, Horace and Baby Doe scrambled to make a living in any way they could, in some cases having to resort to begging from friends. A couple of years before his death, Horace was shoveling slag in the Cripple Creek mines and a year before his death, he finally secured a position as the postmaster of Denver. In 1899, Horace died of appendicitis, but on his deathbed, legend says he told Baby Doe to hold onto the Matchless Mine … he swore it would make her rich again one day. Since Horace was in a coma for many days before he died, it is unlikely that the legend is true, especially since they lost the mine to foreclosure years before. However, it is possible that the Tabors felt the mine might produce again or that Baby Doe became so obsessed with the past that she couldn’t let the link to the mine go.

Thirty-five years later on a cold and snowy winter’s day, residents of Leadville found a woman frozen to death in an old cabin, once the tool house for the Matchless Mine. She wore gunnysacks on her feet, a man’s cap on her head, a tattered black coat and newspapers wrapped around her body under the coat. The cabin held nothing but a few dollars and some cans of food, yet hidden away in storage in Denver were many trunks filled with expensive dresses and priceless jewels carefully wound into balls of yarn for safekeeping. The old woman’s name was Baby Doe Tabor and she had kept her promise to watch over the Matchless Mine.

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