Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Baby Doe Tabor--A Woman Who Refused to Be Made a Fool by Any Man

We have a guest blogger this month, Donna Baier Stein.
Welcome, Donna! Thanks for taking time to visit us here
at HHHistory.com. 

"A Woman Who Refused to Be Made a Fool by Any Man, a Slave by Any Rule, or a Pauper by Any Loss."

By Donna Baier Stein

Colorado’s Baby Doe Tabor was a fiercely independent woman who bucked all her era’s social expectations.
Baby Doe Tabor
In 1866, 12-year-old Lizzie McCourt watched a fire consume her father’s tailoring business and home in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Vowing to rebuild her family’s fortune, she later married Harvey Doe, the mayor’s son, and followed him and her father-in-law to Colorado, where Harvey Doe, Sr., had gifted them a mine called The Fourth of July.

The newlyweds settled into a run-down cabin in Dogwood. Harvey proved to be an unfortunate choice for a husband and succumbed to the lures of opium and brothels. When he failed to do the work required, Lizzie overcame superstition to work side-by-side with the men down in the shafts. It wasn’t an easy task, since many miners believed that even seeing a woman before they descended into a mine was bad luck.

But at only 5’ tall, hard-working Lizzie won the hearts of her fellow miners, who gave her the nickname “Baby Doe.” She was even written up in a local Central City newspaper.

When she discovered Harvey in bed with a prostitute, she divorced him and made her way alone to the booming town of Leadville. There she caught the attention of the much older Horace “Silver King” Tabor. At the time, Tabor was married to Augusta, with whom he had a son Maxey. To everyone’s dismay, Tabor and Lizzie began an affair, with Tabor putting his mistress up in a suite at the Clarendon Hotel. He visited her by crossing a catwalk between the hotel and his eponymous Opera House.

In 1883, Horace was named to finish the term of a Colorado Senator. After he divorced Augusta, he and Lizzie were married in an extraordinarily lavish wedding at the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC. President Chester Arthur and his Cabinet attended, though none of the Cabinet members’ wives deigned to honor the nuptials of two divorced Catholics. At the time of their marriage, Horace Tabor was worth about $24 million. He gave Lizzie a $90,000 necklace that had once belonged to Queen Isabella and a wedding gown that cost $7,000.00.

Horace built Lizzie a square-block villa to live in upon their return to Denver. There, one hundred peacocks roamed among nude statues on the rolling lawns. The Tabors entertained the likes of Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, and other famous actors and musicians who performed at the Tabor Opera Houses in Denver and Leadville.

Unfortunately, ten years after the extravagant wedding in DC, the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act and a devastating stock market crash wiped out Horace’s vast fortune.

The cabin Lizzie lived in during the last 35 years of her life
Despite what the disapproving public had expected, Lizzie refused to abandon Horace as he worked as a day laborer and later Postmaster of Denver in the Post Office built with his funds. Legend has it that on Horace’s deathbed, he asked Lizzie to “Hang on to the Matchless Mine,” reassuring her it would again yield great wealth. She lived the last 35 years of her life in a one-room shack there in Leadville, trying to bring the mine back to life and writing down thousands of her dreams on receipts and paper scraps. She was found frozen to death on March 7, 1935, at the age of 81.

An American opera called 
The Ballad of Baby Doe was written by Douglas Moore. It was recently performed at the Central City Opera House for its sixtieth anniversary. While the opera focuses primarily on the love triangle between Lizzie, Horace, and Augusta, Lizzie’s life reveals she was much more than just a mistress in someone else’s story. 


Donna Baier Stein is the author of The Silver Baron's Wife, Sympathetic People (Iowa Fiction Award Finalist), and Sometimes You Sense the Difference. She founded and publishes Tiferet Journal. She received a scholarship from Bread Loaf, a Fellowship from the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars, three Pushcart nominations, and prizes from the Allen Ginsberg Awards and elsewhere. Her writing has appeared in Ascent, Beloit Poetry Journal, Poet Lore, Prairie Schooner, Virginia Quarterly Review, Puerto del Sol, Writer’s Digest, and elsewhere. She is currently completing a new collection of stories based on Thomas Hart Benton’s lithographs. www.donnabaierstein.com

The Silver Baron’s Wife traces the rags-to-riches-to-rags life of Colorado’s Baby Doe Tabor, who was featured in one of the West’s most scandalous love stories. A divorcee shunned by Denver society, Lizzie raised two daughters and after her second husband's death, lived in eccentric isolation at the still-standing Matchless Mine in Leadville. An early draft of this novel won the PEN/New England Discovery Award for Fiction. https://www.amazon.com/Silver-Barons-Donna-Baier-Stein/dp/0997101067


  1. Very interesting. She was quite a woman. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Women's rights have always been there for those who where bold enough to pursue them. Your story confirms women have the ability to become their dreams. Thank you.

  4. Thank you for sharing this very interesting post.

  5. I'm glad you enjoyed learning about Lizzie Tabor, Melanie.

  6. I was fascinated by this post and want to read your books ... and can't WAIT to read the one based on Thomas Hart Benton's lithographs. One of his lesser-known works hung at a local art gallery not long ago and I made a special trip to see it and was not disappointed.

    1. Thank you, Stephanie. Yes, I also love Benton's artwork. I recently revisited his huge mural America Now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It's amazing how timely it is... and how vibrant. http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2014/thomas-hart-benton

  7. Thanks for sharing this fascinating look into history. And especially thank you for filling in for me today!

    1. Thank YOU, Miralee! It was a wonderful opportunity for me. Will be reading more of your posts...

  8. A very determined woman who made a difference even though she faced difficult times. A hidden gem of history. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank you for reading, Marilyn. She was definitely determined... and like many women of her time faced restrictions about what she could and couldn't do.

  9. What a great article---and love that you connected it with the doll for ITP...Sandi M In Chicagoland