A Rags to Riches Kind of Day…

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A Rags to Riches Kind of Day…

Saturday, during Labor Day weekend we drove up to Leadville, which sits at 10,152 feet making it the highest city in the United States. I was SO EXCITED to take photos up there because the views are AMAZING.

Leadville is most famous for being a mining town during the 1800s, many fortunes were made in this town, but the most famous was probably that of Horace Tabor. If you grew up in Colorado you are familiar with his story and it’s a juicy one.

Unfortunately, I forgot to bring a SD card for my camera and I only have 2 photos to share with you from my iPhone, the rest are from the Denver Public Library holdings. I was so bummed about not seeing the photos I took.

Horace Tabor Denver Public Library Digital Collections
Horace Tabor
Denver Public Library Digital Collections


Augusta Pierce Tabor Denver Public Library Digital Collections
Augusta Pierce Tabor
Denver Public Library
Digital Collections

After a series of fortunate events, Tabor ended up in Leadville in the 1870s with his first wife Augusta (cousin of President Franklin Pierce) where they ran a general store and the post office and he served as mayor for a year. In 1878 Tabor purchased the Matchless Mine,  one mile from Leadville at an altitude of 12,000 feet. The same year he was voted in as Lt. Governor of Colorado. By 1880 the Matchless Mine was pulling $2000 of silver from the hills each day.

With all his wealth, Tabor was able to establish a newspaper, the Tabor Grand Opera House in Denver, a bank and the Tabor Opera House in Leadville. Augusta was not happy with Horace’s flamboyant lifestyle, and thought they should be saving money (she was most likely correct) and the couple divorced in 1883. In the divorce settlement she was awarded their 20 room mansion in Denver.

Tabor Opera House in Leadville
Tabor Opera House in Leadville

Elizabeth “Baby Doe” McCourt was living with her first husband in Central City, Colorado (another mining town) during this time. He was known to be a drinker, a gambler and to have a certain affection for women of a “lesser reputation”. Baby Doe divorced her first husband and moved to Leadville in the early 1880s.

Horace Tabor married Baby Doe 2 months after his divorce from Augusta; he was 52 and Baby Doe was 28 (she was known to tell people she was 22). The divorce and the marriage caused quite the scandal and many Denver socialites snubbed the Tabors. Still the Tabors continued to spend lavishly on homes in Denver and gowns and jewels for Baby Doe. Baby Doe gave birth to 2 daughters, one who was nicknamed Silver Dollar.

Baby Doe Tabor Denver Public Library Digital Collections

By 1893 (only 10 years after their marriage), the Sherman Silver Purchase Act was repealed causing the Panic 0f 1893. Silver prices plummeted and the Tabors lost everything. Horace was working as a common laborer in mines for $3 a day until he turned to working as a postmaster in Denver by 1898. In frail health, Horace passed away in 1899 from appendicitis.

After his death, Baby Doe returned to Leadville and moved into the cabin at the Matchless Mine. Both her daughters abandoned her and left Colorado to live their lives. Silver Dollar died at 25 years old from issues related to her alcoholism.

Baby Doe lived at the Matchless Mine for 35 years in a drafty cabin with few belongings and very little food during rough winters above 12,000 feet. There was an iron, twin size bed, a wood stove, a couple trunks and a rocking chair. She became a recluse who turned to her Catholic faith and would shoot at people who tried to investigate the mine. She was found dead from heart failure in her cabin in the winter of 1935 when a mining neighbor had not seen smoke from her cabin stove for a week. Baby Doe was 81 years old. The news of her death made the front page of newspapers from coast to coast.

Baby Doe's cabin at the site of the Matchless Mine
Baby Doe’s cabin at the site of the Matchless Mine

Augusta Tabor lived out her life as a successful business woman. She operated a boarding house in the 20 room mansion Horace left her in Denver and owned other real estate properties. At the time of her death in 1895 she was worth $1.5 million dollars which she left to her son Maxey Tabor.

2 thoughts on “A Rags to Riches Kind of Day…

  1. Emma Robertson

    What a great story :0)

  2. Anne

    Thank you for posting the Tabor/Baby Doe story. I hadn’t thought of this piece of history for more than 60 years. Visited Colo. several times as a child & saw some the places mentioned.

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