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Tabor Triangle - Page 3        

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For Horace and Baby Doe, the years following their marriage were a constant whirlwind. The Tabor mines were yielding millions of dollars in silver, especially the Chrysolite and Matchless Mines. The Matchless Mine alone, produced over 9 million dollars. The Tabors continued to enjoy their expensive parties, distant travels, and lavish nights at the newly built Tabor Grand Opera house. In addition, campaigns for political office (not to mention jewelry, furs, and gowns of the finest silk and lace for Baby Doe and their two young daughters) occupied much of Tabor's time and money. The Tabor fortune grew by the day and being too vast to count, allowed the Tabors to spend extravagantly.   The generous Horace 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 ten golden years between 1883 and 1893 were filled with endless possibility for Horace and Baby Doe.  

the Matchless Mine in 1953

The Matchless Mine in 1853, courtesy Denver Public Library.

 

 

 

With Baby Doe on his arm, Horace Tabor's plans to turn Denver into the "Paris of the West" seemed within reach. Baby Doe's dreams matched her husband's - an adventure of grand living and great civic accomplishments. However, like all good things, it ended all too soon.

 

The fairytale ended in 1893, when the country moved to the gold standard. Silver, Horace's main holding, along with parcels of highly mortgaged property came crashing down, along with the Tabors' lifestyle. Horace, failing to listen to the advice of others and diversify, faced ruin. In the interim, and adding to the crisis, Tabor had also made a number of unsuccessful, if not unwise, investments in foreign mining ventures that failed. He lost huge amounts of money in Mexico and South America.

 

However, regardless of the now destitute condition of the Tabors, Horace never lost faith in the future, and until his dying day, he always found work of some kind, hoping to recapture his lost wealth.

Baby Doe and Horace, along with their young daughters Elizabeth "Lillie" and Rose Mary "Silver Dollar" moved out of their Capitol Hill mansion and into a rented cottage. At age 65, Horace was shoveling slag from area mines at $3.00/day until he was finally appointed postmaster of Denver just a year before his death. Baby Doe remained optimistic about regaining Tabor's lost fortune, but it never panned out.

Many people who disliked Baby Doe predicted that she would divorce Tabor if he ever lost his fortune. However, Baby Doe was loyal and devoted to her husband until the end. In April, 1899 Horace took ill with appendicitis and a few days later, before his death he was said to have told her ..."Hang on to the Matchless Mine, if I die, Baby, it will make millions again when silver comes back." However, this statement was later disputed as being made up by a writer who wanted to sell her books. Flags were lowered to half mast in Colorado and 10,000 people attended the funeral.  Baby Doe, just 45 years old, would never again live a lavish lifestyle.  

Tabor home after they lost their fortune

Cottage where the Tabors moved after having lost

their fortune., 1962

 

 

Still beautiful and relatively young, Baby Doe could easily have remarried. She chose, instead, to "hold on to the Matchless," continuously seeking funds to "work" it. With her two children in tow, Baby returned to Leadville and took up residence in the one-room, 12 by 16-foot structure that originally served as a tool shed at the Matchless Mine. Her elder daughter, 15-year-old Lillie, so resented the place, she boldly stated that she was leaving, and borrowing the money for the train fare from her uncle, she went to Wisconsin to live with her grandmother, ceasing all contact with her mother and sister.
 
Lillie Tabor, 1886

Lillie Tabor, 1886, courtesy Denver Public Library

 

Silver Dollar Tabor as a baby, 1889

Silver Dollar Tabor, 1889, courtesy Denver Public Library

 

 

Silver Dollar Tabor

 

Silver Dollar Tabor with Teddy Roosevelt in 1910Silver Dollar, a 10-year-old tomboy, initially thrived on the adventure of living and working at the mine. She liked to write poetry and Baby Doe encouraged this endeavor, actually helping her to get a couple of songs published. One of these included a song to celebrate a visit by Theodore Roosevelt to Leadville in 1908, called "President Roosevelt's Colorado Hunt," the music written by a friend in Denver.

 

The song was well-received in Colorado and a long article regarding Silver Dollar's "budding career" was printed in the Denver Post. In 1910, the song was actually sung for Mr. Roosevelt and Silver Dollar got to meet the man.

 

Silver Dollar TaborBut, alas the spirited girl, began to attend the parties of Leadville and started to drink heavily. After a heavy night of partying, she became involved in a scandal with a local saloon keeper and Baby Doe sent her to Denver, where she thought she would be better off.

 

Silver Dollar obtained a job at a local newspaper and wrote a western novel called The Star of Blood. But neither adventure was successful. Then she tried her hand at publishing a small periodical, but her life was spiraling downward and after a couple of years, she decided to move to Chicago, Illinois. There, she planned to make one last stab at making a career of writing and if that proved unsuccessful, she told her mother, she was going to join a convent.

 

Baby Doe never saw her again, but received sporadic letters, until an article appeared in the Denver paper, which outlined the details of Silver Dollar's grizzly murder.

 

During her time in Chicago, Silver Dollar had continued on a path of destruction, getting involved with drugs, continuing to drink, and joining a burlesque show for a period of time.

 

Silver Dollar Tabor in 1925She lived with one after another ill-fit men, until one of them killed her by pouring scalding water over her naked body. Silver Dollar was 35. Baby Doe denied the entire story, stating that Silver Dollar was safely in a convent. Though she probably knew it was true, Baby Doe would never admit otherwise.

 

Baby Doe, who stayed at the cabin for her remaining 35 years, was a proud woman who routinely refused charity of any kind. Periodically she would trudge into town for supplies, which she paid for with chunks of "valuable" ore she picked up around the property, unaware that the sympathetic shopkeepers who accepted her samples as payment probably dumped the worthless rocks as soon as she left.

 

Contrary to popular belief, she did not "hold on to the Matchless as it will pay millions again," as some have incorrectly reported were Horace Tabor's deathbed words. The Matchless Mine had long since been lost to foreclosure and had failed to produce, even with several new attempts on the part of the new owners. Baby Doe was living in the tiny cabin only due to the generosity of the current owners of the worthless mine, where she scribbled page after page of her increasingly paranoiac and, ultimately delirious thoughts.
  As years passed, Baby Doe, with no income and unable to buy anything, would rap her feet in burlap sacks held with twine. When sick, she would doctor herself with turpentine and lard. With the help of creditors and through the kindness of her Leadville neighbors, she was supplied with the bare necessities of life. However, food and clothing sent to this very proud woman was sent back unopened.   Opening of Silver Dollar Movie in 1932When a movie about Baby Doe Tabor came out in 1932, the promoters offered to pay her and her expenses if she would attend the premier in Denver. She refused, and in fact, would never see the movie because it was about her old life. A year later a friend, who was a priest, and two lawyers tried to talk her into suing the movie producers for libel, promising her that she would receive $50,000. Again, she refused, this time stating that she didn't need the money because the Matchless Mine was getting ready to provide her with many more times that amount.

 

However, the movie did bring her publicity, which resulted in her receiving several sympathetic letters, often including money. This money, she accepted, as it did not fall under her definition of "charity."

 

On February 20, 1935, Baby Doe literally struggled to get to town for a few supplies, and a grocery delivery man, had given her a ride back from town, checking to make sure that she had food, water and wood. She wrote in one of her endless diaries: "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."

 

He was the last person to see her alive. The snowstorm continued to rage for several days before it finally cleared. Neighbors, who had routinely 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.

 

 

Her body was sent to Denver and buried at Mt. Olivet cemetery next to her beloved husband, Horace. The cabin at the Matchless Mine, where she spent so many solitary years, was ransacked by souvenir hunters who made off with many of her things. Photographs of the cabin after her death depict a slovenly mess, but Baby Doe, though a bit of a pack-rat, was said to have neat and tidy, the mess created by those who invaded her home after her death.

 

After her death, 17 iron trunks that had been placed in storage in Denver were opened, as well as several gunny sacks and four trunks that had been left at the St. Vincent's Hospital in Leadville.

 

All that was left from the Tabor fortune were several bolts of unique, untouched and quite exquisite cloth, several pieces of china, a tea service and some jewelry, including a diamond and sapphire ring. The famous watch fob and chain given to her husband, Horace Tabor, at the opening of the $700,000 Tabor Opera House in Denver was also found, along with several memorabilia pieces.

 

Baby Doe became a legend, the subject of a two books and a Hollywood movie. Eventually her story would find its way into two operas, a stage play (in German), a musical, a screenplay, a one-woman show and countless other books and articles.

 

Baby Doe at the Matchless Mine in 1933

Baby Doe at her cabin in October, 1933, courtesy Denver Public Library.

 

The last man to enter the mine, in 1938, reported there was still abundant silver, but not enough to justify the expense of bringing it out.

 

The Matchless Mine and Baby Doe's one-room cabin, with its plank floor and small pot belly stove, has been restored as accurately as possible. Old newspapers, similar to those she used for insulation, cover the walls, providing an atmospheric backdrop for historic photographs of the Tabors and other memorabilia that contrasts Baby Doe's two very different lives.  
Most of the period furnishings were added later but a few authentic items remain, such as a delicate white silk scarf from the good years and the magazines, which show a pretty woman with a rosebud mouth and a fuss of curls, her looks enhanced by expensive jewelry.

 

Tabor-Baby_Does_Cabin_Interior3.1935.DenverPublicLibrary.jpg (300x238 -- 19012 bytes)

Baby Doe's Cabin Interior after her death in 1935, courtesy Denver Public Library

 

Inside the Matchless Mine Cabin today

Baby Doe's Cabin, August, 2003, Kathy Weiser

 

Baby Doe's later life is represented by a worn leather satchel that sits in the corner of the room and appears in a photo taken only a few years before she died. Her most prized possession was a framed statue of the Virgin Mary, which hangs on the wall above a narrow, quilt-covered bed.

 

Baby Doe, who turned to religion and a sort of mysticism as time went by and her isolation grew, also used a calendar on display to keep track of the dates on which she said she communed with spirit voices.

Such objects add a haunting air as you soak up the ambiance of the small cabin, which was formally dedicated as a public historic site in 1953. The surrounding images add to the effect as knowledgeable guides spin a true story that helps bring the era and the cabin's former occupant to life.

The 365-foot Matchless, located in an area called Fryer Hill, was permanently covered when the cabin was opened to the public. But you can peer down into the mine's grim, shadowed belly or look up at the wooden head frame to contemplate a rusting iron bucket used to lower miners starting a grueling 12-hour shift, for which they were paid the grand sum of $3 a day.

The cable and pulley system that controlled the bucket were located in the nearby hoist house, which also holds a blacksmith shop with the mine's huge, original bellows. The hoist house also displays an intricately detailed scale model of the Matchless, which had seven levels, or shafts, to bring in fresh air.

Outside the small cluster of buildings, the sun brightens a deceptively mild-looking landscape, where winter temperatures have been known to drop to 50 degrees below zero.

The Matchless Mine and Baby Doe's cabin, located 1.2 miles east of Leadville on East 7th street, is open 9 a.m.- 4:45 p.m. daily Memorial Day through Labor Day and by appointment the rest of the year. Call 800-933-3901 for more information. The Leadville area chamber of commerce maintains a Web site at www.leadvilleusa.com.

Leadville today still holds many memories of its glorious past as well as the impact the Tabors had on this colorful community.

 

Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, 2003, updated August 2015.

 

Baby Doe visiting Denver in 1930

Baby Doe visiting Denver in 1930, courtesy Denver Public Library.

 

Tabor_NewsArticle_Baby_Doe_Death.1935.DenverPublicLibrary.jpg (283x364 -- 18290 bytes)

News Article after Baby Doe's death in 1935, courtesy Denver Public Library

 

Matchless Mine Shaft

The Matchless Mine, Kathy Weiser, August, 2003

 

Baby Doe's Cabin at the Matchless Mine

Baby Doe's Cabin, August, 2003, Kathy Weiser

 

Tailings at the Matchless Mine

Old mine tailing surround the Matchless Mine, August, 2003, Kathy Weiser.

 

Baby Doe's Cabin Inside

Inside Baby Doe's Cabin, August, 2003, Kathy Weiser

 

Matchless Mine Equipment

Equipment inside the Matchless Mine, August, 2003, Kathy Weiser

 

Matchless Mine Headframe

Headframe at the Matchless Mine, August, 2003, Kathy Weiser

 

   

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