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Rags, Riches & Scandal - The Tabor Triangle

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The history of Horace, Augusta and Elizabeth McCourt Baby Doe Tabor is a rags to riches story full of scandal and intrigue in the Rocky Mountains. Horace Tabor, a simple merchant, grubstaked a couple of miners in Leadville, Colorado, and soon became wealthy and influential. He left his wife for a much younger woman -- Baby Doe, resulting in high scandal. He died in poverty.

 

Augusta Tabor               Horace Tabor               Baby Doe Tabor

 

 

 

Horace and Augusta

Horace Tabor was born on April 6, 1830 to Cornelius Dunham Tabor and Sarah Ferrin in Holland, Vermont and had a sister and three brothers.  When he was 19, he left home to work in the stone quarries of Massachusetts and Maine. William B. Pierce, who owned a quarry in Augusta, Maine, hired both Horace and his brother, John, and would later become Horace's father-in-law.   

Augusta Pierce was one of seven daughters and three sons born to William B. Pierce and Lucy Eaton. Growing up in a comfortable middle-class home, she was a fragile child but also strong willed. Horace and Augusta began a courtship that would eventually lead to marriage.

 

In 1855, Horace joined a group organized by the New England Immigrant Aid Society to populate the Kansas territory with anti-slave settlers. He moved to Kansas and homesteaded a piece of land on Deep Creek in Riley County, which is called "Tabor Valley" to this day. His hard work and willingness to help the anti-slavery cause got him elected to the "Free Soil" legislature, which sat in defiance of the so-called legitimate territorial government during a violent period of civil unrest, which earned the territory the name of "Bleeding Kansas."

 

Nathanial MaxcyTabo r- 1860Early in 1857, he returned to Maine to marry the twenty-four year old Augusta Pierce and bring her back to Kansas. Rattlesnakes and Indians too often visited the area and Augusta, appalled by the raw ruggedness of the territory and the rough cabin, often fell to tears.  However, they spent the next two years trying to make the farm productive until Horace began to hear stories of gold discoveries in the western part of the Kansas Territory (now Colorado.) 

In the spring of 1859, they left Deep Creek with their baby son Maxcy and two friends from Maine.  Following the Republican River Trail, they walked across the barely explored landscape of northern Kansas and southern Nebraska until they reached Denver.  While the men hunted for food, Augusta tried to keep the campfire alive, often with only buffalo chips, since there was no wood on the high plains. It took them six weeks to make a trip that could be made a decade later by train in under thirty hours. Just one month after their journey on the Republican River Trail, Horace Greeley took the same route, describing it as "the acme of barrenness and desolation."

 

Though Horace at first tried to prospect in fields close to Denver, he decided to try his luck farther inland, and in the spring of 1860, they headed to California Gulch, just south of Leadville. Their previous journey across the high plains was easy, compared to their trip to California Gulch.

 

Horace Tabor, Colorado Silver baron

Horace Tabor

This image available for photographic prints & editorial downloads HERE!

 

Dragging loaded wagons over steep snow-bound mountain passes, they could still sometimes see the remains of the campfire they made from the night before. Augusta cleaned their clothes in icy streams, prepared meals from the barest of rations, and took care of baby Maxcy, during the journey. At one point, she almost lost her life while crossing a river, when the bed of the wagon rose from the swift running water and started taking her and the baby downstream. Catching a tight hold of some branches bought her enough time for the men to come to the rescue, after which she collapsed unconscious.

 

Their arrival in the gold camp at California Gulch made a curiosity of Augusta, the first woman known to venture into those parts. She endeared herself to the miners by becoming the camp's cook, laundress, postmistress, and banker, using the gold scales she and Horace had brought with them to weigh the "dust."

 

That first summer in the mountains earned them enough money to return to Kansas to buy more land, and to spend the winter in Maine. In the spring of 1861, they returned to Colorado, where they began to follow a succession of mining camps as they appeared, flourished and then dropped out of sight.

 

Traveling from one mining camp to another on the eastern slope of the Continental Divide, they prospected at Payne's Bar (now Idaho Springs), Oro City 1, California Gulch, Buckskin Joe and Oro City 2.  At each mining camp, she and Horace became the camp's provisioners, a pattern that they were to repeat at other times in the next twenty years. Their travels took them twice more over the great Mosquito Range, and eventually to the place just outside of California Gulch that was to become Leadville.

 

Typically, Augusta would board and bake for the miners, while Horace tried his luck at placer sluicing or some other means of getting at the precious minerals. Mostly, he was Augusta's partner in keeping store, running the post office and the bank for the various camps. Considered "sturdy merchants" by their neighbors, they were beloved for their honesty and Horace's generosity.

 

Tabor House, Leadville, Colorado

Horace and Augusta House in 1955.

 

Leadville-TaborHome-Weiser-08-03.jpg (278x371 -- 31498 bytes)

The Horace and Augusta Tabor Home today is open as a museum in Leadville.  Kathy Weiser, August, 2003.

 

However, Augusta was sure that his good nature was not only the source of other folks' high regard for them, but also the means by which they would eventually become impoverished. Hers was the firm hand on the Tabor rudder. Though Horace always had a tendency to give things away, Augusta saved and by the late 1870s, just before Tabor "struck it rich," they had amassed a comfortable net worth of about $40,000--a not inconsiderable sum in those days. In November 1868, they settled down again in Oro City, located in the California Gulch and re-opened their store, where he was the postmaster.

In July 1877, Horace and Augusta built a house and moved to
Leadville, where they ran a grocery and supply store. Horace, elected as Leadville's first mayor, also served as postmaster. In the spring of 1878 while Tabor was working in the store, two German prospectors asked if he would grubstake a claim. It was not the first time that Tabor had grubstaked miners and he provided them with $17.00 in provisions that first day, and additional supplies on two more occasions for a total of $54.00. For the provisions, the miners promised Tabor a one-third interest in any ore produced by their finds. The German prospectors located a claim on Fryer Hill, which they named the Little Pittsburgh and began to dig a shaft.

On April 15, 1878, Tabor's generosity hit pay dirt when the two miners - August Rische and George Hook, announced to Tabor that they had found silver in the Little Pittsburgh Mine. By July, nearly a hundred tons of ore had been taken from the mine and each of the three partners had an income of fifty thousand dollars a month. In the fall, Hook sold out to Tabor and Rische for $98,000 and later Rische sold his interest to Jerome Chaffee and David Moffat for over a quarter of a million dollars.

Little Pittsburg Mine, 1882

The Little Pittsburg Mine in 1882.

 

Tabor held on to his share and consolidated his claim with others partners on Fryer Hill. Horace was quickly becoming the acknowledged leader of the silver mining community around Leadville. The consolidated group shared four million dollars before Horace sold his interest for one million. Horace went on to own partial stakes in several other successful mines, including the Chrysolite which he bought with Marshall Fields of Chicago, the mine yielding 3 million dollars before Tabor sold his interest for 1 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.

 

Continuing in his generous spirit, Tabor provided Leadville with two newspapers, a bank and a handsome opera house within the next two years. However, Augusta was not happy with "striking it rich," and any differences between the two were exacerbated by the outrageous wealth Horace's mines deposited in their lives. Though Augusta was no stranger to comfort, she could not deal with such immense, unlimited resources. Her admonitions to save and spend carefully now seemed silly to Horace, who could not spend his money as fast as he accumulated it. After all the years of hardscrabble and toil, Horace, who was almost 50 years old, wanted to live it up. However, Augusta took no pleasure in their sudden riches, refusing to change the way she dressed or her personal behavior. 

 

When Horace built a palatial mansion in Denver, she refused to live upstairs in the master bedroom, instead preferring the servants quarters next to the kitchen. She also kept a cow tethered to the front door, which she insisted on milking herself. Horace, who by then had been made the Lieutenant Governor of the state, was embarrassed. He wanted to live in a style befitting his station, but Augusta only scoffed at such statements. 

With all the tension at home,
Tabor's eyes began to stray. His newfound wealth and power brought him much attention, and he loved to spend money on beautiful women and lavish them with gifts. In a chance meeting at the old "Saddle Rock Cafe" in 1880, the "Silver King", for which he was by then known, met the beautiful Elizabeth McCourt "Baby" Doe, and both of their lives would change forever.

 

 

 

Continued Next Page

 

 

 

Tabor Mansion, 1882

The Tabor Mansion in Denver, courtesy Denver Public Library.

 

Augusta Tabor, 1870

Augusta Tabor, 1870  This image available for photographic prints & editorial downloads HERE!

 

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