Rags, Riches & Scandal – The Tabor Triangle

Baby Doe Tabor

Baby Doe Tabor

Meanwhile, Horace Tabor’s fame grew and through political favors, he was able to secure a 30-day appointment to Henry Teller’s vacated senatorial position in Washington D.C., where he was sworn in on February 3, 1883. And, to wind up his short stint in congress, Horace and Baby Doe were married again on March 1, 1883, in a lavish and scandalous public ceremony in Washington, D.C.

The invitations had real silver borders with letters that were written in silver. Baby’s wedding dress cost $7,000 and Horace gave her a $75,000 diamond necklace as a wedding gift. Horace’s congressional friends, including the President, attended the wedding, but their wives refused to attend the “disgraceful” event. The scandal of the alleged divorce and marriage raged on, and was front page news across the country. It was an embarrassment to Washington, as well as other prominent figures in high social circles.

After their marriage, they returned to Denver, where Horace bought a block-long mansion for Baby Doe, but she quickly learned that not just anyone dripping with diamonds and furs could join Denver’s exclusive high society. The people of Denver inflated horrible rumors and gossip about Baby Doe’s “shameless” and “scandalous” past in Central City.

Given the scandal of the divorce and the differences in their ages, the wives of Denver’s richest men refused to accept her as one of their own. However, despite the age difference and the social shuns, nothing could wilt their blossoming marriage and they shared a loving home life for the next ten years.

On the lawn outside the mansion, a hundred peacocks strutted and the landscape was adorned with more controversial decorations, which included some nude statues that further offended Baby’s highly proper female neighbors. In response, the highly spirited Baby Doe had her dressmaker come in and make dresses for the statues. The two lived extravagantly, spending as much $10,000 a week on lavish parties, traveling, and other luxuries.

Tabor Grand Opera House in the 1920's, courtesy Denver Public Library

Tabor Grand Opera House in the 1920’s, courtesy Denver Public Library

At their height, the Tabors were one of the five richest families in the country. During this time they built the Tabor Grand Opera House in Denver, and had two daughters, nicknaming them Lillie, born July 13, 1884,  and Silver Dollar, born December 17, 1889.

Baby Doe’s fame lies mostly in her dazzling beauty. Admirers wove poetry about her petal-soft complexion, lovely strawberry-blond curls, deep blue eyes, and sparkling personality. Baby Doe’s friends recognized her inner charms as well. Baby Doe made friends with many of the actors and actresses who played at the Grand Opera House, who accepted her outgoing personality, finding her both lovely and admirable. This lessened the hurt that she felt by the Denver’s social elite who thought she was shocking, showy and scandalous. The wildly ambitious Baby Doe was hailed as the “Silver Queen of the West,” while Horace was touted as Denver’s “Grand Old Man.”

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.

Matchless Mine, 1953

Matchless Mine, 1953

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.

Cottage where the Tabors moved after having lost their fortune. Photo taken 1962

Cottage where the Tabors moved after having lost their fortune. Photo taken 1962

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.

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.

3 thoughts on “Rags, Riches & Scandal – The Tabor Triangle”

  1. Reads: “….moved out of their Capitol Hill mansion and into a rented cottage.” There is a photograph of this “cottage” taken in 1962. Any idea what the address is?

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