Rags, Riches & Scandal – The Tabor Triangle

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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

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

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.

Also See:

Leadville, Colorado – Cloud City USA



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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