Fortune and Failure in the American West

babydoeHistory is full of those who made their fortune in the American West only to turn around and lose everything. Men and women rode the euphoric wave of success and had everything in their grasp then watched it slip from their hands. Had to be devastating for sure. No story was more heartbreaking than Elizabeth “Baby Doe” Tabor’s.

 

Beautiful and flamboyant, she arrived in Colorado in the mid-1870s with her husband Harvey Doe and they both went to work mining—Elizabeth right alongside him, wearing miner’s clothing. She didn’t mind the dirty, hard work and they discovered a small amount of gold before the mine collapsed. Shortly after, she divorced him for drinking, gambling, frequenting brothels, and not providing her a living. She moved to the mining town of Leadville high in the Colorado Rockies. There she met Horace Tabor. He gave her the nickname.

 

horace-taborHorace was a man who happened to be in the right place at the right time. He owned a mercantile in Leadville and provided the gold and silver miners with supplies. One day two miners came in, but having no money to pay, offered Horace 1/3 share in their mine in return for what they needed. That grubstake was pure luck and a month later the mine hit big. By the end of the summer, Horace had $10,000 in his pocket. He bought out his partners and then bought stakes in several other mines. Very soon thereafter his worth rose to about $20 million dollars. He ran for Lieutenant Governor and got it and then went on to serve out a term as a U.S. Senator.

 

Though married, his wandering eye landed on Elizabeth Doe and they began an affair in Leadville. He was 52 and she was 28, though she claimed to be 22. The citizens were scandalized and shunned Elizabeth. She didn’t care. Finally with money to spend, she threw herself into shopping, buying jewelry and expensive clothing.

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She and Horace went to St. Louis and tied the knot, even though Horace was still married to his wife. So now he was a bigamist, but so was Elizabeth because the divorce she thought she got was never filed. The couple were barred from polite society and that stung. Yet, Elizabeth held her head high and went right on doing what she wanted. Eventually, the two managed to obtain their divorces.

 

Elizabeth had golden hair, blue eyes, porcelain skin and a sense of style that rivaled the wealthiest. She paraded down Main Street wearing a sapphire-blue dress with dyed to match shoes. Her dresses were made of silk and satin and pictures of her soon appeared from San Francisco to New York. Women copied her outfits. But the only thing they couldn’t copy was a $90,000 diamond necklace that Horace gave her.

 

She gave birth to two daughters—Elizabeth Lily Tabor and Rose Mary Echo Silver Dollar Tabor. The second daughter became known as Silver Dollar or Silver.

lily-taborsilver_dollar_tabor

The Tabors were flying high and had the world by the tail…until 1890 when the Sherman Silver Purchase Act was enacted. Their world came crashing down and they lost every single thing they owned. Both went to work doing menial jobs. He died in 1899.

 

After his death, Elizabeth lived in a tool shed next to the Matchless Mine in Cripple Creek that Horace told her would one day produce a fortune. She endured great poverty, solitude, and repentance. She died frozen to the floor of her shack in 1935, abandoned by her daughters and society.

shack-where-baby-doe-lived

 

Her story really touches something inside me. It was such a sad end to a woman who’d had everything she could desire. Her story has been told in plays and movies and that would’ve pleased her greatly.

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Baby Doe and Horace seemed to have found true love or else she’d have married someone else. She was still young and quite beautiful when Horace died. She probably had offers. What do you think? Was she just greedy and shallow or was she really in love?

(Credit for the photos go to the Colorado Historical Society.)

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Comments

Fortune and Failure in the American West — 4 Comments

  1. She was quite a beauty, wasn’t she? It really is a sad rags to riches and back to rags story. It does seem like she was a bit shallow, greedy, and arrogant, so maybe after Horace died she still felt that she was “too good” for everyone else. She was probably grieving, too, because it looks like she and Horace were a perfect match and they went through a lot to be together. It does make me wonder why she was estranged from her daughters, though.

    • Hi Cheryl C……Great to have you. Thank you for coming. Yes, she was really pretty. Such a sad story. You asked about her daughters. After they lost their fortune, the oldest one, Lily, moved back East to live with relatives. She couldn’t take being poor. And Silver Dollar became an alcoholic. She tried her hand on the stage and working in saloons. Then she wrote a mystery fiction book. That was a flop. She died in her early 30s, broke and alone. Very sad. Money can sure destroy people.

      It’s great to see you. It’s almost time for my new book to come out. I’ll be giving away some copies.

  2. Wow! I couldn’t venture to guess whether she truly loved him or if she just held out with greed. At any rate, what a sad story, and especially that she froze to death in her shack. What a historical fiction novel her story would make.

    • Hi Jan…….Just couldn’t stay away, not even on your vacation. Glad you stopped by to read about Baby Doe. Her life was very interesting. I really don’t think she was greedy and the reason I say that is because she never parted with Horace’s watch fob. She sold the necklace and everything else, but she died with that fob. And, she stayed by him through everything. She could’ve left and found someone else. No, I think she loved him. At any rate, she would be a great character to put in a book and her story would make a great plot.

      Love you, sister! Be safe coming home.