“He must be close to fifty,” a friendly Leadville resident shared with Baby when she asked to know more about Horace. “They say he’s worth $8 million and likes to play poker in the saloons around town after the theater lets out,” the man continued. “He was one of the early prospectors out here – came in an ox-wagon across the plains in ’59. An awful easy–going sort of fellow.”
Baby listened intently to every detail of Tabor’s life that the talkative local shared. She learned that the mine owner panned out his first millions in the gold stampede on Colorado’s Gregory Gulch, that he grubstaked two miners who discovered a wealth of silver at the Little Pittsburgh Mine, and that he used the money from his investments to buy a claim called the Matchless Mine. She ignored the details about his long standing marriage to a refined woman who possessed a considerable strength of character, and focused instead on the name of the restaurant Horace frequented. It was not a coincidence that she ended up at the same establishment the “Silver King” visited during intermission at the Opera House.
“He was over six feet tall with large, regular features and a drooping mustache,” Baby recounted years later to a young woman who spent time with her at her famous mine.
“Dark in coloring, at this time his hair had begun to recede a bit on his forehead and was turning gray at the temples. Always very well dressed, his personality seemed to fill any room he stepped into.”
Horace noticed Baby almost from the moment he entered the eatery. They exchanged polite glances and eventually one of his business associates invited Baby to join them at their table. Horace ordered champagne and regaled the captivated Baby with tales of his ventures west. “It was the merriest night of my life,” Baby later confessed. By the end of the evening she was convinced she was in love with Horace and he was equally as infatuated with her. He promised to support Baby monetarily and as his first order of business, he wrote out a check for $5,000 to help ease Jake Sandelowsky’s soon-to-be broken heart. Funds were also provided for Baby to purchase herself a new wardrobe.
Within twenty-four hours of meeting the businessman and appointed Governor, Baby had become Mrs. Horace Tabor’s mistress. They tried to keep their relationship a secret. Tabor would sneak away from various civic events to spend time with Baby at her hotel room, and when she appeared in public with him, she hid her face under large hats and long veils.
When Horace moved his mining offices from Leadville to Denver, Baby followed him. Friends and business associates aware of the scandalous romance, tried to persuade him to end the affair for his family’s sake and for the sake of his political future. Horace refused. The longer their relationship lasted, the bolder their behavior became. They traveled back and forth to Leadville together in private railcars and openly attended parties at various stops along the way.
Horace had a special box for Baby at the Opera House he had built. According to Baby Doe, at the opening of the Tabor Theatre on September 5, 1881, she and Horace eyed one another fondly during the performance. Horace’s wife, Augusta was eventually made aware of the affair, but refused to divorce her husband; she considered divorce a social and moral disgrace. After close to two years of pleading and negotiating with Augusta, Horace brought his marital woes to a judge in Durango who granted the millionaire a divorce.
On September 30, 1882, Baby Doe and Horace rendezvoused in St. Louis, Missouri where they were secretly married by a justice of the peace. Although Baby was grateful that Horace had taken her to the altar, his failure to divorce Augusta left her disappointed. “I tried to pretend I was as happy as he,” she recounted to a friend.
“But to me, a marriage was only binding when it had been sanctioned by the church and performed by a priest.”
In January 1883, a few weeks prior to the senatorial election, of in which Horace Tabor was a candidate, Augusta agreed to a legal divorce. The specifics of the settlement and circumstances leading up to Augusta’s decision were front-page headlines. The highly publicized affair detracted from the real issues of the election and ultimately cost Horace a seat in the senate. He was, however, asked to stand in for the winning candidate for a month until the newly elected official could take over his duties. It was with a heavy heart that Horace accepted the responsibility. Although he was disappointed in the vote, he found solace in the fact that he would soon be married in a church in Washington, D.C.
On March 1, 1883, Baby Doe was escorted down the aisle of the St. Matthew’s Catholic Church, wearing a $7,500 wedding dress and beaming at the attendees, who included President Chester A. Arthur and the Secretary of the Interior, Henry Teller. The majority of the wives of the political figures who were guests at Horace and Baby’s wedding, refused to be a part of the ceremony in any way. They spoke out against what they called an “unholy union” and considered it in poor taste that the “shameless mistress” sent invitations at all.
Elated by the fact that they were now legally and finally married, and optimistic that Horace’s political career would be rejuvenated, the newlyweds returned to Denver. They moved into the Windsor Hotel and entertained celebrities and Civil War heroes in their suites. They traveled about the state making stops in various mining camps in what the two secretly discussed as a precursor to a much larger tour coming their way once Horace became president of the United States. “First lady of Colorado. Hell!” Horace told his wife. “You’ll be first lady of the land.”
In between making their elaborate plans for the future, the Tabors purchased the first of two grand, brick homes. The house featured fine furnishings, ornate verandahs, driveways to the stables, and hundreds of live peacocks. An army of servants attended to the couple’s every need. On July 13, 1884, Horace and Baby Doe brought their first child into the luxurious setting. The little girl’s nursery was complete with an expensive layette and a sterling silver rattle. Employees at the Matchless Mine sent the child gold-lined cup, saucer, and spoon. Horace sent small gold medallions to many of Denver’s most prominent citizens, to announce the birth of his daughter.
Regardless of the opulent living conditions and numerous attempts to obtain good standing in the social community, Baby and Horace were for the most part ostracized. Unable to find grace and acceptance within Denver’s elite, Baby decided to focus solely on Horace and his mining claims. The Matchless Mine earned the Tabors more than a $1 million annually and his other investments made more than $4 million. Horace used a substantial portion of the family’s income to support the Republican Party in Colorado. He had hoped the hefty contribution would help him win a nomination for governor. Baby was frustrated with the treatment he received from the party, which in her opinion had no intentions of placing his name on the ticket. “They took his money and denied him any recognition,” Baby lamented.
In his quest to become a man of unlimited power, Horace invested in mines in New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and Latin America. He purchased forest land in Honduras and he and Baby spent $2 million developing the property. Many of his risky ventures, including the Honduras project, lost millions.
Ten years after Horace and Baby were wed, the bottom fell out of the silver market and overnight the Tabors lost all the wealth they had accumulated. “It seems incredible that it should have all happened so quickly,” Baby later recalled, “but with one stroke of President Cleveland’s pen, establishing the demonetization of silver, all of our mines, and particularly the Matchless, were worthless.”
The Tabors were stripped of their possessions a little at a time over a six-month period. By December 1893, all that remained of their vast fortune was the Matchless Mine, and even that had to be shut down because the market would not support its yield. At sixty-three years old, Horace went to work as a regular laborer at a mine he had once owned. Baby tried to manage the minimal funds her husband brought in and cared for their two daughters. (In 1888 the Tabors had a son who lived only a few hours after his birth. Their second daughter was born in December 1889.)
Unable to pay their electric and water bill, workmen came to the house to shut off their utilities. Baby was livid and let her feelings be known.
“Just wait until Congress repeals the ridiculous law about the regulation of silver and the Matchless is running again,” she told the workmen. “Then you’ll be sorry you acted like this.”
The Tabors moved into a small home on the west side of town. Denver’s socialites gossiped about Horace and Baby’s relationship, speculating on its longevity now that Horace was broke. Baby heard the rumors and insisted to all who would listen that she and Horace would stay together through the difficulties and rebuild their lives on the renewed success of the Matchless Mine.
According to Baby Doe, in late February 1898, she met with Colorado Senator, Ed Wolcott and pleaded with him to help her and her family. Wolcott knew Baby from her days in Central City and Leadville, and he and Horace had squared off politically on several occasions. It was due to Senator Wolcott’s efforts that Horace was appointed as Denver’s postmaster. The job paid $3,500 a year and helped restore a modicum of dignity to Horace’s life. Baby was overjoyed. She believed it was an indication that their luck had changed and that their old life would soon be restored. But harder times were yet to come.
On April 3, 1899, Horace died from an acute appendicitis attack. Baby was at his side when he passed away. With his last breath he encouraged his wife to hold on to the Matchless Mine. Cards and letters of condolence poured in from national and state political leaders. Flags across Colorado were ordered to be flown at half-mast. Thousands of mourners lined Denver’s streets to see Horace’s funeral procession. After a graveside service, Horace was laid to rest at the Calvary Cemetery. He was later moved to the Mount Olive Cemetery when the Calvary Cemetery was dissolved.
With Horace gone, the grief-stricken Baby decided to focus her efforts on finding investors to back the reopening of the Matchless Mine. Having been unworked for many years, the mine was filled with water and initial funds were needed to pump the liquid out, stabilize the tunnels, and purchase new machinery. After an exhaustive search Baby located a businessman who fronted her capital to begin operations. Baby moved her fifteen- and nine-year-old daughters, Elizabeth Lillie and Rose, to Leadville where the Matchless Mine was located, and she went to work hiring help to support the dig. She encouraged her children to learn all the aspects of running the mine, from swinging a pick to hauling ore to the surface, but her eldest daughter refused to ever have any part of it.
When the Matchless Mine failed to produce any significant gold, the investor withdrew his support, forcing Baby to search for other backers. This scenario was repeated time and time again. She refused to give up or sell the property outright, and for three decades she steadfastly maintained that riches were buried deep within the walls of the mine. Her children grew up and moved on, but Baby remained in Colorado in a dilapidated cabin located at the site. “I shall never let the Matchless go,” she told a banker she was asking to back the mine operations. “Not while there is a breath in my body to find a way to fight for it.”
When the money ran out, Baby worked the mine alone. Occasionally she sold off a few of Horace’s valuables (such as watch fobs and cufflinks) to buy food and clothing. Both of her daughters tired of their mother’s obsession with the Matchless and distanced themselves from her. Elizabeth Lillie married and moved to Wisconsin, Rose (or “Silver Dollar,” as her mother called her) drifted to Chicago where she was murdered at the age of thirty-five. With the exception of a neighbor and benevolent mine engineer and his daughter, Baby Doe lived the life of a recluse, visited by no one. The journal she kept in her later days describes how lonely she was and how much she missed Horace and her children. An entry she made on April 19, 1925, reads “Holy Thursday. Dreamed of being with Tabor, Lillie, and Silver and seeing rich ore in No. 6 shaft.”
In 1932, a movie entitled Silver Dollar about the life and career of Horace Tabor premiered in Denver, Colorado. It generated new interest in the Tabor legacy and in his affair with Baby Doe. Press agents and historians sought out Baby to interview her and persuade her to tell her story in exchange for a fee, but she refused. She maintained that any money worth making the Matchless Mine would ultimately supply.
On February 20, 1935, Baby Doe Tabor, the woman once known throughout the West as the “Silver Queen,” died. A severe blizzard blanketed Leadville with snow and ice and Baby, who was suffering from pneumonia, was unable to keep a fire going in her cabin. Her neighbors became concerned about her when they didn’t see any smoke emanating from the chimney. Her frozen body was found laying on the floor of her rundown cabin, her arms outstretched at her side.
Funeral services for Baby Doe were held at a church in Leadville, and her remains were then taken to Denver to be buried next to Horace. The headline across the front of the Rocky Mountain newspaper read “Baby Doe Dies at Her Post Guarding Matchless Mine.” The article that followed reported on the squalid conditions of her home and noted that only a “small cache of food and a few sticks of firewood” were found on the premises.
Among the personal belongings she left behind were seventeen trunks filled with a variety of memorabilia including scrapbooks, old newspapers, and a silver Tiffany tea set. Sue Bonnie, the daughter of the mine engineer who called on Baby from 1927 until her death, used Baby Doe’s scrapbook and journal entries, along with their documented conversations, to write a series of articles. From January to May in 1938, the articles about Baby Doe and her recollections of life as a miner and her marriage to Horace Tabor were published in True Story Magazine.
Baby Doe Tabor was eighty-one years old when she passed away. The one-time heiress to a vast silver empire had remained faithful to her husband’s parting advice for thirty-six years.