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HIGH CULTURE IN LEADVILLE—REDISCOVERED   PART 1

THE TABOR OPERA HOUSE is in Leadville, Colorado at an elevation of 10,200 ft. Built by Horace “Haw” Tabor in 1879, it brought high culture to rough-and-tumble silver miners of the era. Tabor, his opera house, and his love of a woman known as Baby Doe inspired a 1932 movie Silver Dollar, a 1939 radio rendition, a 1956 opera The Ballad of Baby Doe, and an August 11, 2021, article in The New York Times. Here, in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, are tidbits gleaned from these, together with my usual Internet sleuthing.

Businessman, Prospector, Politician Tabor. Born in far-upstate Vermont, Tabor joined anti-slavery settlers in Kanas in 1855. He returned to New England to marry Augusta Pierce, and then went west again.

The Tabors joined the “Fifty-Niners” in Denver. A canny Tabor realized that real money wasn’t in mining, but rather supplying those who toiled in that effort. Initially he and Augusta opened a store in Buckskin Joe, Colorado, then, when Horace caught the gold fever, moved to Oro City, Colorado, and then Leadville.

Horace Austin Warner “Haw” Tabor, 1830–1899, American entrepreneur, prospector, and politician. Known as the “Silver King” after his investments in Leadville’s Little Pittsburgh and Matchless silver mines.

What with gold mining’s booms and busts, the Tabors moved back and forth before settling in Leadville again in 1868. The Colorado Silver Boom of 1878 enhanced his wealth. In time he established the Tabor Opera House in Leadville, newspapers, a bank, and the Tabor Grand Opera House and Tabor Block in Denver. 

The Tabor Opera in Leadville, Colorado. Image by Plazak at English Wikipedia.

Politically a Republican, Tabor served as Lieutenant Governor of Colorado (1878–1884), U.S. Senator (briefly in 1883), and U.S. Secretary of the Interior in the Chester Arthur administration.

Enter Baby Doe. According to Wikipedia, Horace and Augusta Tabor “divorced in January 1883 though Augusta contested the end of the marriage to keep another woman from carrying his name. On March 1, 1883, Tabor finally legalized his relationship with Elizabeth ‘Baby Doe’ McCourt, whom he had met three years earlier.” Haw was 24 years Baby Doe’s senior.

Elizabeth “Baby Doe” McCourt Tabor, 1854–1935, second wife of Colorado pioneer businessman Horace Tabor. Image c. 1883.

Elizabeth earned her Doe moniker through an 1877 marriage to Harvey Doe. They moved to Colorado to oversee his father’s mining investments, where he proved unsuited to frontier life—and she thrived on it, gaining the nickname “Baby Doe,” not to say Haw Tabor’s eye.

Baby Doe failed to be accepted by Denver society. Eventually, Horace lost his silver fortune in the Panic of 1893. The Tabors and their two daughters swapped a mansion for modest accommodations. Horace died in poverty in 1899, his last words advising Baby Doe that wealth from the Matchless Mine would return. 

Baby Doe lived in a cabin at the Matchless Mine for years, her daughters having gone their separate ways. In the winter of 1935, she perished in the cabin during a particularly severe snowstorm.  

Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll explore the legacy of Horace and Baby Doe Tabor, in film, radio, and opera. Oscar Wilde has a cameo role as well.  ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021

2 comments on “HIGH CULTURE IN LEADVILLE—REDISCOVERED   PART 1

  1. Cynthia
    August 15, 2021

    Is this the same Leadville of Molly Brown’s story (The Unsinkable Molly Brown played by Tammy Grimes)?

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