Baby Doe’s Box: Watching for Horace to Come Home
In honor of Women’s History Month which is celebrated in March, here’s a little known story (often refuted!) about Baby Doe Tabor, one of Leadville’s most notable women.
There has been so much written about Leadville’s famous Tabors – Horace, August, Baby Doe, Silver Dollar – that it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction. Most readers have heard the story about Horace Tabor’s dying request to Baby Doe to, “Hang on to the Matchless Mine, if I die, Baby; it will make millions again when silver comes back.”
And then there are the stories of Baby Doe’s final years, living in poverty up at the Matchless Mine, how she would wrap her feet in gunny sacks (or old newspapers) tied together with twine. Baby Doe was eventually found frozen to death on the floor of the tiny cabin, some say, arms outstretched, in the shape of a cross. Who could have guessed that a mine that had been deemed worthless on more than one occasion and had been named after a chewing tobacco could rise to such unequaled notoriety?
A slight pause here for those NOT familiar with the Matchless Mine story. The overview goes something like this: After years of making money for a lot of other people, Horace Tabor wanted a Leadville mine to call his own and purchased the Matchless in September of 1879 for $117,000. Up until then, the mine was a true underdog being bought, sold, and bartered numerous times without striking a decent vein. In fact, it took a full year for Tabor’s investment to pay off, but boy did it, to the tune of $2,000 a day in silver.
Needless to say, the early 1880s were the gravy years for Horace and Baby Doe. There were lavish parties and extravagant displays of their immense wealth.
In fact, one of those crown jewels of wealth was displayed on the corner of 7th Street and Harrison: The Tabor Grand Hotel. When it opened its doors in 1885, this Grand Hotel was an incredible testament to Tabor’s fortune.
However, there is a bond between The Matchless Mine and The Tabor Grand Hotel that many may not have heard. However, this story describes a certain simpleness to the Tabors’ day-to-day lives – beneath all of the glitz, all of the wealth, and all of the scandals.
Locally, it’s known as Baby Doe’s balcony. You can see this unique architectural feature if you’re standing on the northwest corner of 7th and Harrison, looking west. See the balcony off the old Tabor Grand Hotel over 7th Street?
This perch wasn’t in the original design of the four-story brick building. In fact, you won’t see the jutting balcony in any of the early pictures of this sizable building. It’s a little bit of history that hasn’t been represented in all of the books, plays, and movies are written about the Tabor saga.
And that’s because its purpose was so simple, so functional. You see, Leadville’s legendary Horace Tabor built this overhanging porch for Baby Doe – so she could watch for him walking home from the Matchless Mine, down East 7th Street.
It was built so that she could see up Fryer Hill and keep an eye out for her husband coming home from work. Back then, there were no cell phones or text messages, so Baby Doe would sit and wait to see her beloved walking down East 7th Street, walking home from work at the Matchless. On first sight, she’d start dinner!
Sometimes, women’s history is just about day to day living. It’s about Leadville people going about their lives, In The ‘Ville. Here’s to all my strong Leadville Sisters! Celebrate Women’s History Month!
© 2013 Kathy Bedell.