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Baby Doe Tabor
photographer unknown

Elizabeth Bonduel McCourt
"Baby" Doe Tabor

born: September 25th, 1854
Oshkosh, Wisconsin

died: March 7th, 1935
Leadville, Colorado

Miner, wife, mother.

By far the prettiest of fourteen siblings born to Peter McCourt, Sr. and Elizabeth Nellis, "Lizzie" early on displayed a lively and independent spirit that combined a tomboy disposition with the skin and looks of a cherub. This interesting, for the mid-1800s, combination was best exemplified by her winning the Oshkosh Congregational Church figure skating contest, a distinction that was unheard of for a girl, much less a Catholic one, in the winter of 1876/77. That event brought her to the attention of Harvey Doe, Jr., whom she married shortly thereafter, and with whom she moved to Colorado.


Lizzie's Irish verve, and uncommon beauty brought her considerable attention wherever she traveled, but especially so among the rough and tumble elements of an isolated mining community such as Central City, where Harvey's father had a half interest in a mine he hoped Harvey would make profitable. Harvey's inability to make a living, however, forced his new wife to don miner's clothes and personally work a shaft of their Fourth of July Mine, which caused great distress around the, as yet, unliberated town. (Interestingly, feminist rhetoric, in the form of Lucy Stone, founder of the suffragist Woman's Journal came to Central City at about the same time.)

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Despite raised eyebrows and clacking tongues, the miners of Central City recognized what a unique thing they had in the combination of Lizzie's gumption and her pulchritude. And just as their hard-edge frontier spirit often found its opposite in the playful, romantic names they gave their mines, the hard-rock denizens of Central City showed their deep appreciation by giving her the nickname that was to follow her down through the ages: "Baby" Doe--the miners' sweetheart.


Somewhere in the fall of 1879 Baby Doe attracted the attention of the newly wealthy Horace Tabor of Leadville, who caused her to leave Central City and her wayward husband behind. Over the next few years Horace grew increasingly estranged from his first wife Augusta, while his liaison with Baby Doe was becoming a matter of public knowledge. In 1882 they were married in a private civil ceremony in St. Louis, and married again in an opulent (and scandalous) public ceremony in Washington, D.C. the following March at the conclusion of Horace's short term as U.S. Senator from Colorado.


The two lived lavishly, albeit shunned by "polite" society, for about fifteen years. They had two daughters and a stillborn son before Tabor's seemingly inexhaustible fortune evaporated in the "free silver" devaluations of the 1890s. Though Horace was employed as Denver's postmaster when he died in the Spring of 1899, Baby Doe spent the remaining thirty-five years of her life little better than impoverished in a cabin outside the Matchless Mine in Leadville. Still beautiful and relatively young, she could easily have remarried. She chose, instead, to "hold on to the Matchless," continuously seeking funds to "work" it, while scribbling page after page of her increasingly idiosyncratic and, some would say, ultimately delirious thoughts.


In early March of 1935, her frozen body was discovered on the floor of her cabin, her arms peacefully crossed on her chest. After a particularly cold spell, she had apparently run out of wood for her stove. By then, having been deserted by both of her daughters, she had nevertheless already become a legend; the subject of 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.