The Real Story on Baby Doe & Horace's Kids
Baby Doe Tabor spent countless hours and shed copious tears while agonizing about daughters Lily and Silver Dollar, over the lives they were leading and over the fate of their immortal souls.
A devout Catholic in spite of her habit of ignoring or skirting the moral teachings of her Church during her younger years, she found, in her widowhood, a particularly vexing challenge to the renewed vigor of her lifelong faith.
She was a single mom (as they say today) with two young daughters to bring up and to guide through their difficult teenage years.
She was especially handicapped in dealing with Silver Dollar as her darling “Honeymaid” began exhibiting the same kind of robust zest for life that Baby had experienced in her own teen years. She understood from personal exposure to the perils of such adventures that it could be laden with dangers. Not that she regretted her youth, but she understood that the role she had played could be hazardous to anyone as inexperienced, as naive as she perceived Honeymaid to be.
Baby Doe's struggles to guide Silver Dollar through the danger zones and to capitalize on the talents that Silver did exhibit occupied a great amount of Baby's energies for many years. She was her much-loved Honeymaid, even as the young woman piled disappointments and heartaches upon her mother. The stories of Silver's struggles for fame and her manifest failures have been retold frequently because they have an element of universality to them. In sum they amounted to a terrible, crushing burden – a mother's hellish nightmare – in the end.
It is one of the peculiar hallmarks of Baby Doe Tabor that she refused to accept – outwardly, at least – the reality of the tragic end of her Honeymaid. Rosemary Echo Silver Dollar Tabor suffered a horrible death, scalded terribly in her cheap, rundown apartment in Chicago in 1925 where she lived under an assumed name amid the down-and-outers of the Windy City .
Baby ever after insisted to the world that the dead woman in Chicago was not her child; that Silver had entered a convent and was doing the Lord's Work exactly as Baby had been praying that she would. Her persistence in believing that story (did she really believe it?) has always been cited, at best, as one of her most peculiar traits, and at worst, as evidence of her losing touch with reality.
If fans of The Ballad of Baby Doe find tiny Silver memorable because in the climactic scene she is caricaturized by a honky-tonk riff, few of them recall that just a few phrases earlier Horace Tabor is taunted that his other child, Lily, will deny her heritage.
The Doe coterie has spent less time wondering whatever happened to that other Tabor girl. They do know, though, that Lily left the residual Tabor estate, i.e., the Matchless, relatively soon after her mother and sister settled into Leadville in the hope of restoring the Tabor fortune. Lily, then seventeen years old, harbored no such hope.
Enlisting the aid of Uncle Peter McCourt, Elizabeth Bonduel Lily Tabor fled back to the Midwest, going initially to be with Aunt Claudia McCabe and Mama McCourt in Chicago , and then moving in with other relatives there, the John Last family, the widower and children of Baby's sister, Cornelia.
There, to all intents, Lily is usually considered removed from the saga of Baby Doe and her years of spiritual agony at the Matchless.
A good deal of the distress that Baby suffered in her Rockies loneliness was caused by her separation from Lily. At first, of course, Silver remained with her in Leadville. It was the separation from her firstborn – the child who had captivated a nation when her picture, drawn by famous artist Thomas Nast, was on the cover of Harper's Weekly in 1887, who had been Papa Tabor's beloved “Cupid” – that tore Baby's heart.
Contrary to some perceptions, there was correspondence between Lily and Baby in the early years of Lily's separate life. It was not a complete break. When Lily was married in 1907 to one of her cousins, John Last, “this terrible thing would not have happened” had her sister Cornelia (John's mother) lived, Baby lamented. Nonetheless mother and daughter exchanged occasional letters, and in early 1911 Baby Doe (and daughter Silver) visited Lily and John in Milwaukee where they now lived.
Thus Baby Doe did get to see two of her grandchildren, Caroline Last, born in 1908, and John B. Last, born in 1910. (The third and last of the Lasts, daughter Jane, was born a few months after Baby and Silver's visit.)
This was the final meeting of Baby and Lily, but it was not the last contact. Still the relationship was strained and became more so as the years passed. What, if anything specific, exacerbated the situation is now quite indiscernible. Eventually there was no more correspondence.
When, in 1925, sister Silver Dollar was discovered dead in Chicago , Lily expressed no special remorse over the loss. They had always had different outlooks on life, she said. She could not summon feelings of tenderness now. This spoke not alone to an estrangement of sisters, but rather more to a final and complete break from Lily's past as a Tabor.
Lily remained in the prayers of her mother, but Baby recognized that Lily was conclusively lost to her. This accented the sense of profound loneliness surrounding Baby's last years. Silver was beyond her capability to nurture, she realized – but so, too, was Lily who was still alive. This was harsh and burdensome during the decade remaining to the poor soul guarding the Matchless.
When Baby's vigil came to an end in 1935, news of her death flowed nationwide. Some news person in Milwaukee , aware that Baby's daughter lived there, approached Lily Last to elicit a comment. Lily obliged in an unusual way; she denied that Baby Doe Tabor was her mother. Her father was John, not Horace Tabor, she claimed, deliberately lying.
She went further, however. She defended herself and her attitude – and in effect conceded that she was the daughter of Baby – by saying “I wanted a quiet, decent, sheltered life. Why should I who have pride and position and like only quiet and nice things, have to claim her now in this kind of death.”
With her own family and her position to maintain, she had no desire to be a part of that saga of Baby Doe that was now spreading forth to the whole world with Baby's death.
That is about where history has left her. She was a simple housewife with, by this time, three grown children and a husband in the midst of a fairly successful career in the tool manufacturing business. That is all Lily Last wanted the world to understand about her. She was suspicious of the world and was inherently guarded in her response to it. At the time she was denying to the press that she was the daughter of Horace and Baby, her neighbors told the reporters that the Lasts were always quite reclusive and rarely exchanged words with them.
The Last children were Caroline, now 27; John, now 25, and Jane, 24. The “position” which Lily was intent upon maintaining was that of the wife of an officer – vice president and general manager – of Jolite Tool Company in Milwaukee . He had risen in the tool making field in Milwaukee for many years and was providing his family with a comfortable situation.
As it happened, both girls remained unmarried, both having lifetime clerical careers. Even by 1935 when Baby Doe died, granddaughter Caroline was employed by the Milwaukee Sentinel in the classified advertising department. Jane would take a job at Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company. It is no small bit of irony that it was Northwestern Mutual that foreclosed on the Tabor Opera House in Denver in 1894 and 1895, epitomizing the total collapse of the empire of Horace Tabor, Jane's grandfather.
From the standpoint of Baby Doe, the life story of Lily Last is even more heart-rending than that of Silver. Silver's death, as sordid as it was, did not openly proclaim a renunciation of the faith that Baby Doe had striven to bequeath to her girls. She could console herself with the possibility, however remote, that Silver might have grasped the consolation of the faith in the terrible moments before she expired.
Lily – the child of Horace Tabor who could write to her Aunt Emily during Papa's fatal illness that they were placing their trust in God – had for a long time forsaken that God, that faith, which her mother had preached and constantly tried through prayer and yes, example, to pass on.
Elizabeth Bonduel Lily Tabor – thus she was baptized at St. Mary's Church in Oshkosh in a $15,000 baptismal garment on November 11, 1884 – survived her mother by only eleven years. On September 15, 1946 , she succumbed to pneumonia at Milwaukee County Emergency Hospital . She was 62. There was no funeral. There was not even a notice of her death printed in either of the Milwaukee newspapers even though daughter Caroline worked for the Milwaukee Sentinel department in which it would have been printed had the family wished it to be published. The omission was not an oversight. Lily was cremated the second day after her death.
Lily's husband/cousin, John Last, ten years Lily's senior –who had been present as a lad at Lily's ostentatious baptism in 1884 – lived for another nineteen years, dying on December 22, 1965, also at Milwaukee. Again there was no funeral and his body was likewise cremated.
While the two Last girls, Caroline and Jane, stayed in Milwaukee their entire lives, their brother, John B. Last (actually John Last IV), attended Marquette University and became a civil and mechanical engineer, working his entire career for Kimberly-Clark Corp., the paper manufacturing giant based in Neenah , WI . He worked in the home plant and at plants in Kapuskasing, Ontario; Niagara Falls, NY; Minneapolis, MN, and finally at Hendersonville, NC, where he was manager of Kimberly-Clark's Berkley Mills facility beginning in 1958.
At some point during his career he married and divorced. Then in 1959 he wed Ruth Hallows of Hendersonville , another technician in his plant, coming home to Milwaukee for the ceremony. They had no children. When John Last died May 30, 1980 , his only survivors were recorded as his wife and his two sisters. He had been active in Trinity Presbyterian Church in Hendersonville , and his funeral was there.
Caroline, the older of the surviving sisters, died in Milwaukee February 27, 1987 . This was within the year that Milwaukee 's Florentine Opera Company performed The Ballad of Baby Doe. Younger sister Jane Last died in her ninety-first year on December 12, 2001. Neither had religious funeral services.
The lineage of Horace and Baby Doe Tabor was now extinguished.
© 2004, James I. Metz