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Augusta Tabor
photographer unknown

Augusta Pierce Tabor

born: March 29th, 1833
Augusta, Maine

died: January 30th, 1895
Pasadena, California

Colorado pioneer, mining camp provisioner, real estate investor

One of seven daughters and three sons of building contractor William B. Pierce and Lucy Eaton, Augusta was a fragile child who survived as much by force-of-will as by the strength of her genuine middle-class upbringing. At twenty-four Augusta married Horace A.W. Tabor, a Vermonter who had been a stonecutter working in her father's quarry, and emigrated to his homestead on Deep Creek in Riley County, Kansas. Quickly Augusta's comfortable upbringing clashed head-on with the raw reality she found there. The rugged cabin Horace had built as shelter, the rattlesnakes that snuggled under their bed, the occasional Indian begging for food, even the lack of reading material were a world away from the warmth of her family's hearth in Maine. Augusta was devastated by the alienness of it all.

She spent less than two years in Kansas, before she and Horace decided to check out for themselves the stories of great wealth to be made in the mountains to the west. In the Spring of 1859, they, their baby son Maxcy and two old friends from back east trekked all the way from their farm to the junction of the South Platte River with Cherry Creek at what was to become Denver. They followed the Republican River across northern Kansas and southern Nebraska, through virtually unmarked territory. While the men hunted for food, Augusta tried to keep the campfire alive, often with only the buffalo chips she'd managed to find, since there was no wood on the high plains. It took them six weeks to make a trip that could be made a decade later by train in under thirty hours, and today would take a commercial jet less than an hour.

Though Horace tried early on to prospect in fields close to Denver, in the Spring of 1860 he decided to try his luck farther inland, along the Arkansas River. As it turned out, crossing the high plains was a simple stroll compared to the ordeal the party endured in order to make it to the upper Arkansas valley--an ordeal that included literally dragging loaded wagons over steep snow-bound mountain passes. Augusta said that one night, after a full day's struggle to pull their party uphill, they could still see the remains of the campfire they'd made the night before and left behind that morning. She had to pound clothes clean in icy streams; prepare meals from the barest of rations, take care of baby Maxcy, and guard her own fragile health against the vagaries of spring in the high Rockies. At one point, she almost lost her life while fording the river, when the bed of her wagon rose from the swiftrunning water and started taking her and the baby downstream. Catching a tight hold of some branches bought her enough time for the men to come to the rescue, after which she collapsed unconscious.

Their arrival in the gold camp at California Gulch made a curiosity of Augusta, the first woman known to venture into those parts. She endeared herself to the miners by becoming the camp's cook, laundress, postmistress, even banker, using the gold scales she and Horace had brought with them to weigh the "dust." She and Horace basically became the camp's provisioners, a pattern that they were to repeat at other times in the next twenty years.

That first summer in the mountains earned them enough money to return to Kansas to buy more land, and to spend the winter in Maine. In the Spring of 1861 they returned to Colorado, where they began a process of following a succession of mining camps as they appeared, flourished and then dropped out of sight; a process that took them twice more over the great Mosquito Range, and eventually to the place just outside of California Gulch that was to become Leadville.

Augusta's view of things was that Horace needed her thrift to curb his spendthriftiness. His good nature, she felt, was not only the source of other folks' high regard for them both, but the means whereby they would be impoverished if not for her frugality, what with Horace's tendency to give stuff away to anyone who asked. Hers was the firm hand on the Tabor rudder. So much so, in fact, that near the close of the 1870s, just before Tabor "struck it rich," they had amassed a comfortable net worth of about $40,000--a not inconsiderable sum in those days.

After 1878, things would never be the same. Any differences that existed between them were exacerbated by the outrageous wealth Horace's mines deposited in their lives. Though she was no stranger to comfort, Augusta had no capacity for dealing with immense, unlimited resources. Her admonitions to save and spend carefully seemed like so much cautious silliness to the man who, now, literally couldn't spend his money as fast as it accumulated. Horace, approaching 50 years old, wanted to live it up after all the years of hardscrabble and toil. He felt it was his due. Augusta, on the other hand, took no such pleasure in their sudden riches, and saw it as the source of great distress between them. She refused to change her mode of dress, or modify her personal behavior just to attract attention. It frustrated Horace, who now could afford anything that his wife could possibly desire, to have a wife who didn't desire much of anything.

Eventually they parted, as much from his obstinance as from hers. Baby Doe was only the catalyst for a separation that left both Horace and Augusta wanting; that took from each something dear that they would never again find. There was no avoiding the tragedy that eventually engulfed both of their lives. But there was likewise no inevitability to it. In the end, both were locked into their worlds by the very stubbornness and individual gutsiness that had sustained them through their earlier struggles braving the frontier. Yet both, despite their down-to-earth honesty with others, eventually couldn't honestly confront their own inadequacies toward one another.

After their divorce, Augusta lived for a while in the mansion that Horace had built for her on Broadway in Denver. She moved across the street into the new Brown Palace Hotel, which was managed by her son Maxcy, shortly after it was built in 1892. During the last decade of her life, she devoted much of her time and fortune to the activities of the Pioneer Ladies' Aid Society, and the Unity Unitarian Church of Denver. Never in great health, Augusta eventually sought out the restorative climate of southern California, and died there a wealthy woman in 1895. She is buried in Riverside Pioneer Cemetery in Denver.