About Horace Tabor, U.S. Senator
Horace "Haw" Austin Warner Tabor (November 26, 1830 - April 10, 1899), also known as Silver Dollar Tabor and The Bonanza King of Leadville, was an American prospector, businessman, and politician. His life is the subject of Douglas Moore's opera, The Ballad of Baby Doe.
When Horace Tabor died in 1899, flags were flown at half staff and 10,000 people were reported to have attended his funeral.
Tabor was born in Holland, Vermont to Cornelius Dunham Tabor and Sarah Ferrin. He was one of five children, one sister and three brothers.
Stonemason and storekeeper
After training as a stone mason, Tabor left home at age 19 to work the quarries of Maine and Massachusetts. In 1855, he departed for the Kansas Territory with the New England Emigrant Aid Company to populate that territory with anti-slavery settlers. There he farmed land along Deep Creek in Riley County, near Manhattan, Kansas (known today as Tabor Valley). In January 1856, Tabor was elected to the Free-State Topeka Legislature, but that body was soon dispersed by President Franklin Pierce in favor of the pro-slavery legislature that had been elected under the influence of "Border Ruffians" from Missouri.
In 1857 Tabor returned briefly to Maine to marry Augusta Pierce, daughter of his former employer William B. Pierce, then returned with her to Riley County. In 1859, as rumors of gold began to spread, the couple moved west with the "Fifty-Niners" to Denver (still in Kansas Territory at the time). The Tabors arrived in Buckskin Joe, Colorado in 1861 to run a store. In a few months they relocated to the Oro City area where Horace sought gold until 1877, when they settled in Leadville, Colorado. There he continued prospecting while also engaging in business and politics. The couple ran Leadville's general store and postal system and, following his election on January 26, 1878, Tabor served as mayor of Leadville for one year. It was Tabor who first hired lawman Mart Duggan, who is credited with finally bringing Leadville's violent crime rate under control.
On May 3, 1878, the "Little Pittsburg" mine claimed by August Rische and George Hook revealed massive silver lodes, kicking off the "Colorado Silver Boom." Tabor had provisioned the men for free, under a "grubstake" arrangement, and used his partial ownership of Little Pittsburg to invest in other holdings. He eventually sold his interest for one million dollars, and bought sole ownership of the profitable "Matchless Mine" for $117,000. The Matchless Mine can still be seen and visited. With his new wealth, Tabor established newspapers, a bank, the Tabor Opera House in Leadville, and the Tabor Grand Opera House and the Tabor Block in Denver.
Also in 1878, Tabor was elected Lieutenant Governor of Colorado and served in that post until January 1884. He served as U.S. Senator from January 27, 1883 until March 3, 1883, following the resignation of Henry M. Teller. On March 1, 1883, Tabor finally legalized his relationship with Elizabeth "Baby Doe" McCourt in a public (and, to some, scandalous) wedding ceremony at the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC after securing a divorce with Augusta. This marriage produced two daughters, Elizabeth Bonduel Lily and Rosemary Silver Dollar Echo. From his marriage to Augusta, Tabor fathered one son, Maxey.
Decline, death and burial
Tabor ran for Colorado governor in 1884, 1886, and 1888, without success. Then, in 1893, the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act devastated Tabor's fortune and his far-flung holdings were sold off. Still a respected public figure, he was made postmaster of Denver from January 4, 1898 until his death the following year.
When he became terminally ill with appendicitis in 1899, Tabor's final request of Baby Doe was that she maintain the Matchless claim. Legend reports that she did but lost control of the mine. Census records suggest she moved to Denver.
When Horace Tabor died in 1899, flags were flown at half staff and 10,000 people were reported to have attended his funeral. His body was interred at Mt. Calvary Cemetery in Denver and later reinterred at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Jefferson County, Colorado, where it now rests beside that of Baby Doe. In his remembrance, there is a Tabor Lake at the base of Tabor Peak approximately 12 miles southwest of Leadville, just south of Independence Pass. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Son of Cornelius Dunham Tabor and Sarah Ferrin, Horace had three brothers and one sister. He left home at age 19 to work in stone quarries in Massachusetts and Maine, including being hired, along with his brother John, by his future father-in-law, to work in his quarry in Augusta. In 1855, Horace joined one of the first groups organized by the New England Immigrant Aid Society to populate the Kansas territory with anti-slave settlers. He pre-empted land along Deep Creek, a tributary of the Kansas River, in what is today still called "Tabor Valley," and began farming. His hard work, and willingness to help the anti-slavery cause also got him elected to serve in the "Free Soil" legislature, which sat in defiance of the so-called legitimate territorial government during an often violent period of civil unrest that came to be called "Bleeding Kansas."
Early in 1857 he returned to Maine in order to marry Augusta Pierce and bring her back to Kansas. They spent the next two years trying to make the farm productive, but succumbed to the stories of gold being discovered in the extreme western part of the Kansas Territory (now Colorado), finally leaving Deep Creek in the spring of 1859, to walk to Denver via the Republican River trail. They were accompanied by Sam Kellogg and Nathaniel Maxcy, two friends from Maine, the latter of whom had been present at the birth of and gave his name to their son Maxcy, who was by then not even two years old. It took them six weeks of struggle across a barely explored landscape; "the acme of barrenness and desolation," according to Horace Greeley, who took the same route barely a month after the Tabors.
For the next twenty years the Tabors foraged for riches among the mining camps of the eastern slope of the Continental Divide; at places called Payne's Bar , Oro City 1, California Gulch, Buckskin Joe and Oro City 2. Typically, Augusta would board, bake for and minister to the miners, while "HAW" tried his luck at placer sluicing or some other means of getting at the precious minerals that lay all around. Mostly, he was Augusta's partner in keeping store and in running the post office and bank for the various camps; "sturdy merchants," beloved for their honesty and generosity.
Indeed, in April of 1878, Horace's generosity hit pay dirt when a casual grubstake of two immigrant prospectors got him a third of the Little Pittsburgh, the first of many "bonanza" mines that Horace would own. After that, HAW Tabor's star rose quickly, even by Colorado rags-to-riches standards. In barely two years Leadville came two newspapers, a bank and a handsome opera house ALL courtesy of now Mayor, then Lieutenant Governor Tabor.
The Tabors' good fortune didn't sit well with Augusta, whose chaste New England sensibilities were short-circuited by their suddenly unlimited wealth. She continued to behave frugally and dress modestly. She still took in boarders. She refused to "paint" her face as other women did. It might be said that the seeds of epic tragedy were sown in Augusta's too cautious reaction to overnight riches. For, much as she loved Horace, her view of what life should be like when one is middle-aged and fabulously rich diverged irreconcilably from his by the close of the heady 1870s.
Horace's fame brought him the attention of many; some of whose intentions were honorable, and some not. No matter the motive, Elizabeth McCourt "Baby" Doe came into his life some time in 1880. From then on, their two names would be intertwined, through good times and ill that included an engineered divorce from Augusta, a secret marriage to Baby, a thirty-day "term" in the U.S. Senate, a scandalous wedding in Washington, D.C., the building of the Tabor Grand Opera House in Denver, the birth of two daughters, the stillbirth of a son, the eventual spectacular collapse of his fortune, and a return to hardrock mining at the age of 66. He had talked of accompanying his brother John to the newly discovered goldfields of Alaska when he was appointed Postmaster of Denver in January of 1898. Despite years of exile from the Republican party over the issue of "free silver," gratitude for Tabor's early munificence originated with Senator Ed Wolcott who championed Horace's appointment to President McKinley.
Few mere mortals have experienced the exuberant joys, the painful agonies, the uncountable riches and the unalloyed depths that describe the life of Horace Tabor. Fewer still have done so with the singular mixture of brashness, arrogance, hubris, gaucheness, naivete, stoicism, grace, humility, honesty, tenderness and genuine love that characterized this complex and greatly misunderstood pioneer. Born of frontier New England, refined in a great homestead trek, and annealed amongst the overnight boom towns in the mineral-rich west, his is a true American epic story.