Born in 1854 in Wisconsin, Elizabeth McCourt was the daughter of a tailor in Oshkosh, in a family that barely scraped by. Lizzie could not have expected the life that would be hers, full of romance and heartbreak, enormous wealth and grinding poverty. Yet she became a legend in Colorado, where she moved with her young husband, Harvey Doe, in 1877.
In her engaging and well-written biography, The Silver Baron's Wife, Donna Baier Stein takes a sympathetic look at Lizzie Doe, and how she became the much-maligned and tragic figure called Baby Doe Tabor. At the same time, Stein reveals the hard-rock life of mining during the booming years of discovery in the Rocky Mountains.
Harvey's father, William Doe, was mayor of Oshkosh and a wealthy man with investments in Colorado mining. But he was not a proud father, for his son was something of a ne'er-do-well. William's wedding gift was a 3/4 share in a Colorado mine called The Fourth of July, with the condition that Harvey spend three months working there.
Lizzie was entranced by the mine, and wanted to work it, but women were considered bad luck in a mine. Harvey did not feel the magic in being deep underground, nor in such hard work. Before long, he was spending evenings in town, drinking heavily, using opium, gambling, and consorting with the prostitutes that made up most of the female population in town. Lizzie made a home as best she could, bore a stillborn child, and hoped things would get better.
When Harvey was injured, and they had no money at all, Lizzie persuaded the mining foreman to let her have his job. She was happy in the mine, and the men gradually accepted her. "You've got a hell of a will for somebody so tiny," one of the men told her. "You're like a toy...like a baby doll." From that day on she became Baby Doe.
But the mining season ended, and so did the marriage. At a time when divorce was a tremendous scandal, Baby Doe took that step. Too ashamed to return to Wisconsin penniless and divorced, she went to Leadville, the biggest and highest mining town in Colorado. There she met Horace Tabor, owner of the Matchless Mine, one of thewealthiest men in the state, and long married to his wife, Augusta.
Lizzie was raised a good Catholic and faith was important all through her life. When she met Mr. Tabor, she had no intention of involving herself with a married man. But Horace was smitten the first time he saw her—violet eyes, full lips, and a head full of curls—and he wooed her without mercy until they were both deeply in love. Augusta resisted for a couple of years, while it was common knowledge that Horace kept Lizzie in style, but in January of 1883, the Tabors were divorced.
That March, Horace married Lizzie in a much-reported ceremony in Washington, D.C. He had been Lt. Governor since 1878, and was serving an appointment as temporary U.S. Senator, so their extravagant wedding at the Willard Hotel had political ramifications. Horace showered her with gifts, and before long Baby Doe Tabor was installed in a luxurious mansion in Denver.
She was just 29. There is much more to Baby Doe's history. This author is kinder to her than many have been, finding empathy and compassion for the choices she made. The Tabors were social outcasts in Denver regardless of their attempts to earn acceptance. Horace's political career ended. Their story grew more and more tragic.
The Silver Baron's Wife draws us into the Victorian society of Denver and the barely civilized mining towns providing much of Denver's wealth, while taking another look at one of the city's most famous families. It's a fascinating read.
Read an excerpt from this book.
Donna Baier Stein is the author of a range of books, including short stories, poetry, writing advice, and this latest historical fiction, The Silver Baron's Wife. She is the founder and publisher of Tiferet Journal, and her work has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, and many other journals. Visit her website.
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