Baby Doe Tabor: The Madwoman in the Cabin
by Judy Nolte Temple, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2007, $24.95.
As the title says, she probably became (but who are we to judge) a madwoman in a cabin, guarding the Matchless (and now nearly worthless) Mine to the grave, but at one time she was “the Silver Queen of the West,” married to 19th-century Colorado’s wealthiest mining magnate. She was a Hollywood-style celebrity before Hollywood existed. The daughter of a shopkeeper had the looks and personality to make men and women take notice. One of those men was Horace A.W. Tabor, never mind that he was already married. A love triangle ensued, followed by scandal when the mining man divorced his wife of 20 years, After extravagant living and two daughters (Elizabeth Boudel Lily Tabor and Rose Mary Silver) the value of silver plummeted. The dethroning of Silver King Tabor led to a deathbed edict for the “prettiest widow in California” to hold onto the Matchless Mine near Leadville, Colo., as her key to becoming wealthy again.
Baby Doe was a widow at 44 in 1899 and lived out her life in the cabin at the Matchless Mine. This was her holy cause, to keep the memory of her Horace alive. Most people forgot about her until the film Silver Dollar came out in 1932, and curious folks came to her small cabin for visits (after all, fallen celebrities are still celebrities). Still, she remained mostly a loner, and she froze to death during a three-day Colorado blizzard in 1935. “Immediately following Baby Doe’s death, the film Silver Dollar that so wounded her in 1932 came out of Hollywood storage to be consumed by eager Denver movie audiences yet again,” writes author Judy Nolte Temple. Sensational Baby Doe became even more sensational in death.
The second Mrs. Tabor’s basic story has been told more than a few times (see “The Silver King of Leadville and Baby Doe” in the August 2007 Wild West), but this 260- page book provides new information about Baby Doe’s long widowhood and insight about her dream world, and it reads like polished silver. Temple makes good use of “Dreams and Visions,” the fragmentary writings Baby Doe left behind that apparently have been largely neglected. Did the Matchless widow really become a madwoman in a cabin (“devils are appearing to [me] every night,” she wrote)? Well, readers can judge for themselves, since the author does such a good job of mining Baby Doe’s dream world.
Originally published in the April 2008 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.