Friday, January 22, 2010

Elizabeth Tabor – Guardian of the Matchless Mine

It is a riches to rags story. Born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Elizabeth McCourt decided early that she wanted to be rich. She married Harvey Doe, the mayor’s son, and insisted they move to Colorado in search of gold or silver. The miners gave the incredibly beautiful Elizabeth the nickname “Baby Doe.” Far more ambitious than her husband, she recruited her own crew, working beside them, dressed in old shirt and trousers, to sink a shaft into the mine. The mine came up empty.

She and Harvey were soon divorced, and Baby Doe scandalized the neighborhood when she determined to capture the attentions of Horace Austin Warner “Haw” Tabor, a married man, who had already made several million dollars in silver. There began a complicated and convoluted courtship which resulted in a splashy wedding ceremony at the Willard Hotel in Washington, with the President of the United States, Chester A. Arthur, in attendance. Her dress alone cost $7,000.

They lived a life of luxury until the bottom fell out of the silver market, and they lost everything. Neither gave up hope that the Matchless Mine would once again bring them riches. On his deathbed, Haw made her promise to keep the mine. That promise would eventually take her life. For 36 years, she guarded the mine, driving off trespassers with a double-barreled shotgun, living in a rickety shack near the mine, even after creditors foreclosed on the property.

In March 1935, neighbors found her frozen body in the shack. The coroner’s report said she died of a heart attack and had been dead for at least two weeks. She claimed to be 73; her brother said she was 83. In the 1940s her life became a WPA project of the Denver Historical Museum after 17 trunks of her belongings were found in a warehouse. Her story has also been the subject of several books and movies.

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