Tabor, Horace Austin Warner

Tabor, Horace Austin Warner

Tabor, Horace Austin Warner, 1830-99, American prospector, known as Silver Dollar Tabor, b. Holland, Vt. From the Matchless Mine at Leadville, Colo., he gained tremendous wealth by mining silver, and he spent money lavishly in Leadville and Denver. He became (1878) the first mayor of Leadville, served (1878-83) as lieutenant governor of Colorado, and sat in the U.S. Senate for about one month to complete an unexpired term (1883). He lost most of his fortune and at his death begged his second wife, Elizabeth McCourt Tabor, 1862-1935, known as Baby Doe, to hold the Matchless Mine, which he believed would again yield wealth. She was found frozen to death in a shack near the mine, where she had lived alone for many years. Douglas Moore's opera The Ballad of Baby Doe (1956) portrays the love affair of Tabor and Baby Doe.

See G. L. Hall, The Two Lives of Baby Doe (1962); D. A. Smith, Horace Tabor: His Life and the Legend (1973).

Horace 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 born in Holland, Vermont to Cornelius Dunham Tabor and Sarah Ferrin. His life is the subject of Douglas Moore's opera, The Ballad of Baby Doe.


''Section source: Legends.

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 soon 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.

Silver king

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. She returned to Leadville and lived in poverty and insanity in a shack beside the Matchless mine for thirty-six years, although at that time the mine no longer belonged to her. Her corpse was found in March 1935, frozen with her arms crossed peacefully across her chest. It is unknown whether she perished from natural causes or froze to death. Her story would eventually inspire many artistic pieces, by Douglas Moore and others.

When Tabor himself 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.


  • Temple, Judy Nolte. "Baby Doe Tabor: The Madwoman in the Cabin." University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-8061-3825-1.Notes

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