Horace Tabor

Horace Austin Warner Tabor
United States Senator
from Colorado
In office
January 27, 1883  March 4, 1883
Preceded by George M. Chilcott
Succeeded by Thomas M. Bowen
2nd Lieutenant Governor of Colorado
In office
January 14, 1879  January 9, 1883
Governor Frederick Walker Pitkin
Preceded by Lafayette Head
Succeeded by William H. Meyer
Personal details
Born (1830-11-26)November 26, 1830
Holland, Vermont
Died April 10, 1899(1899-04-10) (aged 68)
Denver, Colorado
Political party Republican

Horace Austin Warner ("Haw") Tabor (November 26, 1830 – April 10, 1899), also known as The Bonanza King of Leadville, was an American prospector, businessman, and Republican politician.[1][2] His life is the subject of Douglas Moore's opera, The Ballad of Baby Doe; and the 1932 Hollywood biographical movie: Silver Dollar. Also, Graham Masterton's 1987 novel Silver has a protagonist named Henry T. Roberts, whose life includes incidents from Tabor's.


Section source: Legends.[3]

Tabor was born in Holland in Orleans County in far northern Vermont to Cornelius Dunham Tabor and Sarah Ferrin.[1] He was one of five children, one girl and four boys.[2]

Stonemason and storekeeper

Augusta Pierce Tabor

When he was finished training as a stonemason, 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 operate a store. In a few months they relocated to the Oro City area where Horace sought gold.[4] Then they moved to Leadville. Augusta Tabor recorded in her journal her first impression of the South Park area while they were headed to Leadville: "I shall never forget my first vision of the park. I can only describe it by saying it was one of Colorado's sunsets. Those who have seen them know how glorious they are."[5]

Tabor's general store, originally in Buckskin Joe, Colorado, now in the Buckskin Joe theme park near Canon City, Colorado

After the Tabors live a year in Leadville, placer mining declined, and the couple returned to Buckskin Joe, where they remained until 1868. He was postmaster in Buckskin Joe from 1863 to 1868; Augusta apparently handled most of those duties and took in boarders and laundry, while Horace prospected in the mines. In 1868, the Tabors returned once more to Leadville to resume storekeeping.[5] Tabor also 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 Mayor Tabor who first hired lawman Mart Duggan, who is credited with finally bringing Leadville's violent crime rate under control.

Silver King

Tabor Opera House, Leadville
Baby Doe, circa 1883

On May 3, 1878, the "Little Pittsburg" mine claimed by August Rische and George Hook revealed massive silver lodes and kicked off the "Colorado Silver Boom." Tabor had provisioned Rische and Hook for free, under a grubstake arrangement, and used his one-third ownership of Little Pittsburg to invest in other holdings. He eventually sold his interest for $1 million 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. He displayed his philanthropy by, for example, donating[6] the land under the Temple Israel in Leadville in 1884.

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 4, 1883,[7] following the resignation of Henry M. Teller to become United States Secretary of the Interior in the administration of U.S. President Chester Arthur.[5]

Horace and Augusta Tabor, who had a son, Maxey, divorced in January 1883 though Augusta contested the end of the marriage to keep another woman from carrying his name.[5] On March 1, 1883, Tabor finally legalized his relationship with Elizabeth "Baby Doe" McCourt, whom he had met three years earlier. The two married in a public (and, to some, scandalous) wedding ceremony at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. The second marriage produced two daughters, Elizabeth Bonduel Lily and Rosemary Silver Dollar Echo.

Decline, death and burial

Tabor ran without success for governor of Colorado governor in 1884, 1886, and 1888. Then, in 1893, the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in the administration of President Grover Cleveland, devastated Tabor's fortune and his far-flung holdings were sold off. Still a respected public figure, he was made postmaster of Denver[1] from January 4, 1898 until his death the following year.

Matchless mine and Baby Doe Tabor cabin

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 later lost control of the mine. She lived in the tool shed of the Matchless mine for thirty years and died in that shed.

Augusta Tabor, however, prospered in her later years; on her death in 1895, she was among the wealthiest citizens of Denver.[5]

When Horace Tabor died in 1899, flags were flown at half staff and ten thousand people were reported to have attended his funeral.[2] 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 (19 km) southwest of Leadville, just south of Independence Pass.

The actor Don Haggerty played Tabor in the 1967 episode "Chicken Bill" of the syndicated television series Death Valley Days, hosted by Robert Taylor. Dub Taylor played the title role of the silver miner Chicken Bill Lovell, who in the story line salts his mine to get Tabor to pay off Lovell's lingering debt and to fund his continued operation.[8]

Silver Dollar Tabor

In "Silver Dollar, the Story of the Tabors," published in 1932, author David Karsner related that William Jennings Bryan, the politician and orator, visited the Tabors in 1890 shortly after the birth of their second daughter. Hearing the baby gurgle, Bryan exclaimed: "Why Senator, that baby's laughter has the ring of a silver dollar!" The Tabors had not yet decided on a name for the girl, and this remark was the inspiration for her name: Rosemary Silver Dollar Echo Honeymoon Tabor.

After working as a newspaper reporter in Denver, Silver Dollar was ready to write her novel, Star of Blood. Moving to Chicago, and living cheaply, she set to work. Karsner wrote, "The best that can be said of Silver's book is that it was printed - not published." It was unpopular.

Silver Dollar worked her minor celebrity for all it was worth, but after a string of burlesque and minor acting jobs, she came to a bad end. The one-time "Girl of the Nile," says Karsner, liked heavy drinking and "Happy Dust." Going by the name of Ruth Norman, among many other aliases, after the men who supported her, she died at the age of thirty-five in 1925 by spilling a large kettle of boiling water on herself while she was extremely intoxicated.[9]


  1. 1 2 3 Record from Colorado archives
  2. 1 2 3 Northland Journal, November 2008, page 6, "Horace Tabor, Silver King of the West, Has Roots in Holland, Vermont," Scott Wheeler
  3. Biography presented on LegendsOfAmerica.com
  4. Evelyn E. Livingston Furman, The Tabor Opera House: a Captivating History.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Laura King Van Dusen, Historic Tales from Park County: Parked in the Past (Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press, 2013), ISBN 978-1-62619-161-7, pp. 30-31
  6. Quit-Claim Deed recorded in Lake County in Book 96, Page No. 171.
  7. "Senators of the United States, 1789-2009" (PDF). Senate Historical Office. United States Senate. February 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-15.
  8. ""Chicken Bill" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved June 7, 2015.
  9. "Cinema: The New Pictures: Jan. 2, 1933". Time. January 2, 1933.


See also

United States Senate
Preceded by
George M. Chilcott
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Colorado
Served alongside: Nathaniel P. Hill
Succeeded by
Thomas M. Bowen
Political offices
Preceded by
Lafayette Head
Lieutenant Governor of Colorado
Succeeded by
William H. Meyer
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