A Long and Abiding History of Strong Women!
March is Women’s History Month and Lake County is celebrating in a variety of ways. So honor Leadville’s long and abiding history of strong women!
The Lake County Public Library is celebrating Women’s History Month both online and in house. As part of the recently launched “Women of Library History” blog, librarian Janice Fox contributed a great piece on Mary Louise Stickley, the library’s founder. In fact, it was Stickley’s pleas to the famously generous Andrew Carnegie which resulted in securing the funds to build Leadville’s first library. To read the full story, click on the above link.
The local library also been developing an active social media platform, through both its Lake County Public Library Facebook page and the Colorado Mountain History Collection Facebook page. So be sure to check them out – and then why not LIKE them as a simple celebration of Women’s History Month!?
Then later this month on Wednesday, March 27, local historian and author Gretchen Scanlon will present “Women of The Mountain Top.” The presentation begins at 6:30 in the library’s Amax room. Scanlon will be speaking about notable Leadville women throughout history.
This event is FREE and open to the public!
Celebrate Women’s History Month!
Watching for Horace to Come Home
In honor of Women’s History Month, here’s a little known story about Baby Doe Tabor, one of Leadville’s most notable women.
Last summer during a walk on Leadville’s Mineral Belt Trail, I came across a family of young cyclists who had stopped, to read the plaque across from The Matchless Mine.
“On March 7, 1935,” said the Dad, reading the famous end to one of Leadville’s most notable characters, “the epic story came to a tragic close with the discovery of Baby Doe’s frozen body in the cabin of the Matchless Mine.” There was a long pause, when finally his 8-year-old son spoke up: “You mean somebody left a baby in that cabin all by herself and she died?!”
There has been so much written about Leadville’s famous Tabors – Horace, August, Baby Doe, Silver Dollar – that it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction. Most of us have heard the story about Horace Tabor’s dying request to Baby Doe to, “Hang on to the Matchless Mine, if I die, Baby; it will make millions again when silver comes back.”
And then there are the stories of Baby Doe’s final years, living in poverty up at the Matchless Mine, how she would wrap her feet in gunny sacks (or old newspapers) tied together with twine. Baby Doe was eventually found frozen to death on the floor of the tiny cabin, some say, arms outstretched, in the shape of a cross. Who could have guessed that a mine that had been deemed worthless on more than one occasion and had been named after a chewing tobacco could rise to such unequaled notoriety?
A slight pause here for those NOT familiar with the Matchless Mine story. The overview goes something like this: After years of making money for a lot of other people, Horace Tabor wanted a Leadville mine to call his own and purchased the Matchless in September of 1879 for $117,000. Up until then, the mine was a true underdog being bought, sold, and bartered numerous times without striking a decent vein. In fact, it took a full year for Tabor’s investment to pay off, but boy did it, to the tune of $2,000 a day in silver.
Needless to say the early 1880s were the gravy years for Horace and Baby Doe. There were lavish parties, and extravagant displays of their immense wealth.
In fact one of those crown jewels of wealth was displayed on corner of 7th Street and Harrison: The Tabor Grand Hotel (presently known as the Vendome). When it opened its doors in 1885, this Grand Hotel was an incredible testament to Tabor’s fortune.
However, there is a bond between The Matchless Mine and The Tabor Grand Hotel that many may not have heard. However, this story describes a certain simpleness to the Tabors’ day-to-day lives – beneath all of the glitz, all of the wealth, and all of the scandals.
Locally, it’s known as Baby Doe’s balcony. You can see this unique architectural feature if you’re standing on the northwest corner of 7th and Harrison, looking west. See the balcony off the old Tabor Grand Hotel over 7th Street?
This perch wasn’t in the original design of the four-story brick building. In fact, you won’t see the jutting balcony in any of the early pictures of this sizable building. It’s a little bit of history that hasn’t been represented in all of the books, plays, and movies written about the Tabor saga.
And that’s because its purpose was so simple, so functional. You see, Leadville’s legendary Horace Tabor built this overhanging porch for Baby Doe – so she could watch for him walking home from the Matchless Mine, down East 7th Street.
It was built so that she could see up Fryer Hill and keep an eye out for her husband coming home from work. Back then, there were no cell phones or text messaging, so Baby Doe would sit and wait to see her beloved walking down 7th Street, walking home from work at the Matchless. On first sight, she’d start dinner!
Sometimes, women’s history is just about the day to day living . It’s about Leadville people going about their lives, In The ‘Ville. Here’s to all my strong Leadville Sisters! Celebrate Women’s History Month!
© 2013 Kathy Bedell.
Portal To The Past
Would you or someone you know like to participate in Lake County Public Library’s Oral History Project, “Portal to the Past?”
They are looking for people to share their stories of growing up and living in Lake County. Oral Histories may be videotaped or just audio recorded for the camera shy. Contact Janice Fox or Holly Henning at the Library for more information at 719-486-0569.
Portal To The Past Interview with Judge Neil Reynolds.