December 17

This Day in History

Old West

Dec 17, 1889:

"Silver Dollar" Tabor born in Denver

On this day, Rosemary "Silver Dollar" Tabor, the second daughter of Horace and Elizabeth "Baby Doe" Tabor, is born. The Tabors were one of Colorado's wealthiest families of the time.

Silver's mother, Elizabeth Doe, came west from Wisconsin with her husband, Harvey, in 1877; the couple hoped to make a fortune in the booming gold and silver mines of Colorado. Harvey Doe proved to be an inept and lazy miner, though, so Elizabeth divorced him and moved to the mining town of Leadville in 1881, where she performed on the stage and was nicknamed "Baby Doe" by admiring miners. During a chance encounter, Baby Doe won the affections of Horace Tabor, an emigrant from Vermont who made millions in the silver mines. Although Tabor was a married man, he moved Baby Doe into an elegant hotel in Denver and began a not-so-secret affair that scandalized the Colorado gentry. Ignoring the wagging tongues, Tabor divorced his wife and married the beautiful Baby Doe, who was nearly a quarter-century younger than he.

For a time, the couple lived a life of extraordinary opulence and pleasure, and Baby Doe had two daughters nicknamed "Lillie" and "Silver Dollar," the latter in recognition of the source of the family's wealth. During the early 1890s, the good times started to slow as some of Tabor's investments went sour and his mines began to decline. The fatal blow came in 1893, when the U.S. Congress repealed the Silver Purchase Act of 1890, which had kept silver prices high through government investment. Without these large purchases of silver by the U.S treasury, prices plummeted and Tabor's once valuable mines were suddenly nearly worthless. In a matter of months, Tabor was bankrupt and the family was reduced to living on the modest income he earned as Denver's postmaster.

When Tabor died in 1899 of appendicitis, Baby Doe and her young daughters were left penniless, and moved back to Chicago to live with relatives. Eventually, Baby Doe left Lillie in Chicago and returned to Leadville with Silver Dollar. The decision was disastrous: mired in poverty, Baby Doe and Silver eked out a threadbare existence, living in a small shack near one of the worthless silver mines they inherited from Horace Tabor.

As Silver grew older she drank heavily and used drugs. She moved to Chicago, where she was murdered in 1925 at 36 years old. Baby Doe survived for another decade, an impoverished recluse who used old gunny sacks for shoes and doctored herself with turpentine and lard. During a severe blizzard that hit Leadville for several days in February 1935, Baby Doe--who had once been one of the richest people on earth--died cold and alone at 81 years old.

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