The Silver Baron’s Wife is a historical fiction novel by Donna Baier Stein. It’s a fictionalized account of Elizabeth “Baby” Doe Tabor, one of the most infamous women on Colorado history.
This is an amalgamation of actual notes written by Baby Doe and of conjecture of her reactions to other factual events of her life. In the book, Elizabeth and her first husband Harvey. They came from Wisconsin to work a silver mine to try to make a fortune before returning home. Harvey wound up becoming addicted to opium, due to an injury. Due to this, Elizabeth began working in the mine to supplement their income. The men she worked with gave her the nickname of “Baby”, and it followed her the rest of her life.
She met Horace Tabor after divorcing Harvey, and the two fell in love. Horace eventually divorced his first wife, Augusta, to marry Baby Doe. The scandal painted the Tabors in a poor light, and they were never to obtain the level of social acceptance that Horace enjoyed with Augusta.
Horace and Baby Doe enjoyed a life filled with luxury, and had two daughters. Then, when the government decided to base the economy on the gold standard rather than silver, the Tabors lost their fortune. The family moved back to Leadville, where Horace soon died. He told Baby Doe to hold onto the last mine they owned, and she did just that. Her daughters grew up and moved away, leaving Baby Doe to grow old alone.
As Baby Doe aged, she wrote thousands of notes that she kept in her cabin. These notes became additional basis for this book. They give insight into the later years of Baby Doe’s life, including her increasing religious fervor and declining mental state. She eventually died alone during the winter of 1935, estranged from her daughters, living is abject poverty.
Baier Stein does a wonderful job of entwining the factual and fictional into a tale with as many peaks and valleys as the life of Baby Doe. It’s very ovbious that the author did copious amounts of research into the lives of the Tabors, and into the lives of people in Denver, Central City, and Leadville in the late 19th century. There is so much fact written into the book, that it reads much like a biography. Only it holds so much personal feelings, intent, and love that can only come from fiction. But it’s beautifully written.
Baby Doe Tabor is one of the most, if not the most, infamous woman in Colorado history. Her rags to riches to rags story is taught to school children, was immortalized in movies, books, and an opera. The Tabor Opera House, built while Horace was married to Augusta, is still in operation in Leadville, and is being restored to the former glory it once held. The mansion the Tabors lived in in Denver has been since demolished, but their infamy lives on.
I highly enjoyed The Silver Baron’s Wife. The ending was heartbreaking, as it summed up the last thirty five years of Baby Doe’s life into just a few chapters, mostly taken from the notes written and kept by Baby Doe. (The notes are being catalogued and some are on display at the Colorado History Center in Denver. Some of the Tabors personal items are also on display.) I’ll highly recommend it to fans on Colorado history, to fans of Colorado’s infamous women, to infamous women in general. Give it a try, I think you’ll like it.
The Silver Baron’s Wife
Donna Baier Stein
Publisher: Serving House Books (September 15, 2016)