Silver Queen The Fabulous Story of Baby Doe Tabor By Caroline Bancroft 1956? 79

Silver Queen The Fabulous Story of Baby Doe Tabor By Caroline Bancroft 1956? 79

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Silver Queen The Fabulous Story of Baby Doe Tabor By Caroline Bancroft 1956? 79
 
Silver Queen The Fabulous Story of Baby Doe Tabor By Caroline Bancroft 1956? 79 Pages
The formerly beautiful and glamorous Baby Doe Tabor, her millions lost many years before, was found dead on her cabin floor at the Matchless Mine in Leadville, Colorado, on March 7, 1935. Her body, only partially clothed, was frozen with ten days' stiffness into the shape of a cross. She had lain down on her back on the floor of her stove-heated one room home, her arms outstretched, apparently in sure foreboding that she was to die.
Newspapers and wires flashed the story to the world, telling the tragic end of the eighty-year-old recluse who had, during the decade of the 1880s, been one of the richest persons in the United States. Her body was found by a young woman, known to Leadville as Sue Bonnie (her real name was Naomi Pontiers), with whom Mrs. Tabor had been very sociable during the last three years of the older woman's life. Sue Bonnie had become concerned when she saw no smoke coming from her friend's cabin and had persuaded Tom French to break a way through three feet of snow from Little Stray Horse Gulch to Mrs. Tabor's lonely cabin on Fryer Hill. When the couple peered through the window, they discovered her prostrate form.
The once proud beauty was dead. Leadville, Denver, Central City and the world reacted immediately, producing a host of memories to round out the details of her extraordinary career. Other reminiscences came from Oshkosh. Wisconsin, where she was born, and from Washington, D. C., where she had married Tabor, President Arthur and several members of the cabinet in attend ance at the wedding.
Her story had been a drama of contrasts, from rags to riches and from riches back to rags again, the whole play enacted against the backdrop of Colorado's magnificent and munificent mountains. But what those ruthless snow-capped peaks give, they also take away and almost as if they were gods, they single out certain characters in history to destroy by first making mad. Mrs. Tabor went to her death with a delusion about the Matchless Mine.
She had lived during the last years of her life largely through the charity of the citizens of Leadville and the company that held the mortgage on the Matchless. The mine had produced no ore in years and was not really equipped to work, although she could not find it in her soul to admit the harsh fact of reality. She dressed in mining clothes and off and on during the last twenty years made a pretense of getting out ore with a series of men she inveigled to work on shares. But she either quarreled with these partners when she became suspicious of their honesty or the men became disillusioned about the supposed fortune hidden in the Matchless and drifted off.
I only met her once, in the summer of 1927, when I called on her with my father, a mining engineer, who was making a swing around the state to report on the mining situation. Mrs. Tabor, who had known my father for many years, showed us over the premises. She was polite to me but largely ignored me since she was concentrating on my father with the hope he might get her new backing.
The tiny cabin she lived in had been a former tool and machine shop of the Matchless and the actual hoisthouse was perhaps thirty feet or so away. When we entered the hoisthouse, it already had an aura of ghosts. Dirt and rust were accumulating from disuse and covered the hoist, cables and machinery that were still left there. It was my father's opinion, voiced to me as we drove off past the Robert E. Lee mine, that quite a lot of machinery had been stolen from the hoisthouse without her being aware of it. Or perhaps "the old lady," as he spoke of her, had sold it to get enough to eat and had forgotten the transaction in the forgetfulness of what mountaineers call "cabin fever," a strangeness that overtakes elderly people who live alone.
I was not so interested in the mining aspects of her situation as my father (who was always avid on the scent of ore-gold, silver, copper, tungsten, and at the end, rare minerals such as vanadium, molybdenum, uranium, titanium and tantalum). What interested me about Mrs. Tabor were her looks and her personality. I studied her quietly while she and my father talked about the glorious riches that would be uncovered if she "could just drift a little further north on the third level" or "sink a winze through to that scope on the fourth."
She was a little woman, very withered, and unattractively dressed in men's corduroy trousers, mining boots and a soiled, torn blouse. She had a blue bandana tied around her head and when we first drove up back of the Matchless, as close as the car could make it and started to walk to her cabin, she met us halfway, a very belligerent expression on her face. My father and she had not met in several years and it was not until after he gave his name that her manner changed.
She smiled then and said, "Why, of course, pray do forgive me. And what a beautiful daughter you have! It is my lasting sorrow that the Lord's work has taken my own daughter . . ."
I could not have been more startled. The smile, the manner, the voice and the flowery speech were anomalous in that strange figure. Her smile was positively, although very briefly, gay and flashing; the teeth, even and white and the voice, clear and bell-like, while the manner I can only describe as queenly despite her diminutive size.
I only remember two other things about that afternoon. After we had spent some time in the hoisthouse and walking about outside, while she and my father talked about the direction of veins and probable apexes, the price of silver and other matters not very interesting to my youthful ears, Father suggested that in the car he had a jug of homemade wine his housekeeper had made. It was during Prohibition and wine of any sort was a rarity so that when he invited her to have a drink for old time's sake, she seemed pleased and asked us up to the ledge to her cabin.
While Father went back to the car for the wine, she and I strolled on ahead. I complimented her on the spectacular view of Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert, two among three of Colorado's highest peaks, that we had had driving out Little Strayhorse Gulch.
She did not say anything but she turned her eyes full upon me, the only time I think that she looked directly at me. Again I was startled. They were very far apart and a gorgeous blue, their unusual color preserved through all the violence and drama and bitterness of her then seventy-two years.
Her cabin, really no more than a shack, was crowded with very primitive furniture, decorated with religious pictures, and stacked high in newspapers. It was quite neat although, to my mind, it could have stood a good dusting and the window panes had evidently not been washed since the winter snows. We drank our wine from an assortment of cups, one of them tin. She apologized for their not being very clean and said something about hauling her drinking water from some distance and using boiled mine water for other purposes.
I did not listen-to my shame, now. While they went on talking, I entertained myself with my own thoughts. I knew almost no Colorado history in those days; I had been out of the state for nine years at school, college and working in the East, my interests completely disassociated. To me, she was just one more of the queer mining characters my father knew, and he knew dozens. But I lived to regret my youthful ignorance and indifference.
At the time she died, I was in the East and two years later, the editor of True Story magazine commissioned me to write her biography, my fare being paid from New York to Colorado to do research for a five-part serial. I spent eight months in Leadville, Central City and Denver talking to old-timers, literally scores of them, who had known Baby Doe Tabor. I also looked up court records of Gilpin and Lake Counties and read old newspaper files. Through the years I have intermittently continued my study of Baby Doe, adding to my knowledge of her in the course of other researches. But for human interest details, my greatest source of information proved to be Sue Bonnie who had discovered Mrs. Tabor's body.
Sue Bonnie sold me the use of her name in order to meet the editorial requirements of True Story and in consequence, the original version of "Silver Queen," now very much altered, appeared from January to May of 1938, signed "Sue Bonnie." Of course, the serial was actually written by me, but through the publicity of that seeming authorship, she later became something of a town figure on her own. Sue Bonnie has since died.
This young woman had drifted into Leadville from New Haven, Connecticut, and had struck up an intimate friendship with Mrs. Tabor, apparently since the pretty Easterner reminded Mrs. Tabor of her dead daughter, Silver Dollar. The older woman had nicknamed the curly black-haired Sue, "Songbird," and it was their custom to visit back and forth two or three nights a week in each other's cabins, exchanging tales of dreams they had had, their probable meanings and writing down spiritualistic revelations they obtained from a ouija board.
Sue Bonnie gave me a large number of these papers written in a stubby pencil by Mrs. Tabor's hand and a scrap-book of hers pasted up spasmodically by the older woman. I, in turn, donated these documents to the Western History Department of the Denver Public Library where they may be viewed today by serious research workers. These papers are very helpful to an understanding of Baby Doe's character in its declining years.
But what was most revealing were the many reminiscences of the past which Mrs. Tabor chose to tell Sue Bonnie. Neither her friend nor I had any way of telling whether these many intimate memories of Baby Doe's were literally true. Sue Bonnie, who idolized her, believed every word and I, for my part, found in those instances where I could check what Baby Doe Tabor said against documentary evidence that they were substantially right.
I was never sure about Baby Doe's exact age; I thought she had tampered with it-and I said so in the first editions of this booklet. Oshkosh readers interested themselves in my problem. They established the fact that for Colorado consumption she had taken six years off her age and had arranged a middle name for a more pleasing and romantic effect. I still hope to journey to Oshkosh sometime to personally thank residents there for copies of her christening, her wedding and other important documents. In 1953, the Colorado Historical Society opened to research workers letters and scrapbooks in their possession, unavailable for eighteen years after her death, so that a definitive biography may finally be written.
But in whatever form it is presented, popular or scholarly, Baby Doe's story has an astonishing vitality. Her name is as imperishable as the mountains she chose to live in for the greater part of her life. Her cabin in Leadville was for many years torn at and carved upon by souvenir-hunting tourists. Finally, it was a desolate ruin, until, in 1953, I spearheaded a civic movement to restore the cabin and open it as a tourist attraction. The cabin is now an almost exact replica of the home she lived in. Also, some of the fragile gold furniture and jewel box, salvaged from her heyday, may be seen at the Teller House in Central City. Until 1958 her famous suite could be seen at the Windsor Hotel in Denver, and her wedding dress and other Tabor relics are on exhibit at the Colorado Historical Museum. She is immortal.
So let us have Baby Doe Tabor tell us of her life in nearly her own words -many she actually used in talking to Sue Bonnie and others I have imagined as consonant with her character and the facts of her story.

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