Tuesday, January 19, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Baby Doe Tabor: The Madwoman in the Cabin by Judy Nolte Temple



ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

The story of Baby Doe Tabor has seduced America for more than a century. Long before her body was found frozen in a Leadville shack near the Matchless Mine, Elizabeth McCourt “Baby Doe” Tabor was the stuff of legend. The stunning divorcée married Colorado’s wealthiest mining magnate and became the “Silver Queen of the West.” Blessed with two daughters, Horace and Baby Doe mesmerized the world with their wealth and extravagance.

But Baby Doe’s life was also a morality play. Almost overnight, the Tabors’ wealth disappeared when depression struck in 1893. Horace died six years later. According to the legend, one daughter left home never to return; the other died horribly. For thirty-five years, Baby Doe, who was considered mad, lived in solitude high in the Colorado Rockies.

Baby Doe Tabor left a record of her madness in a set of writings she called her “Dreams and Visions.” These were discovered after her death but never studied in detail—until now. Author Judy Nolte Temple retells Lizzie’s story with greater accuracy than any previous biographer and reveals a story more heartbreaking than the legend, giving voice to the woman behind the myth.

MY REVIEW:

When I moved to Leadville, Colorado a few years ago I quickly learned that the Tabor family was a very important part of the local history.  It's hard to miss because the Tabor name is everywhere in Leadville -- there's the Tabor Grand Hotel (which is now apartments), the Tabor Home Museum, and the Tabor Opera House, to name a few.  Across the street from the Tabor Opera House there's a bar called the Silver Dollar Saloon where there's a large framed portrait on the wall of "Silver Dollar" Tabor, the daughter of Horace and Baby Doe Tabor.

As I started to learn more about this family's history, I became fascinated with it.  I learned that Horace Tabor struck it rich in the mining industry -- I don't know exact numbers, but he was so rich that he built things like opera houses and hotels that still have his name on them more than 100 years after his death.  This "rags-to-riches" story is only the beginning of the Tabor saga...and it's all down hill from here.

Tabor left his wife, Augusta, and scandalously married a much younger woman, Elizabeth "Baby Doe," with whom he had two children.  Only a few years into his second marriage, due to the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act (as well as poor financial decisions), Tabor lost ALL of his money.  Augusta, on the other hand, had diversified her investments and remained a wealthy woman.

Years later Horace Tabor died a poor man.  Although she was only in her forties when he died, Baby Doe never remarried.  According to legend, their oldest daughter left the area and disowned the family, while the youngest daughter got caught up in a life of "sex, drugs and rock-n-roll" (or whatever its equivalent was around 1915).  Baby Doe lived by herself in a small cabin for 35 years waiting in vain for the Matchless Mine to return to what it once was. At 81-years-old she was found frozen to death.

Happy story, right?

Here's a picture of my kids outside of the Matchless Mine cabin a couple years ago:

After visiting the cabin and learning this story in bits and pieces our first few months in Leadville, I wanted to learn more about why an entire community was so proud of their ties to these people.  I found Baby Doe Tabor: The Madwoman in the Cabin on Amazon and ordered it right away.

That was a lot of build up for my review, huh?

All of that said, I wanted to like this book, I really did, but I have to admit that it took me two years to finish it. I kept putting it aside and finally had to force myself to read the last few chapters.

Fortunately the first two chapters (or so) were great. Judy Nolte Temple covers the history of the Tabor family and the Leadville area in great detail, and that was exactly what I was looking for.  However, somewhere around chapter 3 Temple started really pushing a feminist sociological agenda, which would be fine if that's what the reader is looking for, but it wasn't what I was looking for.  I just wanted to know the real story of the Tabor family.  Now, having read the book all the way through, I realize I probably should have just stopped in the middle and called it good.  

If you're interested in the history of Leadville and/or the Tabor family, I highly recommend the first 2-3 chapters of this book.  The beginning is worth reading, but I wouldn't waste your time with the rest of it unless you're really interested in things like the author's detailed theories about the encrypted notes on Baby Doe's calendar and whether or not they meant that Silver Dollar may have had one or more abortions. (yawn)