Miner, wife, mother.
By far the prettiest of fourteen siblings born to Peter
McCourt, Sr. and Elizabeth Nellis, "Lizzie" early on displayed
a lively and independent spirit that combined a tomboy disposition
with the skin and looks of a cherub. This interesting, for the mid-1800s,
combination was best exemplified by her winning the Oshkosh Congregational
Church figure skating contest, a distinction that was unheard of
for a girl, much less a Catholic one, in the winter of 1876/77.
That event brought her to the attention of Harvey Doe, Jr., whom
she married shortly thereafter, and with whom she moved to Colorado.
Lizzie's Irish verve, and uncommon beauty brought her considerable
attention wherever she traveled, but especially so among the rough
and tumble elements of an isolated mining community such as Central
City, where Harvey's father had a half interest in a mine he hoped
Harvey would make profitable. Harvey's inability to make a living,
however, forced his new wife to don miner's clothes and personally
work a shaft of their Fourth of July Mine, which caused
great distress around the, as yet, unliberated town. (Interestingly,
feminist rhetoric, in the form of Lucy Stone, founder of the suffragist
Woman's Journal came to Central City at about the same time.)
|click HERE to download the mp3
|click HERE to download the mp3
Despite raised eyebrows and clacking tongues, the miners of Central
City recognized what a unique thing they had in the combination
of Lizzie's gumption and her pulchritude. And just as their hard-edge
frontier spirit often found its opposite in the playful, romantic
names they gave their mines, the hard-rock denizens of Central City
showed their deep appreciation by giving her the nickname that was
to follow her down through the ages: "Baby" Doe--the miners'
Somewhere in the fall of 1879 Baby Doe attracted the attention of
the newly wealthy Horace Tabor of Leadville, who caused her to leave
Central City and her wayward husband behind. Over the next few years
Horace grew increasingly estranged from his first wife Augusta,
while his liaison with Baby Doe was becoming a matter of public
knowledge. In 1882 they were married in a private civil ceremony
in St. Louis, and married again in an opulent (and scandalous) public
ceremony in Washington, D.C. the following March at the conclusion
of Horace's short term as U.S. Senator from Colorado.
The two lived lavishly, albeit shunned by "polite" society,
for about fifteen years. They had two daughters and a stillborn
son before Tabor's seemingly inexhaustible fortune evaporated in
the "free silver" devaluations of the 1890s. Though Horace
was employed as Denver's postmaster when he died in the Spring of
1899, Baby Doe spent the remaining thirty-five years of her life
little better than impoverished in a cabin outside the Matchless
Mine in Leadville. Still beautiful and relatively young, she
could easily have remarried. She chose, instead, to "hold on
to the Matchless," continuously seeking funds to "work"
it, while scribbling page after page of her increasingly idiosyncratic
and, some would say, ultimately delirious thoughts.
In early March of 1935, her frozen body was discovered on the floor
of her cabin, her arms peacefully crossed on her chest. There is evidence Baby Doe died from heart failure rather than from freezing, despite what most accounts say. By then, having been deserted by both of her daughters,
she had nevertheless already become a legend; the subject of two books
and a Hollywood movie. Eventually her story would find its way into
two operas, a stage play (in German), a musical, a screenplay, a
one-woman show and countless other books and articles.