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Photo courtesy Jim Metz

Oshkosh, Wisconsin

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Oshkosh, Wisconsin
Baby Doe Restaurant

Author, columnist and historian James I. Metz lives in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. He has done considerable research about the Doe and McCourt families, and about Baby Doe, with special emphasis on her life prior to moving to Colorado. He is the retired editorial page editor of the Oshkosh Northwestern and the author of several books on Oshkosh history. The DoeHEADS deeply appreciate Jim Metz' generous help in creating this page.

Very little remains in Oshkosh today of anything that was familiar to Lizzie McCourt while she was growing up and forming the attributes and attitudes that would characterize her to a world that came to know her as “Baby Doe”

Partly it’s because age has taken toll on much of what she knew as a child in the 1850s and ’60s and as a blossoming young lady in the 1870s. But it is even more because of what happened to many of them in Lizzie’s lifetime. They burned.

The McCourt home, a substantial porticoed house a block off the Main Street and about three blocks up from where father Peter McCourt was a leading businessman in town, burned down – along with about 600 other homes and scores of businesses – when Lizzie was nearing her 20th birthday in 1874.

And this was just one of the fiery disasters that plagued the city, and particularly the McCourt family. Peter McCourt had been burned out of his clothing business three times already since 1859. Allied with his retail store, Peter had built McCourt Hall, Oshkosh’s first place for theatricals, lectures and other performances, and that also succumbed to one of the early fires.

Peter rebuilt McCourt Hall and Lizzie came to enjoy quite early in life the performing arts there. She probably indulged here her girlhood fantasy of going on stage herself. The theater was so important to the McCourts that one of her brothers, Peter Jr., became a theater manager. Lizzie saw to it that he was installed as manager of the Tabor Grand Opera House in Denver.

The year after the disaster that leveled the McCourt home, another fire swept through the city and again destroyed McCourt’s place of business – plus about 800 homes and several hundred factories and businesses.

By this time the McCourt family was impoverished. It had been, in Lizzie’s childhood, one of the prominent families of Oshkosh and was relatively prosperous. Each of the fires represented a financial setback, but each also saw father Peter McCourt exhibit an absolute determination to come back from any adversity.

Lizzie adored her father and learned from him that one must not despair, even in the face of disaster. From her father, too, she inherited a strong attachment to the Catholic faith. Their fellow Catholics were a small minority in frontier Oshkosh. They were all the more fervent for being so heavily outnumbered by Protestants, particularly the Congregationalists who predominated in the important social and business circles of town.

One of these was the William Harvey Doe family which lived about three blocks from the McCourts. The 1874 fire came within a block of the Doe home, but no closer. It is this Doe house which survives to the Twenty-first Century and is the only structure remaining in Oshkosh with any real significance to the Baby Doe saga. Lizzie may not even have been in the house for any amount of time since Mrs. Doe adamantly opposed her relationship with son Harvey. Lizzie was certainly not welcome there.

The Does came to Oshkosh in 1850 just a year after the McCourts, but Doe began modestly as a butcher. Over the years Doe prospered, thanks in large part to investments in Colorado which allowed him to become an industrialist in Oshkosh. Meanwhile McCourt’s fortunes diminished so that by 1877 when Harvey Doe married Lizzie McCourt – in the Catholic Church – it appeared that Doe’s bright prospects would sustain the newlyweds. History rather quickly showed otherwise.

There are no McCourts left in Oshkosh today, but there are some descended from the Does through a sister of Harvey Doe.

However in the city cemetery, Riverside, Lizzie’s parents, Peter and Elizabeth Nellis McCourt, are buried in the Catholic section, marked by a large monument Baby Doe provided when she was Mrs. Horace Tabor. Little more than two hundred yards away, in the Masonic section, are buried William H. and his wife, Elizabeth, Doe. (Harvey Doe died a little more than a decade before Lizzy and is buried at Milwaukee.)

The Baby Doe story continues to intrigue Oshkosh people who hold a slightly different perspective on her than those in Colorado who may see her simply as a conniving “other woman.” Here she is perceived as a product of the rather unusual environment of early Oshkosh with its spate of disastrous fires being a crucible to forge an indomitable, unconquerable spirit.


This map shows the locations of McCourt/Doe happenings from the 1850s when they arrived to the 1880s when Papa McCourt died. The main McCourt home was on Division Street just north of Church street. It fronted on Division but extended through to Main Street. A picture of the McCourt house exists with the family standing around the front. That house burned in 1875. They moved to Pearl Street where Lizzie was living when she married Harvey Doe. The McCourts then went to Jefferson and Merritt to live until Baby and Tabor bought them a place on the lake where McCourt died soon after the Tabor wedding.

Click the image for the full size version which can be read easily.

Doe House. The only structure existing in Oshkosh with any significance to the life of Elizabeth McCourt (Baby Doe). Although there have been modernizing touches added to the building, e.g., the stone and brick work in the front, the house where Harvey Doe grew up (Mt. Vernon and Merritt Streets, Oshkosh) is basically what it was in the 1860s and '70s. Lizzie would not have been welcomed there as Mama Doe did not approve of her nor her liaison with Harvey.


[The place] where Lizzie McCourt lived through most of her years in Oshkosh is now a parking lot for a nearby apartment apartment building. This is on Division Street just north of Church Street in Oshkosh. The lower buildings in [the] center of [the] picture would be where Lizzie's father had his garden and orchard. They front on Main Street.


Baby Doe's parents are buried in the Catholic section of Riverside Cemetery in Oshkosh. Her father, Peter, died within a few months of Baby's marriage to Horace Tabor. The large marker symbolizes Baby's achieving some affluence since the McCourts, who were prominent and prosperous in the 1850s and 60s, had been reduced to near poverty through a long series of misfortunes and could not have afforded such a large monument. It reads:

Peter McCourt
Born in Armach, Ireland.
June 4th 1818
Died in Oshkosh Wis.
May 14th 1883


His Wife
Elizebeth Anderson
Born May 25, 1826
Died March 13, 1910


The William H. Doe family was in Oshkosh about as long as the McCourt family, but had an opposite financial profile. Doe started in Oshkosh in very modest circumstances, but gradually achieved prominence and financial success, partly through investments in Colorado. Not long after Harvey and Baby Doe went to Colorado, his parents also moved there. William Doe died in Colorado little more than a year after Peter McCourt died in Oshkosh. His widow returned to Oshkosh where two daughters resided. Harvey's parents are in the Masonic section of Riverside Cemetery. The monument reads:

W. H. Doe
March 6, 1818
Aug. 6, 1884


Elizabeth Sawdey
Wife of
W. H. Doe
Born Aug. 15, 1827
Died Apr. 8, 1908


The above map and photos courtesy of James I. Metz.