Book review: ‘Baby Doe Tabor: The Madwoman in the Cabin’
Ryan Summerlin May 8, 2015
Her life reads like a modern day soap opera, her soft doe eyes tantalizing us from the few photos that remain. Nearly a century has passed since the death of Colorado icon Elizabeth Doe Tabor, celebrated by her moniker, Baby Doe, yet she continues to fascinate.
To most, she is remembered as a wealthy seductress, known for bucking the social mores of the late Victorian era and for leading an extravagant lifestyle that her contemporaries both envied and decried as she reveled in her new status alongside her mining magnate husband, Horace Tabor. But as the bottom fell out of the silver industry, and her life fell into ruin, many saw this as just desserts for flaunting a life of excess, and her resulting self-exile as a widow to the remote and unforgiving climate of Leadville seemed divine retribution.
What many don’t know is the spiritual world she inhabited throughout her exile or the motivations for her choices in later life. In an attempt to shine a clearer light on the tragic life of Baby Doe Tabor, author and scholar Judy Nolte Temple spent years doing painstaking research into the primary documents of Baby Doe’s own writings, rescued from obscurity after her body was found frozen and malnourished in her lonely little cabin on the tailings of the Matchless Mine.
Greedy treasure hunters, wanting a souvenir of “Lizzie” Tabor’s charmed rise and her meteoric fall, ransacked the tiny, weather-beaten cabin upon her grisly death, leaving historians such as Temple few clues to help unravel the enigma of this complicated woman. But Temple’s well-researched book, “Baby Doe Tabor: The Madwoman in the Cabin,” goes a long way to enlightening those who know only the romanticized version of Baby Doe’s life. Written in a deep, scholarly vein, Temple’s dissection of Lizzie Tabor’s “Dreams and Visions” is equally fascinating and beguiling as it is disturbing and saddening.
Through Temple’s fascinating analysis of the remaining photos and the fragments of the Colorado legend’s diary pages and coded notations, Elizabeth Doe Tabor becomes much more than a seductress or a madwoman; she becomes a person.
No longer is Baby Doe merely a lovely face from a bygone age. Temple’s analysis restores her mortality, giving her a heart and a soul, though more often than not, it portrays a broken heart and a troubled soul. Relying heavily on Baby Doe’s own writings, some cryptic and disjointed, Temple paints a picture of a strong woman, a woman with an intense religious determination and a fierce loyalty to family. Already burdened with the famous edict of “Hold on to the Matchless Mine” by her dying husband, Baby Doe took on the additional duty of securing the moral characters of her daughters, Lily and the infamous Silver Dollar.
As Temple aptly notes, Tabor did not try to protect her daughters’ good names on the public stage, where the jury had already ruled them guilty by association to their sinful mother. Instead, the author shows, through Tabor’s spiritual writings, a lonely, fervent lioness of a mother, determined to hold onto her most prized possessions, her children. As her reputation blackened over time, Baby Doe’s devotion to her troubled youngest daughter increased, and Temple leaves the reader with the image of a mother who, today, would not have stood out, but who, in her time, became the representation of all that was wrong with progressivism and the liberation of women.
Silver Dollar Tabor, like her mother, fell into a life of sinful living, by the standards of the day. Temple lends new life to the theory that Baby Doe spent her later years, not aimless and going mad in her cabin, but distraught and at loose ends regarding the choices her beloved daughter was making. Baby Doe Tabor’s own voice was silenced by convention and stigma, but through Temple’s fascinating analysis of the remaining photos and the fragments of the Colorado legend’s diary pages and coded notations, Elizabeth Doe Tabor becomes much more than a seductress or a madwoman; she becomes a person.
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