Horace Tabor was the greatest of Colorado's Silver Kings during the "Silver Boom." His precious Matchless Mine is the most famous of all he had investing in.
Horace Tabor and his wife, Augusta, owned a general mercantile store in Leadville. Profits from his store allowed Tabor to invest in silver mining operations. In 1878, Tabor "grubstaked" with two eager prospectors (supplied tools needed in exchange for stake in claim) which quickly netted him over $2,000 a day in profit. That was the Little Pittsburg Mine. “Chicken Bill” Lovell attempted to swindle Tabor by dumping a wheelbarrow of rich silver ore into a barren pit at the Chrysolite Mine to sell for a large price. The joke was on Lovell, as just a few feet deeper, one of the richest lodes in the area made a fortune for Tabor.
Tabor had stakes in many claims around the Leadville area, all with other investors. In September 1879, The Matchless Mine went up for sale, and anxious to own a mine completely on his own, Tabor bought it. The mine, however, had been sold a number of times, as it historical did not produce. Embroiled in many lawsuits, Tabor ended up paying over $30,000 just to clear the title,a s well as $117,000 for the sale price.
Faithful in his investment, Tabor ordered the mine reopened, but immediately faced flooded shafts. By June, the water problem had been resolved and the mine began operation. By the first of the year, the mine was producing no less then $2,000 a day in profit from silver.
Tabor's success made him a powerful man and politician in town. In 1879, he opened the Tabor Opera House, once billed the finest theatre between St. Louis and San Francisco and hosted such acts as Harry Houdini, John Phillip Sousa and Oscar Wilde. He also established the Bank of Leadville and the Tabor Grand Hotel. He built a lavish mansion in town and lived the high life. In 1880, Tabor met Elizabeth Bonduel McCourt Doe and one of the most scandalous affairs ensued. Tabor left his wife for "Baby Doe" and in 1883 his second marriage was legalized.
The repeal of the Sherman Silver Act in 1893, and a series of bad investments cost Tabor his fortune. He desperatley tried to maintain possession of the Matchless Mine, but lost that too to foreclosure. The "Silver King" now worked for $3 a day hauling slag at the local mines, and took a position as postman, in hopes the silver market would return and allow him to once again control the Matchless Mine.
Tabor died of appendicitis in 1899 before he ever got his beloved Matchless back, leaving behind his wife, Baby Doe, and their two daughters, Silver Dollar and Lilly, flat broke. Baby Doe managed to get permission to live at the tool shack beside the Matchless Mine shaft until she died of a heart attack in March 1935. Her frozen body was found in the shack when neighbors noticed no smoke from her chimney for a period of a week.
Now, visitors can explore the Baby Doe cabin and look at the Matchless Mine. Tours are available, last one leaves at 4:00 pm.
Mosquito Pass, reaching 13,185 feet, is said to be the highest pass accessible to vehicular travel in Colorado. Once used to haul mining supplies and passengers, this road is now used for off-road use and Burro Races.
Mosquito Pass, just east of Leadville, leads over the mountains to Alma. In 1879, it was built as part of the toll road from Denver to the mines at Leadville. Once it was called the "fast freight route" and the fare from Fairplay to Leadville was $6!
Once the railroad was run through Leadville, use for this toll road diminished. Due to it's altitude and steepness, use of the road was limited to only the summer months. As it was on July 31, 2009, we ventured up the pass under a blanket of fresh snow cover.
Father John Dyer, called "The Snowshoe Itinerant" was notorious for carrying gold and mail over this pass in the winter, wearing 10 foot snowshoes!
The infamous Burro Races held during the "Boom Days" celebration in Leadville and Fairplay run over this pass. Traditionally the event would alternate directions over the pass each year, now each town has it's own up and downhill race.
The pass road takes you from the Diamond mine in Leadville, past the North London Mine, the largest producing mine in the area, and all the way to Alma and Fairplay.
The trail is 13.6 miles and one should allow 2-3 hours for travel...stopping to gawk along the way will make the trip longer. Rated at moderate difficulty level, the steep, rocky incline would be best traveled by vehicles with high ground clearance. The west side of the pass (Leadville side) is a narrow, rocky ledge with some switchbacks, that quickly bring you up to the 13,185 foot pass. You'll continue on this rocky ledge over the pass eastward, until you pass the London mine. The road becomes somewhat wider and more level at this point.
Weston Pass, built in 1860, was a stagecoach route until 1881, when the railroad made travel into Leadville easier. This route was used by the native Ute Indians, and was later used by prospectors with gold and silver dreams.
The fare to use this toll road from Colorado City to Leadville was $1.50. Today, it is a popular off-road trail, not too difficult, which is frequented by visitors to San Isabel National Forest. The road leads up windy Alpine roads, and offers great camping and picnic areas, as well as many old mines and mining trails.
The 26.8 mile pass connects Leadville and Fairplay through the Pike National Forest. Allow 1.5 to 2 hours for travel, more if you stop to stare at the beauty all around you.
We accessed thr trail from the Leadville side. Travel south on highway 24 from Leadville about 7 miles, and turn left onto County Road 7 to Mt. Massive Lakes. From the Fairplay side, take highway 285 south 4.7 miles and turn right on County Road 5.
The trail is wide and easily accessible. This makes the trail more accessible to a variety of vehicles, and heavily frequented. There are many great spots for camping, hiking and exploring. You will pass old mines...do not enter.
Just west of Leadville, Colorado, Hagerman Pass follows the old Colorado Midland Railroad towards Aspen, reaching at its peak 11,925 feet.
Hagerman Pass was once a road used to ship over the mountain passes from Leadville to Aspen and Vail. In 1887, James John Hagerman, then president of the Colorado Midland Railroad, decided to build a line from Leadville to Aspen and beyond to Grand Junction. This was the first standard gauge rail to cross the Continental Divide. Along this route, the line ran through the Hagerman Tunnel which bored through the mountain at 11,530 feet.
The Hagerman Pass, here, crosses the Continental Divide, where the water drainage for the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans seperate. It is heavily traveled today visitors, as the views and historical sites laong the way are incredibly beautiful and easy to access.
This starts as is an easy trail, with graded, wide roads and fantastic views of Turquoise Reservior. Towards the top of the pass, the road becomes more narrow with some rock ledges. We took the 11.8 mile trail from the Turquoise Reservoir area towards FS 527 towards Aspen. To get there, take 6th Street from Leadville to County Road 4. In 3.5 miles, bear left at the fork ont he south side of the lake. In another 3.5 miles, take the left onto FS 105. The trail could easily be completed in 1 hour, but the side trips and views could take you all day to absorb.
The Colorado hiking trail crisscrosses through this area, and there are many camping spots dispersed throughout the trail. Side trips include the Carlton Tunnel and a hike to the Hagerman Tunnel (both closed to the public).
Fresh snow covered the ground, but patches of lingering snow still hugged the edge of the trail. While on top of the pass, we encountered a hail storm...on July 31, 2009!
Birdseye Gulch is a great optional trail off of Mosquito Pass. We began the trail on Highway 91 north of Leadville, and continued back into Leadville. With the 4-wheel drive officiando Bill Burke as our guide we got all levels of Land Rovers, including stock vehicles, through this 4.4 mile trail with little incident.
The trail is narrow and quite rocky in spots, giving it a rating of 6 out of 10 on the difficulty scale. You will encounter rock fields, tight bruch, mud and creek crossing. The ascent to 12,200 feet is not extremely steep, but tight switchbacks coupled with large boulders will challenge any level of driver. I would recommend high clearance, diff guards and differential lockers.
There is one spot along the trail that is very off camber, leaning out towards the cliff. Othe rthan that, anyone afraid of heights will be too busy gawking at the georgeous scenery all around.
The highlight of this trail is a mud bog by the timberline. If you wish to play here, I highly suggest having good recovery gear. Even with our narrow Super Swamper tyres, there was no bottom on this mud hole to find. RedRover quickly sunk down to the bumper (and we have 34" tyres!). Anyone that wanted to try got three attempts. Though it was fun playing in a mud hole in Colorado, I'd love to show them the mud we play in in New Jersey...but that's another story.
Allow 6-8 hours for this trail, depending on how long you play in the mud.
The Tabor Opera House, once billed the finest theatre between St. Louis and San Francisco, was opened in 1879. The 3-story stone, brick and iron building cost $40,000 to built, making it one of the most costly structures in Colorado history. Leadville, sitting at 10,430 feet above sea level did not have such materials needed for construction. All the material had to be hauled over the high mountain passes by mule and wagon...a very tedious and expensive task. The Opera House was built in an incredible 100 days!
Tabor's life became one of the greatest scandals of the time, when he left his wife to marry Elizabeth Bonduel McCourt Doe (Baby Doe). The repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1893 spelled ruin for Horace Tabor and many others who profited from the mining riches of the area. He lost his fortune, including the opera house. Now destitute, Tabor died penniless and Baby Doe froze to death in the small shack at the Matchless Mine.
Many well known personalities performed on this stage, including: Harry Houdini, John Philip Sousa, Oscar Wilde and Anna Held. The Opera House has been beautifully preserved for visitors to come and experience the granduer left from this once booming town.
Located southwest of Leadville, this trail leads up to an elevation of 12,800 feet, from open plains and numerous creek crossings and ends at the hisotirc Iron Mike Mine.
This 9 mile trail is moderate in difficulty, and I suggest a high clearance SUV with low gearing. At the time we passed through, the water level at the creek crossing were low, but be prepared for water over your hood during the spring thaws.
The trail begins in the open Arkansas Valley, then winds through the forest, following Halfmoon Creek. You will pass many camping areas and hiking trailheads before the ride gets interesting. Shortly after the Mt. Massive and Colorado Trailhead, the climb gets steeper and rockier.
From here, Halfmoon stays right at the first fork and soon crosses the creek. It continues to climbs to 12,800, well above the treeline and up to Iron Mike Mine, where it deadends.
One creek crossing has a challenging climb out, as the exit is steep with large boulders. Careful tyre placement and sliders are a great idea for this obstacle.
Allow 4-5 hours to complete the trail and take in the awesome viewpoints. An optional side trail will take you up to the historic Champion Mill. There was plenty of snow still lingering along the trail at the end of July, and it did snow on us on July 29, 2009 when we reached the mill.
This 12.7 mile trail begins at the historic Camp Hale and quickly climbs to 11,900 feet!
About 17 miles northwest of Leadville, Colorado on Highway 24, this is one of the numerous trails that begin in the Camp Hale district. Camp Hale was established in 1942 for military severe weather survival and rescue operations.
This moderate level trail would be best traversed with SUVs having high ground clearance and low-range gearing. From the south side, prepare for six miles straight of a 15-25% incline as you quickly climb to beautiful panoramic views of Gore Range and Sawatch Mountains.
Allow 2-3 hours for this trail...not including time for photographic spots like Resolution Mountain and views of Mt. Holy Cross.
On the corner of Harrison Avenue and 10th, the Healy House Museum and Dexter Cabin stand to reflect the wealth of the era. In 1879, James V. Dexter's, a successful mining investor, lived on this property in a log cabin. This little cabin was actually lavish, filled with collectibles and reflecting the riches of the mining industry. Dexter's Cabin still stands here, restored for visitors.
The Greek revival house, now called Healy House, was built in 1878 by August Meyer for his bride, Emma. In 1893, the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act ended the booming economy, and many of Leadville's wealthiest became destitute. Meyers house then became a boarding house, home to some 21 people by the year 1900. Dan Healy was a boarder at the house with his cousin, Nellie, who taught school.
The Colorado Historical Society has restored the house and the adjacent Dexter's Cabin, to reflect the lifestyle in the booming silver-mining town. The Healy House is furnished in period and includes many items once owned by Horace and "Baby" Doe Tabor, local silver-boom royalty turned rags.
In 1970, the Healy House and Dexter Cabin were added to the National Register of Historic Places for their architectural significance. The Society has also restored the gardens in honor of Emma Meyer, complete with native plants, idetified for educational purposes. Visitors can stroll through the gardens and visit the House and Cabin during its operating season.
Season is May through October. Individual, group and school tours available. Admission is:
Seniors (65+): $5.50
Children (6 -16): $4.50
Children (under 6): Free
Colorado Historical Society members: Free
New-Englanders Horace and Augusta Tabor came to Leadville after trying dirt-farming in Kansas. Tabor opened a grocery store, became mayor, made millions in silver mining, Colorado's lieutenant governor and was known across the country for "his extravagances". One of his contributions to Leadville was this magnificent opera house, built in 100 days, in spite of having to haul in most of the construction materials by wagons. At the time it was acclaimed the "largest and best west of the Mississippi."
Our daughters enjoyed prancing across the opera house stage - too young to appreciate the fact that they were following the footpaths as such illustrious performers as Houdini, John Philip Sousa and Oscar Wilde.
Horace and Augusta Tabor lived in this home (not in its original location) until 1880 when Horace began a clandestine affair with Elizabeth Bonduel McCourt Doe. Later that year, Tabor divorced his wife and married Baby Doe, (a national scandal) only to find that his divorce from Augusta was not legal. Well - Augusta "took Horace to the cleaners" as we are prone to say, and split for California with a huge fortune.
Their home is restored and open to the public.
The rest of the story: Horace Tabor's fortunes turned around after his scandalous divorce, and Cogress's repeal of the Sherman Silver Act, which caused silver prices to plummet. Tabor found himself doing manual labor for $3 a day, but he convinced Baby Doe to hold on to the mine, believing that it would make her rich again. In 1935, a destitute Baby Doe was found frozen to death in the cabin seen on the left side of the picture.
The whole saga of Horace, Augusta and Baby Doe is hauntingly told in Douglas Moore's opera, "The Ballad of Baby Doe." I have seen this production twice performed by the Lyric Opera of Kansas City and recommend it to you if you have an opportunity to see a production of this work.
See the historic downtown, and have a look at its 19th century Victorian architecture. Leadville has a lot to see, right here. There are a number of small shops and quaint restaurants. And the whole area is very walkable.
Located inside the old Carnegie Library, the Heritage Museum tells the story of mining in this old town. It also has a replica of the Ice Palace. In the 19th century, during a long, hard winter, this amazing structure was built entirely of ice. Another feature is an exhibit on the US Army's 10th Mountain Division.
HEALY HOUSE MUSEUM AND DEXTER CABIN
Dexter cabin’s rustic outside belies an inside of embossed wallpaper made to look like fashionable metal patterned walls and ceilings. Although plumbing is outdoors, the indoor bathroom’s tin tub is luxuriously surrounded by rich wood. Dexter imported walnut and oak flooring, alternated to make classy patterns of dark and light stripes.
Since early Leadville was rough and ready, Dexter came up from his home in Denver without his wife and twin daughters. The Dexter Cabin was an exclusive poker club for wealthy gentlemen.
The Victorian Healy house, originally two stories, was built in 1878 for August and Emma Meyer. August helped lay out Leadville in 1879, and, in partnership with Edwin Harrison of the St. Louis Smelting and Refining Company, opened the first ore sampler and smelting works in Leadville. Sold in 1881, the house eventually became the property of Daniel Healy, who leased it as a boardinghouse from 1897 to 1902. In 1898 a third story was added to accommodate more boarders, most of them schoolteachers.