The old adage, “Truth is stranger than fiction,” finds exemplification in this, the most famous of the men who crossed the plains in 1859 and became the pioneers in the development of the mining resources of Colorado. For years newspapers chronicled his successes, reporters wrote glowing descriptions of his triumphs in this modern El Dorado, and people, both in this country and throughout the entire civilized world, were attracted by the spectacle of a man who rose by such rapid bounds to the pinnacle of fortune and under whose leadership, like that of Midas of old, every path became a road to fortune.
The record of the life of such a man has more than temporary or local interest, and it will therefore be the biographer’s effort to present it in full, so that the reader may understand the circumstances and characteristics that contributed to his success. Horace A. W. Tabor was born in Orleans County, Vt., November 26, 1830, and in early life acquired habits of industry and perseverance. His parents being poor, he had meagre educational advantages and was forced to supply by observation and experience the knowledge that most boys gain in school. In youth he learned the trade of a stonecutter, which he followed in Vermont until twenty-five years of age. In 1853 he came west as far as Kansas, where he settled upon a farm. While he failed to gain financial success there, he gained a position of prominence among the Free Soil party, and when Kansas became a state he was elected a member of the Topeka legislature in 1857, but that body was dispersed by Federal troops, acting on the orders of the war department.
His experience in Kansas offered little inducement to Mr. Tabor to remain there, and when rumors of the discovery of gold in Colorado reached him he resolved to join the Argonauts westward bound. He spent the winter of 1859-60 in Denver, and in the spring started for California Gulch (now Leadville), he and his wife making the trip in a “prairie schooner” drawn by oxen, After six weeks of travel he reached his destination in April, and at once began prospecting and mining. The mining camp was then in the zenith of its prosperity and when the season was over he had $5,000, a fair fortune, as it seemed to him then. When cold weather rendered mining impossible, he opened a grocery store, but in the spring resumed mining, and at the end of his second season he had a total sum of $15,000. In 1865 he sold out his mine and moved to the Buckskin Joe district, in Park County, where was then a booming camp, but is now a wilderness. He opened a store there and also served as postmaster. When the Printer Boy mine was discovered in California Gulch, in 1868, he moved back there and opened a store at Oro City, also officiated as postmaster. For a long time his life was only ordinarily successful, but in the spring of 1879 the tide of fortune changed.
In Fairplay, Park County, were two shoemakers, August Rische and George T. Hook, who, being poor, applied to Mr. Tabor for assistance in their search for carbonates. Mr. Tabor had always been kind and accommodating, as many a poor miner knew, and he generously aided these two men. They went to the apex of Fryer Hill and began digging late in April. Many laughed at their credulity in imagining any hidden wealth there, but they worked patiently, undisturbed by ridicule or sneers. Early in May, at a depth of twenty-six feet, they struck a vein and discovered what has since been famous as the Little Pittsburg mine. During the first half of July the yield from the mine was $8,000 a week, and soon the mine was producing seventy-five to one hundred tons of ore daily. The three partners purchased neighboring claims. In September Mr. Hook, who had gained a fortune from the intermediate sale of ore, sold his interest to his associates for $90,000, and soon Mr. Rische disposed of his interest to J. B. Chaffee and David H. Moffat for $262,500. In November the New Discovery, Little Pittsburg, Dives and Winnemuc properties were merged into the Little Pittsburg Consolidated Company, with a capital of $20,000,000, and the production of the mines from the spring of 1878 until April 1, 1880, was $2,697,534.91 for receipts of ore sold, and $4,246,239.81, actual yield. Afterward Mr. Tabor sold his interest to his partners for $1,000,000.
Meantime the other interests owned by Mr. Tabor became important and extensive. He bought about one-half of the stock of the First National Bank of Denver, purchased the Matchless mine at Leadville, and bought a one-fourth interest in the mines of Borden, Tabor & Co., the receipts from which were $100,000 a month. In company with Marshall Field, of Chicago, he acquired possessions that yielded millions. The Matchless, which he bought for $117,000, yielded him a net income of $2,000 a day, and for a time its returns amounted to $100,000 a month. He owned the Alaska, Adelphi, Acapulco and Victory mines in the San Juan country, and was the sole owner of the Red Rogers and the Saxon. He bought interests in mines in Arizona, New and Old Mexico, and became the wealthiest man in the state. No other man in the state has ever made money so rapidly. It seems almost as if everything he touched turned into gold, and the reports of his phenomenal career spread all over the world.
It has been said that no man in the state made money so rapidly as Mr. Tabor. With equal truth it may he said that no man did more for the upbuilding of the state. He did not remove to foreign lands, there to dazzle nobles and royalty with his wealth, but devoted it to the advance merit of his state. He was especially interested in the growth of Denver. February 1, 1879, he purchased the Broadwell corner, on Sixteenth and Larimer streets, for $30,000, and at the same time paid $40,000 for a block of ground and a residence on Broadway. In the spring of 1880 he built the Tabor block, of sandstone cut at Clough’s quarries in Ohio. March 8, 1880, he bought the corner of Sixteenth and Curtis streets, and at once made preparations for the building of an opera house to equal or surpass the finest in the country. A Chicago firm was employed to draw the plans, with instructions to visit the best theatres in America and Europe and erect a building that would be above criticism in every respect. How well the contractors succeeded all residents of Denver know. September 5, 1881, the house was formally opened to the public by Emma Abbott’s opera company. He purchased the corner of Arapahoe and Sixteenth streets, and offered it to the government as a site for a postoffice, which was afterwards erected there. Other lots he also bought and improved, thus adding to the prosperity of Denver. He was also interested in Leadville, of which he was the first and second mayor. He built an opera house there, aided in securing the water works and gas works, and was a factor in the securing of the fire department.
In 1878 Mr. Tabor was elected lieutenant-governor of the state. When Henry M. Teller became a member of President Arthur’s cabinet, Mr. Tabor was chosen to fill his unexpired term of thirty days as United States senator. He was a candidate for election to the office, but his opponent, Judge Bowen, was elected by a majority of one vote. As chairman of the state central committee, he conducted the Republican campaign of 1886 with success. In 1891 he was chosen president of the Denver Chamber of Commerce and Board of Trade. His present position as postmaster of Denver was tendered him in 1898. There was a time when his friends hoped to see him elected the chief executive of the state, and had he been chosen for the position undoubtedly he would have done his utmost to advance the welfare of his adopted state.
Although unfortunate investments, the most of them in other states, have deprived Mr. Tabor of almost his entire property, it has not robbed him of the esteem of the people among whom he has lived for so many years. When the last remnant of his property was gone, he was not deserted by his acquaintances. Through the medium of Senator Wolcott, he received the appointment of postmaster; everyone, no matter of what political belief, rejoiced that this honor should be conferred upon one who had done so much for the advancement of the state, and who had, through so many years, been an important factor in the development of its resources.
Source: Portrait and biographical record of Denver and vicinity, Colorado : containing portraits and biographies of many well known citizens of the past and present : together with biographies and portraits of all the presidents of the United States.. Chicago: Chapman Pub. Co., 1898.