The Silver Baron’s Wife
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Awards, Praise & Interviews
PEN New England Discovery Award
Foreword Reviews 2017 Best Book of the Year - Bronze Winner, General Fiction and Finalist, Historical Fiction
CIPA EVVY Awards, 2nd place Historical Fiction
Paterson Prize for Fiction, Finalist
Peacemakers Award for First Novel, Finalist
Western Fictioneers, Finalist
Will Rogers Medallion Award, Western Romance, 3rd place
"Baier Stein artfully intertwines her story with some of the real-life Lizzie’s own journal writings, and the author pays tribute to her protagonist by emulating and maintaining the tone of these entries. In doing so, she authentically constructs a complex, compassionate character whose actions readers will support and celebrate. Lizzie’s choices, especially when she ends a doomed marriage, help to show her as a woman who was ahead of her time and worthy of admiration. The book is well-researched in every facet...An artistic, sympathetic imagining of the life of a 19th-century woman who made headlines for all the wrong reasons."
—Kirkus Reviews (full review here)
A unique portrait of a time and place populated by fearless people, this reimagination of an uncommon woman is powerful.
--Foreword Reviews 5 stars (full review here)
In this eloquent novel, Stein portrays the independent, eccentric, and resilient woman known as Baby Doe, a legendary figure from Colorado’s silver boom. Elizabeth “Lizzie” McCourt Doe is a renowned beauty who moved from Wisconsin to Colorado in the 1870s so that her husband, Harvey Doe, could work in the silver mine that they partially owned. Confronted with his addictions and womanizing, Lizzie divorces Harvey. He heads home to Wisconsin, but she stays in Colorado out of shame and embarrassment. What later begins as an affair with Horace Tabor, a married silver magnate 30 years her senior, eventually turns into a loving marriage with two daughters. Though they are tremendously wealthy, the couple is shunned socially, and a financial crisis soon wipes out their fortune. As Lizzie’s problems mount, she becomes reclusive, living alone in a cabin with her visions—holy images and complex dreams from her past, revealed to readers in a lyrical, meditative voice. Stein’s blend of love story, scandal, and mystical experience is satisfying and entertaining.
--Publishers Weekly BookLife (full review here)
"An immensely readable novel"
—Women's Voices for Change (full review here)
Baier Stein does a wonderful job of entwining the factual and fictional into a tale with as many peaks and valleys as the life of Baby Doe. It’s very obvious that the author did copious amounts of research into the lives of the Tabors, and into the lives of people in Denver, Central City, and Leadville in the late 19th century. There is so much fact written into the book, that it reads much like a biography. Only it holds so many personal feelings, intent, and love that can only come from fiction. It's beautifully written.
--Pop Culture Beast Reviews (read full review here)
Barbara Keer, Splash Magazines"Award-winning literary novelist Donna Baier Stein has just published a moving and powerful portrait of a controversial and memorable character well-known here in Leadville, but little-known at lesser altitudes. Baier Stein brings respect and restraint to this story of a scandalous love affair, keeping her story firmly rooted in a real woman’s battle to live her life on her own terms. The author clearly researched her subject and the period deeply and rigorously, and as a reader who loves historical fiction, history and biography, I greatly admire the author’s skill in creating a vivid and memorable character while honoring the historical record and the oral traditions surrounding Baby Doe that still echo around town. I wholeheartedly recommend this beautifully written book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction."
—Herald Democrat, Leadville, CO
"In her engaging and well-written biography, The Silver Baron's Wife, Donna Baier Stein takes a sympathetic look at Lizzie Doe, and how she became the much-maligned and tragic figure called Baby Doe Tabor. At the same time, Stein reveals the hard-rock life of mining during the booming years of discovery in the Rocky Mountains. This author is kinder to Lizzie Doe than many have been, finding empathy and compassion for the choices she made. The Silver Baron's Wife draws us into the Victorian society of Denver and the barely civilized mining towns providing much of Denver's wealth, while taking another look at one of the city's most famous families. It's a fascinating read."
—Susan Schoch, Story Circle
"Donna Baier Stein's The Silver Baron's Wife is a fresh take on the much-recounted rags-to-riches-to-rags story of Lizzie "Baby Doe" Tabor. Stein has clearly done her research and knows she's retracing some pretty well-covered ground, but she manages to transform Baby Doe from her usual role as canny bimbo to a kind of proto-feminist, fiercely striving to make her way in a man's world."
—Alan Prendergast, Westword
"Four out of Five Stars! Donna Baier Stein's rags to riches to rags story is very compelling, inspiring, and ultimately sad. The author chose to write the novel as fiction using much research including personal notes from Baby Doe Tabor herself and other sources. I found this style actually brought Baby Doe Tabor to life better than if it had been written as nonfiction. She should not be forgotten and Donna Baier Stein has made sure of that."
—Veronica, Booknutter Book Reviews
"I just loved the way the author writes. I could not stop reading this book. I have become a fan of author, Donna Baier Stein and gladly look forward to reading more books from this author. The Silver's Baron's Wife strikes gold! A treasure of a read."
—Cheryl's Book Nook
"Mining Dreams: A Life of Extremes." Q&A with Donna Baier Stein
Bloom (full interview here)
The Rumpus (full interview here)
Women and Children First Bookstore – A Tale of Two Authors
Village and Town TV (tk)
Denver TV (tk)
International Womens' Writing Guild Digital Village Launch (tk)
The Silver Baron’s Wife traces the rags-to-riches-to-rags life of Colorado’s Baby Doe Tabor (Lizzie). This fascinating heroine worked in the silver mines and had two scandalous marriages, one to a philandering opium addict and one to a Senator and silver baron worth $24 million in the late 19th century. A divorcée shunned by Denver society, Lizzie raised two daughters in a villa where 100 peacocks roamed the lawns, entertained Sarah Bernhardt when the actress performed at Tabor’s Opera House, and after her second husband’s death, moved to a one-room shack at the Matchless Mine in Leadville. She lived the last 35 years of her life there, writing down thousands of her dreams and noting visitations of spirits on her calendar. Hers is the tale of a fiercely independent woman who bucked all social expectations.
I push open the door to the cabin. I know she’s here, my long-dead Mama, even if I can’t see her. She’s the warmth I feel at the base of my spine, the sense of her hand almost brushing my shoulder. Mama’s spirit always hangs nearby. There, by the bed with its snarl of gray blankets.
I shake snow off my heavy cloak and hang my hat on a hook by the door. I’ve been sick all week now, and the steep walk up Fryer Hill has tired me more than usual. Today I had to make my way through high, white drifts of snow. I slipped and fell, at times even had to go down on hands and knees. God bless Mr. Zaitz for driving me and my few groceries at least part way, to our usual getting-off place, the curve at the end of Seventh Street. I’m 81, usually strong, except lately I’ve felt a terrible weariness I cannot shake. When I lean against the cabin wall to pull off my work boots and the sheets of newspaper stuck inside them for warmth, I stop to catch my breath.
Afraid to really look toward my bed and its iron headpiece in the shape of an egg. I’m afraid I’ll see the spirit of my mother and afraid that I won’t.
I empty the gunnysack. There’s turpentine and lard to clear my chest, stinging nettle to help me breathe, eight new brown eggs, thin slices of salt beef, pale yellow corn meal, and Colorado wheat flour. I put the eggs in a mix of coarse salt and un-slacked limes so they’ll keep fresh and sweet.
I know this storm will last a good long while, and outside, in spots, snow has already drifted higher than my small frame.
I asked Mr. Zaitz’s boy Teddy, the one whose green eyes narrow in scorn whenever we cross paths in town, to haul up, no later than tomorrow, the remainder of my supplies. The love of my life, one of the wealthiest men in this country, set that boy’s grandfather up in business nearly forty years ago. Sometimes, when I see how shamed Mr. Zaitz is by his son’s behavior, I want to speak.
Mr. Zaitz whispers, “That’s Mrs. Tabor, Teddy. Don’t be impolite.”
The boy pretends not to hear.
Sometimes I wonder if anyone remembers anymore.
I push aside a jar of green tomato ketchup, knocking over a tall canister. The opened canister releases the smell of sage. I breathe deeply then drop snow into an iron kettle, clean handfuls of the white powder I stuck in my pocket as I neared the cabin. As I bend to stir the fire, I hear, or think I hear, the sigh of the canvas curtain behind my bed.
With one hand tucked in the small of my back for support, I turn.
Two calendars from Zaitz’s swing from wood screws on the far wall— one from this year and one from last. A dome-topped trunk stands sentinel at the foot of the bed.
I force myself to stare without expectation. The gray blankets and pale sheets don’t stir. But from the corner of my eye, did I catch the rocker moving? So slightly I could not be sure but so vividly I could not doubt?
“Is that you, Mama?” My heart cries out for her to answer.
I turn back to see the water in the kettle begin to bubble. This is the way creation happens. An untouched surface, chaos disrupting, and change. Some primal substance that is different but the same as what was before.
I drop the wrinkled leaves of sage into a china cup I’ve saved, as best as one can save a memory, a fragile physical thing. A whiskery brown crack runs from its lip to base.
I take the cup in both hands and walk toward the dome-topped trunk. I kneel, set the cup on the floor, finger the brass button nails, leather straps, and lock bearing the raised image of a hawk.
If only the Zaitz boy could see what lies under this hawk’s care: the Belgian lace baby caps and English silver tea set, my love’s porcelain shaving mug, the ermine collars and cuffs of my opera coat.
To my left, I see the rocker. It does seem to move, almost invisibly but still as though it is something alive, wanting to speak to me. I know they are already here, Mama and others like her, waiting for our eyes to see and ears to hear, waiting for the mind of the world to open.
I’ve marked their visits on Zaitz’s calendars:
I saw the spirit of Lily Langtry today, gold and pink on blue snow.
I saw the younger of my daughters, Silver Dollar, astride a big red, gold horse. So big it was, as big as four or five normal horses.
Leaving the trunk open, I raise myself with difficulty and look to the window behind my bed. The glass ripples within the pane, and beyond, snow still falls.
“If you’re in the rocker, Mama, I wish you would show me.”
Why should she begrudge me now? When I am so tired, and it is so cold, and I have tried so hard for so long. I sit in the rocker, almost taunting it. There’s a Bible underneath its seat slats, and I pull it to my lap then open it to read:
Out of heaven he made thee to hear his voice, that he might instruct thee: and upon earth he showed thee his great fire.
I close my eyes and remember.