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For men looking to make money in the rough-and-tumble late-1800s mining towns of Colorado, merely surviving each day was a challenge. But for a young woman looking to make a living in the mountains—in the wake of public humiliation, extreme poverty, and spiritual desolation—that makes for one harrowing story.
In her newest novel, The Silver Baron’s Wife, set to be released on September 15, award-winning author Donna Baier Stein details the life of Lizzie “Baby Doe” Tabor, as she navigates a confounding series of social, economic, and romantic obstacles in the Colorado town of Leadville. Although the story is a fictional memoir, it includes some of Lizzie’s original dream journal entries and is based on careful research of her one-of-a-kind life.
Lizzie was perhaps most famous in Colorado lore as the wife of silver magnate Horace Tabor, a millionaire 30 years her senior. But as Baier Stein depicts, her intersection with the baron is only part of her story.
As a young woman, Lizzie finds herself satisfied and optimistic in the arms of her husband, Harvey Doe. But when he suffers a severe injury in a mining accident, Doe searches for comfort in drugs and alcohol, and eventually in the arms of a young woman at a Leadville brothel. Having already defied social convention by working in the silver mines to support herself and her injured husband, Lizzie then takes another bold step by divorcing him. From there, Lizzie’s roller-coaster life truly takes off.
Thematically, The Silver Baron’s Wife paints a stirring picture of the harsh realities of loneliness and loss, within the framework of Lizzie’s constant battle to hold tight to her Catholic faith. Baier Stein makes up for sometimes-stiff dialogue by portraying some of the raw emotions conjured by sex, parenting, hopelessness, and desperation. It’s in describing Lizzie’s toughest moments that the emotional bent of Baier Stein, who has published books and anthologies in poetry, comes out: “Father Bonduel had told me all the miracles Jesus had brought to pass: changing water into wine, healing a leper, calming a storm,” Lizzie wonders midway through the novel. “Was I really such a sinner that He couldn’t perform a miracle for me?”
Sinner, saint, or anything in between, Lizzie’s journey is one worth following—or, perhaps, clinging onto for dear life.
The Silver Baron’s Wife is published by Serving House Books; $14.95 as paperback, $4.99 as eBook