More than 130 years from Discovery to Designation as a National Historic Place
The Beginning 1878
On Monday July 8, 1878 the Matchless Claim was recorded by a consortium of 8 prospectors.
Early Unsuccessful Exploration 1879
A group of Leadville investors bought out the original locators, and between March and September of 1879, they sank 4 shafts on the southern third of the Matchless Claim to prospect for bonanza ore that had been found to the west on the Dunkin Claim. Only a small amount of ore was found in one shaft, the “discovery,” and it was quickly depleted. The Matchless looked like a dud with no ore.
Tabor Acquisition 1879 to 1880
In the fall of 1879, discovery of Bonanza silver ore in the Robert E. Lee adjoining the Matchless to the east encouraged Horace Tabor (Lieutenant Governor of Colorado and living in Denver) to take a risk and begin acquiring the Matchless. It took almost a year, August 30, 1879 to July 17, 1880, to complete the purchase.
The total cost of the transactions from Lake County records was $77,850 ($19,800,000 in 2013 dollars). Unlike most of the mines of Fryer Hill, the Matchless was not capitalized and was owned solely by Horace Tabor.
Prospecting and Bonanza Discovery 1880
In September of 1880, Lou Leonard was appointed manager and Thomas Smithern superintendent; they began sinking the Leonard shaft located on the southeast corner of the Matchless Claim. On November 17, 1880, bonanza silver ore was encountered in a drift on the 150 foot level, 43 feet east of the shaft. The ore was described as 10 feet thick running 1434 ounces of silver per ton, a gross value of $57,300 per ton (2011 silver price). In addition to the Leonard, the Matchless No.2, and No.3 shafts were sunk to produce ore discovered north of the Leonard Shaft.
Bonanza Production 1880 to 1883
The Matchless was a private company, and unlike a public company there was no public reporting of production, so secondary sources must be relied on for production figures. U.S.G.S. Monograph 12 by Emmons reported gross production of the Matchless to the end of 1883 to be $1,900,000 ($484,000,000 in 2013 dollars).
Depletion of Bonanza Ore and Decline of Production 1884 to 1886
In 1884, the Leadville Chronicle wrote: “nine-tenths of the high grade ore in Fryer Hill has been mined.” During 1885, the Matchless was reported to have had earnings of $120,000 ($26,000,000 in 2013 dollars) and typical ore had a gross value of $10 to $30 per ton (Griswold p. 1831). After 1885, the Matchless was no longer profitable enough to work directly by Tabor and was let to lessees. During 1886, lessees produced $75,000 ($19,000,000 in 2013 dollars) (Griswold p. 1850).
Mortgaging Assets in 1886 and 1887
Because of depletion of the bonanza ore, Horace Tabor's large income from Leadville investments, including the Matchless, declined. In 1887, the Dunn Report (a financial rating agency) stated that it could not evaluate the loan risk of Tabor Companies because “the companies investments make it difficult to rate satisfactorily.” Unlike sound early investments, Horace Tabor's new investments through Tabor Real Estate and other companies were risky, speculative, and lost money. In order to raise cash, all of his Denver real estate assets were mortgaged for 5 years in February of 1886. The Matchless was mortgaged in 1887.
Exploration of the North end of the Matchless in 1888
In 1888, the No. 5 Shaft was sunk to explore the northern part of the Matchless Claim. A drift to the south and west from the No. 5 discovered ore in the area of what is now the No. 6 Shaft. The No. 6, located next to the cabin, was sunk to produce ore from that discovery. The ore discovered was not bonanza grade, running from only 10 to 30 oz silver per ton.
Lessees and Litigation 1887 to 1899
Beginning in 1887, and until Horace Tabor's death in 1899, the Matchless was the subject of litigation brought by creditors and lessees. The Matchless was also transferred to two capital companies: The Matchless Mining Co. in 1888 then Tabor Mines and Mills in 1892. These were strategies to defer creditors and no stock was ever sold publicly.
Loss at Sheriffs Sale and Repurchase 1901 to 1902
On January 27, 1901, Herman Powell purchased the Matchless Mine at a sheriffs sale to satisfy a $24,896.99 ($5,710,000 in 2013 dollars) debt against Tabor Mines and Mills. The Matchless was purchased from Herman Powell for $30,000 on February 13, 1902 by Claudia McCabe, youngest sister of Elizabeth Tabor (Baby Doe).
More Lessees, Mortgages, and Litigation 1902 through 1928
According to H.C. Butler, editor of the Herald Democrat, the Matchless was operated by a dozen lessees from 1902 to 1920. Production during this time was variously described as iron silver ore, zinc ore, and manganese silver ore. Production records are not available for this time but the Engineering and Mining Journal noted that the mine was shipping regularly in 1917. In 1920 the Colorado Bureau of Mines reported that the Matchless was operated part of the year, shipping manganese silver ore. During this time there was also litigation with lessees as well as creditors.
Shorego Mining Purchase, Baby Doe Allowed to Remain 1928 to 1930
The Matchless was purchased by Shorego Mining at a sheriff’s sale on July 7, 1928. J.K. Mullen, famed businessman and philanthropist and founder of Colorado Milling and Elevator Company, was a principle in Shorego. According to the Engineering Mining Journal (v. 126, 1928), Shorego purchased the Matchless with the intent of returning it to Elizabeth Tabor (Baby Doe). Shorego allowed Elizabeth Tabor (then 74) to live in the cabin after foreclosure.
The last operations at the Matchless are thought to have been in 1930 when a small crew performed limited work on the mine (Griswold p. 2225). Lake County records show that Matchless machinery was sold to Guilda Swift by Elizabeth Tabor (Baby Doe) on October 4, 1930.
Elizabeth Tabor (Baby Doe) Lives and Dies at the Cabin 1930 to 1935
During this time Elizabeth lived in the cabin at the mine until her death at age 81. Her frozen body was found in the cabin on March 7, 1935. The cause of death was listed on the death certificate as heart failure (Judge Neil Reynolds, oral communication 2012).
Leadville Assembly 1988
Shorego Mining transferred the Matchless Claim to the Leadville Assembly, a non-profit organization that ran tours of the site for the public.
National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum 2006
The Leadville Assembly transferred the Matchless Claim to the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum.
National Register of Historic Places December 28, 2010.
The Matchless Mine site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.