Mabel Barbee (Lee) 1902
Freshman at Colorado College
Photo by Emery
Book List & TV Appearance
Site Notes


Mabel Barbee Lee

Mabel Barbee Lee grew up in Cripple Creek during the gold rush boom town days of the 1890's-1900's, went to Colorado College and was Lowell Thomas' tenth grade history and spanish teacher during the 1906-07 school year. In 1908 at the age of twenty-four, she married Howard "Howe" S. Lee and had a daughter named Barbara. In 1918 after Howe's death from influenza, Mabel resumed her career in teaching. She began writing after retirement and had the first of her five books published at the age of 74. Her books include Cripple Creek Days and Back in Cripple Creek.


Mabel "Mabs" Barbee (Lee) was born in Silver Reef, Utah April 11, 1884. Mabel had a younger sister, Nina, who died in infancy from an accidental drowning and also had a brother, William Johnson Barbee, born in March 1893. Her parents, Johnson (John) R. Barbee (1843-1905) and Kate "Kitty" (1861-1904), were married in Silver Reef. John Barbee served four years in the Confederate army and after their defeat went west to start a new life. After John Barbee had staked out a moderately successful silver claim in Silver Reef, Utah, he met and married Kitty, a homemaker, who was twenty years younger.

By the summer of 1892, John Barbee's mine in Silver Reef had stopped producing and about this same time he heard about the gold strike in Cripple Creek, Colorado. Soon after hearing of the gold strike in Cripple Creek, John Barbee sent his wife and Mabel east to to live with his brother Graham's family in Kansas City while he went to Cripple Creek to look for a claim and place to stay for his family.

In October 1892 at the age of eight, Mabel arrived in Cripple Creek with her mother after a train trip from Kansas City to Florence, Colorado and from Florence to Cripple Creek by stage coach. They spent their first night at the elegant Continental Hotel on Meyers Avenue, which was later torn down in 1919. The Barbee family then lived in a tent for about a year, during which time her brother William was born, until John Barbee bought a four-room house on West Golden Avenue. The home was destroyed in the second Cripple Creek fire on April 29, 1896. The Barbee family then moved into a fire victim relief tent sent by W. S. Stratton until John Barbee was able to rebuild their home on West Golden Avenue.

Mabel attended three years of High School at Cripple Creek and spent her senior year at Cutler Academy in Colorado Springs, graduating in the spring of 1902. Mabel attended Cutler Academy because her father had sold his Cripple Creek Columbia mine and had decided to move with his wife and son back to Silver Reef, Utah. Upon the Barbee's return to Silver Reef, they discovered it to be an abandoned mining town so they returned to Cripple Creek the following year.

In the fall of 1902, Mabel enrolled at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, graduating in the spring of 1906. While in college both of Mabel's parents died; her mother from pneumonia in 1904 and her father in his sleep in 1905. Mabel's brother, William, was sent to live with his mother's parents in Salt Lake City after her death. Mabel's college expenses were covered partly by her parents, partly by summer jobs, partly by a scholarship and during her senior year after her parents had died by $150 donated from the residents of Cripple Creek, sent at the rate of $15 a month by Griff Lewis, a druggist in Cripple Creek. Mabel writes in Cripple Creek Days that without the extra $15 a month she would not have had enough funds to attend her senior year and graduate from Colorado College. 1

Mabel had only agreed to accept the fifteen dollars a month from Griff Lewis on the condition that it be considered a loan to be repaid as soon as possible after her graduation. When Mabel attempted to repay Griff Lewis the $150 she had received he refused indicating the money had been donated by the residents of Cripple Creek and Victor into a large glass fishbowl labeled "For John's Girl" in his Pharmacy window and that every month he had only mailed the money to her. 2

After graduation in 1906, Mabel accepted a teaching position at Victor High School. She then sent for her brother and arranged for him to live and go to school in Colorado Springs. That fall, her first teaching, she became the tenth grade teacher of history and spanish for famous broadcaster Lowell Thomas, who years would later write the introductions to her biographical history books of the Cripple Creek Victor area titled Cripple Creek Days and a follow-up titled Return to Cripple Creek.

In 1908 at the age of twenty-four, she married a mining engineer she had met while teaching at Victor High School named Howard "Howe" S. Lee at his home in Denver. Mabel moved with Howe while he briefly worked at the Camp Bird Mine located between Ouray and Telluride, Colorado until Howe accepted a field engineering position with United States Smelting, Refining & Mining Co. headquartered in Boston. Mabel then moved to Los Angeles while Howe traveled on company business. Within a year, Mabel moved to Oregon in July 1911 to be with Howe when he was promoted to head the Rainbow Mine, about twenty-five miles west of Huntington. In 1912, while living in Oregon, Mabel travelled to Denver to give birth to their daughter, Barbara Lee on May 26th (d.11/11/1986 Marin Co. CA). After four years at the Rainbow mine, Howe had short term positions at other company mines in Alaska, Canada and Mexico. Around 1915, Howe began working at the Fryer Hill mines near Leadville, Colorado and in 1918 was sent on an inspection trip to the Sunnyside mine near Silverton, Colorado where he caught influenza in an epidemic that was sweeping the area and died.

After Howe's death, Mabel came back to Colorado with her daughter Barbara and became Dean of Women at her alma mater, Colorado College in Colorado Springs from 1922 to 1929. In April 1930, she had an article titled Censoring The Conduct of College Women published in Atlantic Monthly magazine and in 1931 became an administrator involved in the founding of Bennington College in Vermont. Mabel later became an administrator with Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington and the University of California at Berkeley.

In 1951 after retiring from a career in education at the age of 67, she went back to the Cripple Creek/Victor area during the summer of 1952, partly at the urging of Lowell Thomas, with the idea of writing a book about her memories growing up in the area during the gold rush boom town days and the result was Cripple Creek Days published in 1958 which was followed by four more books including a book about the 1952 visit titled Back in Cripple Creek.

Mabel Barbee Lee's correspondence with Lowell Thomas is housed at the Tutt Library at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Mabel Barbee Lee died at the age of 94 on December 12, 1979 in a nursing home in Santa Barbara, California and was buried beside her parents in the Mount Pisgah Cemetery in Cripple Creek, Colorado. The primary sources for this biography were two of the auto biographical books Mabel Barbee Lee wrote; the first Cripple Creek Days and second Back in Cripple Creek.

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Book List

Cripple Creek Days - 1958, reprinted 1984
(About Gold rush period in Cripple Creek/Victor area, Lowell Thomas wrote forward)

And Suddenly It's Evening - 1963

The Rainbow Years - 1966
(About four years spent at Rainbow mine in Oregon with Howard Lee including birth of daughter Barbara Lee)

Back in Cripple Creek - 1968
(About going back to Cripple Creek/Victor area in 1952 to research Cripple Creek Days book, Lowell Thomas wrote forward)

The Gardens in My Life - 1970

Television Appearance

This is Your Life - Appeared as guest when host Ralph Edwards profiled Lowell Thomas' life September 30, 1959

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Voices of the Past - Mabel Barbee Lee appears in this 1966 video about Cripple Creek - You Tube.
Mabel Barbee Lee - Wikipedia Encyclopedia.
Mabel Barbee Lee - This Is Your Life Lowell Thomas show appearance information - IMDB.
Mabel Barbee Lee - Obituary - Find a Grave.
Censoring The Conduct of College Women - Mabel Barbee Lee article published April 1930 in Atlantic Monthly Magazine.
Cripple Creek - World's Greatest Gold Camp - Historic information about Cripple Creek - Legends of America website.

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WebPost Footnotes:
1 - p.225-226 Cripple Creek Days. Back
2 - p.229-233 Cripple Creek Days. Back

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Version 1.0  W.A. Haugen
Last Modified: November 9, 2013.
Origination date of page July 12, 2008.
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