During my teens, my family took a road trip through Colorado. We took many road trips over the years, usually ending up somewhere out west.
On this particular trip, we attempted to reach the summit of Pike’s Peak in a 1973 Gran Torino similar to the one driven by Starsky and Hutch, but in an embarrassing shade of green that was far to the other end of the cool spectrum. Like most cars built in the 70s, the Torino’s front end contained enough molded steel to replate the USS Monitor. We called it The Incredible Hulk. My dad drove up the snaking, narrow gravel road at only a couple of miles per hour and, somewhere above the tree line, the incline became so steep that he could no longer see over the hood.
He made the desperate decision to turn around with only two miles left to the peak. There was the sheer rock face of the mountain on one side of the car and very, very thin air on the other. Somehow, he managed to disregard the screams of my mom and jockey the Hulk back and forth, inch by inch, until it was pointing grille-down toward the earth’s surface.
I held such good memories of Buckskin Joe that I decided to return there this summer on my own family tour of the west. (This time I’m the screaming mom.) Imagine my shock and despair when I discovered that the town of Buckskin Joe has not only closed for business but has COMPLETELY VANISHED. O Buckskin Joe, where art thou?
After some investigative reporting, I learned that the entire town–lock, stock and boardwalk–was purchased in 2012 by billionaire William “Wild Bill" Koch. He is known as the eccentric sibling of the energy magnate Koch Brothers (pronounced coke) who happen to own the second largest private company in America. Even though Bill left the company years ago (and subsequently haggled with his family in court over the settlement), he still has plenty of riches to pursue his interests. He famously won the America's Cup the first time he entered in 1992.
|William "Wild Bill" Koch|
So where’s a billionaire gonna keep all his western stuff? In his own western town, of course.
Bill Koch purchased all thirty-some-odd buildings of Buckskin Joe with the intent of housing his massive collection in a living museum setting. The town was dismantled and rebuilt on his 4500-acre Bear Creek Ranch near Paonia, Colorado. Other structures found here and there bring the total to more than fifty historic buildings on the property.
I don’t suppose my family will be driving up to the gate, Griswold style, to gain entrance to Koch’s western wonderland. With 24-hour surveillance and security guards standing by, public visitors are expressly unwelcome. Apparently, only his billionaire friends are allowed to come over and play cowboys and Indians.
Dang, I wonder if the old boy likes to read western books? Hmmm.
Available on Amazon and Smashwords:
|THE SONGBIRD OF SEVILLE|
(2015 SPUR Award Finalist,
Best Short Fiction
|THE GUNFIGHTER'S GIFT|
(2015 PEACEMAKER Award Finalist,
Best Short Fiction)
Thank you for a blog that is informative and entertaining about Buckskin Bill.ReplyDelete
Great to hear from you, Tom. Your reporter tendencies are rubbing off on me!Delete
"Wild Bill, just put the town back, and nobody'll get hurt."ReplyDelete
I remember that town! I can't believe some billionaire just up and made off with the whole dang thing. Actually, I can, and I'm not at all happy about it. Buckskin Joe itself was a part of history.
RIP, BJ. You will be missed.
Unhappy cowgirls here, Mr. Koch. Better listen up.Delete
Agree, very unhappy. Can you say greedy.. put it back so it can be enjoyed by everyone. We were very lucky to have seen BJ..it will never be forgotten.Delete
I am embarrassed to admit they come from my state. They have no concern for anyone but themselves and their own interests.ReplyDelete
JD, if you and I can figure out how to become trillionaires, we can always buy him out.Delete
That is so interesting.ReplyDelete
Thanks for your comment, Caroline. Definitely a story behind a story!Delete
Vonn, I do hope you made it to the top of the peak this time.ReplyDelete
Although I hate that Koch now has the buildings, the owners had been trying to sell it for some time. And although used as a movie set, Karol Smith, who was Colorado's first state film commissioner, and decorated WWII veteran, had a hand in its conception and building. The following is taken from the chapter on Smith in the PPLD book "Film and Photograph on the Front Range" :
"according the Smith, the idea of creating a location set was initiated by Malcolm Brown of MGM. Smith had wanted to save the original Buckskin Joe’s but by the time Brown came up with his idea, the original town was too dilapidated to save. With the help of Don Tyner, who owned the Royal Gorge Scenic Railway, the property that was to be the home of Buckskin Joe’s was purchased. In order to create the ‘town’ Smith traveled to the various ghost towns and mountain areas in Colorado taking photos of buildings that appeared to fit the model that was needed. He then went through those photos with Brown to choose the buildings and created the design that would eventually become Buckskin Joe’s. "
Doris McCraw/Angela Raines
Doris, I understood that the owners were at a crossroads as to what to do with the town. I can't fault them for finding a new caretaker for the place. At least there are many of us with sweet memories of visiting Buckskin Joe.ReplyDelete
The most heartbreaking aspect of the story, in my opinion, is that an incredibly huge and significant body of western historical treasures are essentially removed from public appreciation (permanently, it appears). By now, the collection likely borders on two million pieces.
It's one thing to purchase and preserve history. It's quite another to create a secret horde of artifacts to be enjoyed by Fortune 500 invitation only.
I totally agree. History is there to be researched, written and shared, not hidden.Delete
I also have such fond memories of the town. To walk through its streets was like walking back in time. Fortunately we still have South Park City, which is open to the public. Doris
I remember that place. My family and I took a similar trip in a Plymouth Valiant. Not nearly so cool as a Grand Torino, no matter the color! Sounds like we were there around the same timeframe. I remember all the deer ghosting out of the piñon pines near Royal Gorge--and my dad being mad we had to pay to get in to the bridge area and how he called it the Royal Gouge... I went back a few years ago while our son was at USAFA and saw the Buckskin Joe was gone. Sad day. Thanks for the memories.ReplyDelete
My mom chose to walk over the plank bridge instead of crossing in the Torino with us. We had to wait until she was safely across.Delete
You and I keep showing up in the same neighborhoods. Kind of like right now....
Darn. I'm sorry to hear that Buckskin Joe is gone. I too have memories of the place. And Royal Gorge and all the rest. Wonderful memories. Thanks for bringing them back.ReplyDelete
We can only pray that no one figures out how to move a 1,250-foot deep gorge. It's a pleasure to hear from you, Frank!Delete
Fascinating. I wish I had seen it. I visited Calico in California last summer when we drove route 66.ReplyDelete
I'd like to visit some ghost towns just to soak up all that authenticity. We tend to have movie-set expectations about how the towns were laid out. Good evening to you, Keith (or whatever time it is where you are)!Delete
And here I was hoping at least one of the Koch (I'll leave it to your imagination as to how I pronounce that name) brothers might actually be a genuinely nice individual with the ability to share as opposed to hoard.ReplyDelete