So Buckskin Joe is gone, both the original town in Park County, Colorado, and the created one in Fremont County. What had been a movie set and tourist attraction near the Royal Gorge has been sold to a Koch brother (a brother to but not one of the two right-wing political ones) and has been moved lock stock and barrel to his private ranch in Gunnison County, Colorado.
This has to be a blow to the Canon City area, which in addition to being Colorado’s Prison Central is a tourist town. The Royal Gorge is a huge attraction and so has Buckskin Joe been over the years.
The original Buckskin Joe was in Park County near Fairplay but vanished as a real town over a century ago. The recreated Buckskin Joe cobbled together old buildings from 19th century mining towns, including one from the original Buckskin Joe – the general store which had been built and operated by H.A.W Tabor of the Tabor Opera House and Matchless Mine in Leadville, Colorado.
The re-creation had originally been put together as a western-town movie set by MGM in 1957. Westerns were a Hollywood staple in the 50s. The town was then acquired by Karol Smith of Canon City who had been a location scout and manager and eventually lobbied the state legislature to create a film commission – the first in the nation – with himself as the first commissioner.
The list of classic westerns filmed at Buckskin Joe is long, including Cat Ballou. The great shot of Lee Marvin and his horse ‘leaning’ against the side of a building was shot at Buckskin Joe. When Marvin accepted his Academy Award for Cat Ballou he stated that half the award belonged to a horse in Colorado.
The town was opened to tourism featuring a Melodrama and street shows. Cowboys would have gunfights in the streets 10 times a day.
"Lets give em a big hand and bring em back to life and we will shoot them again in an hour."
For a couple of years in the mid-60s I was part of that. Doing the Melodrama at night and playing cowboy during day. By that time the town had been acquired by the Camerlo family from Cotopaxi, Colorado.
One of those years had Bill Oakley, who later went on to run the Heritage Square Opera House, running the Melodrama. He always told me he loved my Ghost Gunfighter routine.
Buckskin Joe was also the site of my first motion picture. I was an extra in Barquero with Forrest Tucker. It was shot at Buckskin Joe and at nearby Brush Hollow reservoir. I always thought there was some symmetry to the fact that my first picture was with Tucker and I was in Tucker’s very last picture – Timestalkers with William Devane, Lauren Hutton and Klaus Kinski. I have great Kinski stories which I will save for another day.
Adios, Buckskin Joe.