Billionaire Bill Koch buys the town of Buckskin Joe and moves it to his ranch

Tuesday, Aug 16 2011

Turns out that Bill Koch, the Florida billionaire who bought the tintype of Billy the Kid for more than two million bucks at a Denver auction in June, isn't just interested in photos of the Old West; he's interested in Old West towns, too. And he just bought himself a big chunk of Colorado history.

Last summer, when Greg Tabuteau announced that he was closing the Buckskin Joe "edutaining" attraction/tourist trap outside of Cañon City that he'd owned for 25 years, he said that he'd sold the 805-acre property to a fan of the Old West who wanted to remain anonymous and was more interested in the historic structures on the land than the land itself (Off Limits, September 16, 2010). That fan was Koch — brother to Tea Party funders David and Charles Koch — who recently moved some of the buildings to his private ranch outside of Gunnison.

This wasn't the first time those buildings had been moved. Back in 1957, boosters — including Karol Smith, who later founded the Colorado Film Commission, the first state film commission in the country — bought the remains of the original Buckskin Joe, an early gold camp two miles outside of Alma, and reassembled them, along with two dozen other buildings from old ghost towns, at the edge of the Royal Gorge as a set for Western movies. The movies filmed there ranged from Cat Ballou to True Grit and The Cowboys, both starring John Wayne, to the truly dreadful The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox, starring Goldie Hawn and George Segal.

Almost a century before, the original Buckskin Joe had seen its own share of stars: Horace and Augusta Tabor had run a store and the post office there before moving on to Leadville, where Horace amassed a huge fortune and dumped Augusta; Silver Heels, the prostitute with a heart of gold, had reportedly nursed minors through an outbreak of smallpox here in 1862, then disappeared into legend. And although some of the town's more civilized residents had tried to name it Laurette, it could never shake the Buckskin Joe moniker inspired by Joseph Higgenbottom, the buckskin-wearing prospector who found gold in the area in 1859.

Tabuteau got an undisclosed amount of gold when he sold the second Buckskin Joe to Koch; in February, Fremont County officials approved permits to dismantle and move a half-dozen buildings from the site, including the original H.A.W. Tabor Store. "Some of the buildings, he's reassembled," acknowledges Koch spokesman Brad Goldstein.

But unlike the last Buckskin Joe, this third incarnation will not be open to the public. ... kskin-joe/