Buckskin Joe, established in 1859, was just northwest of Fairplay on
Highway 9, near the present-day town of Alma,
Like many mining camps that flourished during the Gold Rush, Buckskin
Joe was formed as a mining district by a small group of prospectors
when placer gold was located in the river nearby.
group of prospectors was led by an eccentric man named Joseph Higgenbottom,
who wore buckskin clothes and was therefore called "Buckskin Joe."
Joe in 1864, Photo courtesy Denver
Despite attempts to officially name the
settlement Laurette, (for Laura and Jeanette, the wife and daughter of
Old Man Dodge who wielded some influence in the area) it was called Buckskin
Joe by most, and the name stuck.
News of the gold discovery quickly spread
and by the spring of 1860, other miners began pouring into the new
settlement. One mining claim made by a man named Mr. Phillips
originally did not look rich, and Phillips, a drifter, soon moved away
without further development. Buckskin
Joe claimed Phillips discovery for his own, but, he, too,
soon left the area for the San Juan Mountains, trading the claim for a
revolver and a few other articles.
Too late for Mr. Phillips or Buckskin
Joe, the claim was discovered to be rich and it wound up
providing much of the ore for the mill that was later built. Sluice boxes were built and considerable gold was recovered from the
creek bed. To crush the soft ore from the load, the old Spanish method
of arastras was employed first.
At its zenith, the town of Buckskin
gambling halls and traveling minstrel shows. The street was lined with
stores, saloons, an assay office, a courthouse, a mill, and three
hotels. It boasted such famous inhabitants as
Horace and Augusta Tabor and
In August 1861, Horace and Augusta
Tabor loaded their supplies,
groceries and household merchandise and moved to
store soon became the areas most successful. During the next seven
years, Horace invested in local mines and became the postmaster. In
reality, Augusta ran the post office although she could not legally
hold that position. Meanwhile Horace became increasingly involved in community
Joe had itinerant preachers, the most famous of whom
was Father John L Dyer, a Methodist from Ohio whose circuit covered Fairplay, Park City, Buckskin
Joe and Breckenridge. To stretch parishioners'
contributions in the early days, Dyer would prospect when not in the
pulpit. As easy placer findings vanished and the cost of staples
soared ($40.00 for a bag of flour), Dyer added mail carrying to his
church duties. He trekked weekly from Mosquito Gulch and Buckskin
Joe over passes to
and Breckenridge. Neither winter nor the absence of improved roads
deterred him. Often on skis ten feet long with 30 pounds of mail on
his back, Father Dyer would climb through deep snow and wind-swept
alpine heights to dispense his earthly and spiritual messages.
Joe began to thrive and by 1861 had a population of 2,000. In
1862 it became the county seat, an honor it retained until 1867, when the
courthouse was moved to Fairplay. The settlement boasted a newspaper, a
post office, and two banks, in addition to the
dance halls and gambling houses.