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 Buckskin Joe - Gone & Back and Gone Again

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Buckskin Joe, established in 1859, was just northwest of Fairplay on Highway 9, near the present-day town of Alma, Colorado. 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.


The group of prospectors was led by an eccentric man named Joseph Higgenbottom, who wore buckskin clothes and was therefore called "Buckskin Joe."


Buckskin Joe in 1864

Buckskin Joe in 1864, Photo courtesy Denver Public Library




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 Joe sported saloons, 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 Father Dyer.


In August 1861, Horace and Augusta Tabor loaded their supplies, groceries and household merchandise and moved to Buckskin Joe. Their 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 affairs.


Buckskin 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 Leadville 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.


Buckskin 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  saloons, dance halls and gambling houses.



Continued Next Page


Buckskin Joe Hotel in 1940

Buckskin Joe Hotel and Dancehall in 1940, Photo courtesy Denver Public Library


Miners in Buckskin Joe in 1890

Miners in Buckskin Joe in the 1890's


Joseph Higgenbottom

Joe Higgenbottom, the man for which the settlement of Buckskin Joe was named. Photo courtesy ghphotography.


Old West view at Buckskin Joe

Old West view at Buckskin Joe Frontier Town June, 2006, Kathy Weiser.

This image available for photographic prints HERE!


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