Buckskin Joe Colorado, or what is left of it, lies between the towns of Leadville and Alma in the mountains of central Colorado in the South Park.
During the Colorado gold rush, many towns came to life quickly due to the flow of miners converging on the Rockies in search of wealth.
The town was originally named Laurette. Fact and fancy make it hard to tell what the real story is behind the renaming.
The tale of Joseph Higginbottom, who preferred wearing Native American clothing, is the most popular. It is said that Laurette was the name of his sweetheart and he named the town for her.
He was nicknamed Buckskin Joe by the miners and this became the official name of the town in 1861.
This was one of Colorado's earliest mining camps. The most spectacular gold find was the Phillips Lode, along the banks of Buckskin Creek.
The town became official with the opening of a post office run by another Colorado legend, Horace Tabor and his wife Augusta.
As with any mining town, businesses sprang up to support the miners. Most important of these, of course, were saloons.
The opening of saloons attracted the gamblers, ladies of the evening and others of ill repute. Billard parlors, dance halls and other establishments in the red light district outside of town, prospered.
The first stamp mill was built by two enterprising men named Harris and Stansell. They also set up the first bank in Buckskin Joe.
By the early 1860's, the town consisted of two hotels, fourteen stores and the bank. The first courthouse was built in 1861 and became the county seat for Park County.
A stagecoach station was built and the newly formed Dan McLaughlin Stage Line transported passengers and gold to Denver.
In 1863, as legend tells, the stage was robbed by a band of Confederate soldiers who were stealing gold to support the south. They were pursued by a posse, the gang scattered and the stolen gold was never found.
A smallpox epidemic in the mid 1860's wiped out most of the town. Mining ceased, stores closed up and many people died. Evidence of the disease can be seen by the many headstones outside of the remains of the town.
By 1866, the town was empty and the county seat was moved to the town of Fairplay in Park County. This was the fate of many towns during the gold rush days. When mines closed down, due to the gold being exhausted, people moved on leaving the once booming towns to die.
You can still see traces of the town by traveling out of Fairplay to Hwy. 9 heading toward the town of Alma. In the center of town, turn left onto a dirt road for two miles.
The spot of the town is located in a meadow to the right of the road to the cemetery. The remains of the Phillips mine is to the left of the dirt road.
All that is left of the earliest gold rush town are foundations overgrown with weeds and trees, a few structures that are falling down and the cemetery. And, of course, the ghosts of history past.
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