Colorado Was Once Home To Nation’s Largest Old West Theme Park
Once upon a time, a Colorado gold mining town died and an Old West theme park was born.
It was 1859 when the gold mining town of Buckskin Joe was formed in central Colorado, about 90 miles northwest of Canon City. The lure of gold drew prospectors to the area and Buckskin Joes grew into a town of around 2,000. The town featured hotels, boarding houses, homes, saloons, a grocery store and a post office. However, by 1874, the population was down to 50, and another Colorado ghost town was born.
Fast forward to 1957 when the idea was hatched to recreate an authentic old west town 8 miles west of Canon City. MGM director Malcolm Brown spearheaded the effort, bringing in old buildings from around the region to make a western movie set and they called it Buckskin Joe, taken from the original old west town near Fairplay. The new 'town' featured one building from the original Buckskin Joe, the general store owned by Colorado pioneer Horace Tabor.
According to Wikipedia, no less than 21 movies were filmed at Buckskin Joe's including Cat Ballou, True Grit, Conagher, How the West Was Won, and the John Wayne film The Cowboys. The location was developed into a theme park catering to tourists in between filming. Of course, in this case, the theme park was nothing like Disney World or even Elitch's.
The park featured gunfights, 30 restored authentic buildings, themed entertainment, a full-service saloon and restaurant, horses, stagecoaches, ahorse-drawn trolley ride, wagons, and a train ride. The mayor of Buckskin Joe was a donkey, who was allowed to roam free throughout the park. Thousands of tourists would visit Buckskin Joe and the theme park became known as the largest old west theme park in America.
However, it all came to an end in 2010 when the theme park was sold due to a decline in the number of tourists. The 30 buildings were disassembled and moved to a ranch near Gunnison, and for the second time, a Colorado town named Buckskin Joe became a ghost town. All that remains are the memories of those who visited the theme park, and the movies that featured the streets and buildings of Buckskin Joe.
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