Buckskin Joe Frontier Town and Railway, a staple of Cañon City tourism for 53 years, will close Sept. 12.
Owner Greg Tabuteau, who has owned the attraction for 25 years, sold the 805-acre property to a man he says wishes to remain anonymous. Tabuteau said the new owner is an Old West buff who was more interested in the buildings than the land and plans to move the structures to a new location.
It’s unknown what will happen to the land.
Tabuteau, 63, said he’s ready to relax a little.
“I’ve been in tourism all my life and never had a summer vacation,” Tabuteau said. “My wife and I want to have a little fun before I don’t have the health to do it anymore.”
Buckskin Joe’s employs 45 people, all but five of those seasonal employees.
Mike Bandera, general manager of the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, said Buckskin Joe has been a good partner and that losing one of the gorge’s attractions makes it harder to bring visitors to the area.
“Very sorry to see them go,” Bandera said. “Obviously, the more you have, the greater you’re likely to be the destination for a family.”
Buckskin Joe was built in 1957 as a set for Western movies and 30 authentic buildings were moved in from ghost towns around the region, including one building from the real Buckskin Joe, a mining camp outside of Alma that enjoyed a brief heyday in the 1860’s.
The Royal Gorge Buckskin Joe was the setting for 1965’s “Cat Ballou” and John Wayne’s “The Cowboys” (1972), along with many other films.
Bandera said the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park would be interested the Buckskin Joe land if it is put up for sale. The property is adjacent to the Bridge and Park.
Tabuteau said he’s holding on to the props for his popular “Town of Terror” haunted house and hopes to revive the event next year if he can find a new location, but said he doesn’t have the time to pull it off this year.
Jim Jackson, founder of the Manitou Art Theatre, has written and performed a one-man show, "Royal Buckskin," about his childhood in Cañon City and his memories of Buckskin Joe.
"Everybody called it a tourist trap, and I suppose it was, but it was a REAL tourist trap," he said. "It wasn’t plastic. It was a place where you could let your imagination run wild."
And as an 8- or 9-year-old, washing dishes at Buckskin Joe and "mostly getting in the way and causing trouble," Jackson's imagination ran as wild as the West.
He remembers staging play gunfights with friends, and falling from a stagecoach into a pile of hay, and watching with wonder at the actors staged their gunfights.
"When you watch them now, they're pretty corny, but when you're a kid, and one of those guns goes off next to you ... wow! That was pretty eye opening."
Jackson said he hopes to take his 7-year-old daughter to share that experience.
"I'd love her to see it before it's gone."
Buckskin Joe will remain open its regular hours until Sept. 12. Tabuteau said the staff have already had a goodbye party and he isn't planning a public farewell.
The Gazette's Warren Epstein contributed to this report.