Just about every one loves a good mystery. Even better yet, a happy ending. I love legends and folklore especially those that aren’t well known.
Not too far from the town of Alma, Colorado was the mining town of Buckskin Joe. Buckskin Joe was founded in 1859 by Joseph Higgenbottom after he found gold in a river. It soon became a flourishing town of a little over 2,000 people with several saloons, dance halls, dry goods stores, hotels, a courthouse, and an assayers office.
One spring day a beautiful veiled woman stepped off the stage from Denver. She told people her name was Silver Heels and she came to work. No one knew her name or where she hailed from. Soon she became the talk of the town and everyone fell in love with her as she danced with her little silver-heeled slippers. It was told she had many marriage proposals from the local men among them were Buckskin Joe, Joe Herndon, Jed Hurley, and possibly even Bill Buck the owner of the saloon where she danced.
She danced, flirted, and brought in lots of money. Silver Heels was far from stingy though; she bought sweets for the children of the town and grub-staked miners just starting out. Even though she was a “working girl”, she went home to her little cabin across the river and the only one allowed to enter was her friend whom she called Aunt Martha.
In the fall of 1861, two sheepherders came to town selling their wares and seeking shelter. Little did the town know, these two would be the downfall of the town for with them they brought smallpox. Buckskin Joe was the first to die and possibly as many as 1800 townspeople followed in his wake. Amidst all the sickness was Silver Heels nursing the sick miners as the healthy fled to Fairplay and as far away as Denver. The town petitioned for help from Denver but little help came. Silver Heels worked unceasingly to help her beloved friends. She went from cabin to cabin helping man, woman, and child. With her care, soon the few residents that were left, were on the mend. One night, as she cared for a miner, she collapsed. Silver Heels fell to the same sickness that had taken so many friends. She was carried to her small cabin and lovingly taken care of by Aunt Martha.
Silver Heels survived the smallpox outbreak but was left with a disfigured face. She relied on her beauty for her livelihood. How could she survive? How could anyone love her? She fled in the dead of night leaving her silver heeled slippers on the table.
What she didn’t realize was how much the town loved her. The miners collected $5,000 (almost $72,000 today) to show their appreciation and made their way up to her cabin. They found her cabin cold and empty. The money was returned to the donors with sadness. Their Silver Heels was gone. The town named a mountain after her in her honour hoping she would realize how much she was appreciated and would return.
There is nothing left of the town of Buckskin now except a few foundations and fallen down buildings on private land. The cemetery is still there, just a few miles past the town of Alma along a well maintained dirt road. At dusk while the light is fading fast, it is rumoured you can see a well dressed female figure going from grave to grave visiting old friends. She vanishes into a wisp of smoke whenever approached.
Is this the end of the very poignant story? Possibly not. According to one source her name was Josie Dillon or possibly Gerda Bechter. She married a saloon owner/miner by the name of Jack Herndon and had a child. The source also places her in Buckskin Joe in 1871 dancing in her silver heels to raise money for the Chicago fire victims. After Jack’s father died, the couple left for places unknown. There is also a rumour of a headstone in the Crown Hill cemetery in Denver that marks Silver Heels’ grave.
I still like the version of her stealing away in the night to the dismay of the townspeople, but to know that she could have led a happy life is equally as rewarding. After all, every one loves a mystery as well as a happy ending.