Colorado's most historic eating and drinking establishment, located at
1000 Osage Street in Denver, Colorado, is now in its second century of
operation. The Buckhorn Exchange, which has liquor license Number One
in the State of Colorado, was founded on November 17, 1893 by Henry H.
"Shorty Scout" Zietz, easily recognized as one of the most colorful
figures of the Old West.
In 1875, at age
10, a wide-eyed Zietz met Col. William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody. Within
two years young Henry was a full-fledged member of the hard-riding,
straight-shooting band of scouts. It was during the years that Henry
rode with Buffalo Bill that the great Indian leader, Chief Sitting
Bull, dubbed him "Shorty Scout" due to his diminutive stature.
"Shorty Scout" Zietz became a lifelong friend to the Indians, and when
he died in July 1949, the last of Cody's famous scout band was gone.
But it was Zietz's restaurant, the Buckhorn Exchange, which chronicled
the robust and lusty days of early Colorado. From the time it opened
its doors here on Osage Street in 1893, it catered to cattlemen,
miners, railroad builders, silver barons, Indian chiefs, roustabouts,
gamblers, businessmen, the great and the near-great all dropped in to
imbibe and dine on the West's finest offerings - many still on the menu
today. It seems that a square meal, a hearty drink, and a taste for
history always lived side by side at the Buckhorn.
The Buckhorn Exchange derives its name from the Rio Grande Railroad
yards that were directly across Osage Street and the second-story
Buckhorn Lodge that housed railroaders for the night. Each Friday, the
railroaders scrambled across Osage Street to exchange their paychecks
for gold. In return, Zietz handed each man a token good for a free
lunch and a beer. After all, whoever heard of a railroad man stopping
after only one beer?
President Theodore Roosevelt ate here in 1905 when his Presidential
Express train pulled into the Rio Grande rail yards. Roosevelt strutted
in presidential style, asked old Shorty Scout to be his guide and
hunting partner, and after dinner and drinks, the pair took off by
train to hunt big game on Colorado's western slope.
Today a photo of the train and a flag from its engine are among
hundreds of pieces of museum-quality memorabilia on display in the
Buckhorn Exchange which today is as much a museum as a restaurant and
Another historic moment and most incredible scene was recorded in 1938
when Sitting Bull's nephew, Chief Red Cloud, and a delegation of thirty
Sioux and Blackfoot Indians rode slowly down Osage Street in full
battle regalia, and ceremoniously turned over to Shorty Scout Zietz the
military saber taken from the vanquished General George Custer in the
Battle of Little Big Horn. The sword remains in the Zietz family today.
The Buckhorn Exchange brims with historic artifacts, legends and
notable moments. Five Presidents - Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin
Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan - dined at
the Buckhorn. Hundreds of Hollywood legends, too, have savored our
fare, including Bob Hope, Jimmy Cagney, Charleton Heston, astronauts
Scott Carpenter and Jack Swigert, Great Britain's Princess Anne, Roy
Rogers and Will Rogers. The list is virtually endless.
The Buckhorn Exchange was featured in Life Magazine and Coronet
magazine in 1948 and in Holiday magazine in 1949. Since 1978, the
Buckhorn has appeared in hundreds of newspapers and magazines in the
U.S. and around the world, and has also been the subject of countless
television shows and documentaries.
The Buckhorn even survived Prohibition implemented in Colorado in 1916
- three years before the rest of the nation. With
the repeal of Prohibition, the restaurant and "bar" - no longer a
saloon - reopened as Zietz's Buckhorn Restaurant and Bar, and was
issued Colorado Liquor License No. 1, which is till on display today.
The walls of the Buckhorn detail its illustrious history. Its walls
hold a rare 575-piece collection of taxidermy, including deer and
moose, giant buffalo, mountain goat and big horn sheep; dozens of
indigenous fowl; even a two-headed calf and a legendary jackalope.
gun collection includes Colt .45s, Winchesters, Derringers, a Sharp's
sporting rifle dating to 1889, and a rare palm pistol dating to 1891
and the Minneapolis Firearm Co.
ornate white oak bar and back-bar, made in Essen, Germany in
1857 and brought here by the Zietz family, was relocated to
the second floor where it anchors the Buckhorn's Victorian
lounge. A roof garden, heated year-round, was added to serve
the restaurant and its patrons - a perfect place for private
parties, family reunions, rehearsal dinners, or simply to take
in the ambiance of the Old West.
Henry H. "Shorty Scout" Zietz died in 1949. Zietz's
son, Henry Jr., acquired the restaurant perpetuating its rich
history and d馗or, adding many animal displays from his own
hunting expeditions along with other memorabilia. Zietz's
failing health forced the family to sell the restaurant in
1978 to a group of local investors known as Buckhorn
Associates, headed by Roi Davis and the Steve Knowlton.
Under the direction of designer Lanny Garland, the new owners
took great care to preserve the important memorabilia of the
past and were careful not to disturb the basic exterior of the
structure, which was designated an historic landmark by the
City and County of Denver in 1972.
Yes, a great deal has changed at the Buckhorn since 1893, yet
much is as it was in the days when the clientele packed
six-guns, silver barons rubbed elbows with roustabouts, miners
shook dirt out of their clothing along with gold dust, and
"Shorty Scout" entertained the customers with tales
of the decade he spent on the frontier.