By Carlos Padilla
As the state celebrates its Centennial, there is a local landmark that dates back 100 years – the Buckhorn Saloon in downtown Truth or Consequences.
Joe Tafoya purchased the Star Saloon in 1913, so as far as present owners Jim and Bettie Brannon can surmise, the Buckhorn dates back to at least 1912, and possibly earlier.
The Brannons hope to be able to save the building in New Mexico’s centennial year.
The Brannons contacted The Herald recently, to share some of their hopes for the Buckhorn as well as the history of the building.
This reporter was given a tour of the interior of the saloon, where several murals still adorn the walls and some of the old booths are still in place, along with buzzers strategically located under the tables, to warn gamblers and those in the bordello rooms when law enforcement was entering the building. Walking around inside of the Buckhorn, it’s easy to picture the Old West characters who visited the saloon to take part in a number of social activities.
The Brannons also have several large, very old photos of the historic Buckhorn, some autographed by Hollywood legends visiting the Buckhorn over the years, and others showing the gas lights that illuminated the interior, as well as the tin ceiling tiles still in place throughout parts of the Buckhorn and a large sailfish and other trophies – mostly bucks – mounted throughout the bar.
Several other photos taken of the building’s exterior and Main Street show Model Ts in the late 1910s and early 1920s, along with the buildings of downtown truth or Consequences. Two of those historic building have been torn down – the majestic Victorian Hotel, and recently, an old auto garage between the Victorian Hotel and the Buckhorn Saloon.
The Brannons purchased the Buckhorn in the mid-1980s after Sonny Armijo reportedly sold the business’s liquor license to Safeway, stating that they didn’t want the city to lose another historic landmark.
“We have spent a minimum of $17,000 to $25,000 to save this building,” Jim said, “not counting taxes and insurance.” And now the Brannons fear the city will force them to spend nearly that much money to have the building torn down.
The Brannons say the Buckhorn’s problems were made worse with the recent tearing down of the old auto garage next door to the Buckhorn, when that effort led to the parapet of their building being loosened.
“The building still has value, historical significance,” Jim says. “If the idea is to attract people to our downtown, we need to have a downtown to attract people to.”
The Brannons have contacted the PRC for a grant to restore the historical building, and say they are just asking for time to hear from the PRC. Their hope is to restore the building with the grant to bring in a sasparilla bar, and serve chili to tourists and locals alike, and renovate space to provide a performing arts center downtown. They envision restoring the Buckhorn to have the look and feel of an Old West saloon complete with gunfight re-enactments.
Jim says he would also like to see the film industry utilize the Buckhorn as a set location.
“Instead of pushing this teardown deadline, why not give us the time to try and get this grant money form the state?” Bettie asks.
“The Old West is purely American,” says Jim, adding, “Nobody else [in the world] has it. It’s a draw for international tourism.” Jim goes on to state that with the recently announced partnering of Spaceport America with a spaceport in Abu Dhabi, there is a significant possibility for some real international tourism dollars pouring into the area, and instead of forcing tourists to go elsewhere to experience the Old West, why not enhance what the city already has?
On the heels of Kingston Centennial celebration held over the weekend, the Brannons point out that some communities in Sierra County treasure their historic buildings, like Hillsboro, Kingston and Chloride. They hope Truth or Consequences has the vision to do the same.
Jim asked that if this building is allowed to be torn down, how would a modern building erected in the middle of the Hot Springs Historic District affect the rest of downtown, and how would a growing vacant lot scar the rest of Main Street.
“We need your to support restoring the Buckhorn, if it made safe immediately,” Bettie says. “Please come to the City Commission meeting on Tuesday, May 8 and/or call (575) 740-1301 to help.”