In the past year or so, we've chronicled the big spending of part-time Colorado resident William Koch, billionaire financier of conservative causes and avid collector of Old West goodies like a Billy the Kid photo and an entire vintage town. Now, however, he's the target of an oddball lawsuit filed by a former employee, who claims Koch kidnapped him. Strange details below. Koch made a big splash in the memorabilia market back in June 2011, when he purchased the only known photo of Billy the Kid at a Denver auction for an astonishing $2 million. Our Alan Prendergast provided this info about its background, and that of its current owner:
Billy paid about two bits to have his picture taken outside a saloon in Fort Sumner around 1879, when he was twenty and already calling himself a "Regulator" in the bloody Lincoln County War. Researchers say there were four tintypes originally, but only one survives, handed down from generation to generation by descendants of the friend Billy gave it to.
How fitting, then, that one of the most famous photos to emerge from the West's wildest days should end up (after a billion percent markup in value) in the well-manicured hands of Koch, one of the heirs to a vast financial empire based on oil refining and extraction industries, the kind of activities that tamed (and, yes, tainted) the West at last. Koch describes himself as "retired" -- he sold out his interest in Koch Industries years ago, and it's his siblings, Charles and David, who get all the press for funding conservative causes and drawing protesters. But he still has his hobbies.
Indeed he does. A couple of months after his Billy the Kid investment, he picked up all of Bucksin Joe, a town outside Canon City. Here's some history on the property shared by Patricia Calhoun in the post linked above:
Back in 1957, boosters -- including Karol Smith, who later founded the Colorado Film Commission, the first state film commission in the country -- bought the remains of the original Buckskin Joe, an early gold camp two miles outside of Alma, and reassembled them, along with two dozen other buildings from old ghost towns, at the edge of the Royal Gorge as a set for Western movies. The movies filmed there ranged from the first True Grit, starring John Wayne, to the truly dreadful The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox, starring Goldie Hawn and George Segal.
Almost a century before, the original Buckskin Joe had seen its own share of stars. Horace and Augusta Tabor had run a store and the post office there before moving on to Leadville, where Horace amassed a huge fortune and dumped Augusta. Silver Heels, the prostitute with the heart of gold, had reportedly nursed minors through an outbreak of smallpox there in 1862, then disappeared into legend. And although some of the town's more civilized residents had tried to name the place Laurette, it could never shake the Buckskin Joe moniker inspired by Joseph Higgenbottom, the buckskin-wearing prospector who found gold in the area in 1859.
What's the Buckskin Joe connection to the lawsuit?
Continue for more of our story about the lawsuit against William Koch, including a video. As reported last month by Forbes, the complaint, filed in the Northern District of California, asserts that in March, Kirby Martensen, a onetime employee of the Koch-owned firm Oxbow Carbon, was held for hours against his will at Bear Ranch, a spread not far from Paonia that features many of the buildings from Buckskin Joe.
According to CBS4, which has just assembled its own story about the suit, Martensen was given a tour of the timeworn structures -- but it doesn't sound like he enjoyed it too much.
Martensen asserts that during his time at the ranch, in the company of a Gunnison County deputy allegedly on hand to "make sure he didn't run away," he was fired from his gig as Oxbow's senior vice president, after which he was "kidnapped and driven to Denver" -- rather than Aspen, his preferred destination -- before being put on a plane to his home.
The official response to these allegations comes from Oxbow, which asserts in a press release that Martensen is merely retaliating for the firm's investigation of him, for activities his former colleagues see as fraudulent. The official statement reads:
Kirby Martensen states in a lawsuit that we investigated him for participating in a wide-ranging scheme to defraud, accepting bribes and diverting business from our company. He is right. We absolutely investigated Martensen and determined that he did participate in the fraud against the company. We identified who was defrauding us and are pursuing appropriate action to hold them accountable. In fact, several of the wrongdoers have admitted their involvement and one has directly implicated Mr. Martensen in the scheme.
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The release adds, "Any allegations of misconduct by Mr. Koch simply are untrue and stem from Martensen's attempts to divert attention from his own wrongdoing."
Look below to see the CBS4 report on this odd confrontation.
More from our Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "William Koch buys another piece of Western history: Buckskin Joe."