On November 17, 1893, Henry H. “Shorty Scout” Zietz (1865–1949) founded one of Denver’s most historic eating and drinking establishments, and for more than a century, the Buckhorn Exchange has played host to Western characters and events.
Zietz, at age 12, became the youngest scout to join William H. “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s Wild West Show. Zietz also became a close acquaintance of Chief Sitting Bull, who gave him the nickname “Shorty Scout” because of his diminutive stature. Years later, after working in Leadville, Colo., as the bodyguard for “Silver King” Horace Tabor, Zietz returned to Denver to pursue more lucrative ventures. Having heard complaints from railroad workers about the lack of watering holes close to the rails, Zietz saw his opportunity and purchased an old office just across from the rail yard and turned it into a saloon. To lure in the railroad workers, Zietz offered to cash their paychecks for gold and sweetened the deal with a token good for a free lunch and a beer, and who stays for just one beer? No fool. Zietz also kept the wives happy by giving them a percentage of their husband’s cashed-in wages to use for goods (available at the restaurant’s general store, of course).
One of the most notable events to happen at the restaurant occurred in 1938 when Sitting Bull’s nephew, Chief Red Cloud, rode with a band of 30 Sioux and Blackfoot in full battle regalia down Osage Street (where the restaurant was and is still located) to ceremoniously present Zietz with the military saber taken from George Custer after the Battle of Little Bighorn.
In 1905, Theodore Roosevelt arrived by train to dine at the famous restaurant. He requested that Zietz be his personal hunting guide, and the two developed a lasting friendship (four other presidents and hundreds of Hollywood legends—including Roy Rogers, Charleton Heston, and Bob Hope—have also dined there).
Today, the restaurant’s storied walls are covered with historic memorabilia, including a 575-piece collection of taxidermy, American Indian artifacts, and a 125-piece gun collection. It is a museum as much as it is a restaurant. Surrounded by remembrances of the Wild West, and with plenty of wild game and hearty steak options on the menu, dining at the Buckhorn Exchange hasn’t changed much since the time when its patrons carried six-shooters.