The infamous Red Ryder BB gun from A Christmas Story was named for Red Ryder, a cowboy comic strip character of the mid 20th century. The syndicated strip was so popular it even had its own amusement park briefly, but today it couldn’t even be called a ghost town.
Fred Harman and Stephen Slesinger invented “America’s famous fighting cowboy” in 1938. Thanks to the popularity of Westerns, the strip quickly evolved into a multimedia empire, with comic books, radio, and more than 35 movies and serials, not to mention toys, lunchboxes, and guns.
The stories centered around the cowpoke Red Ryder and his young Native American sidekick, Little Beaver. To today’s viewers, the Indian boy and his pidgin English are an offensive caricature, but in the 1940s people couldn’t get enough.
By the late 1950s though, the Red Ryder’s popularity was waning along with the rest of the Western genre. Fred Harman, the comic’s artist and an Albuquerque resident, was undeterred. In an attempt to mimic the explosive success of Disneyland, Harman decided the time was right to build a Western-themed amusement park based on the Red Ryder characters in his booming hometown.
Catering to exotic fantasies of the Old West, Little Beaver Town opened in July of 1961 along Route 66 on the eastern border between Albuquerque and Carnuel. One-half was set up as an American Indian village, complete with teepees and Apache eagle dancers. The other half was a Western town that featured the Red Bull Saloon, an art gallery featuring Harmon’s original drawings, and plenty of places to buy souvenirs. Visitors had their choice of a ride in a stagecoach or an old fashioned steam train chugging on the outskirts of town. Shootouts between Red Ryder and Ace Hanlon occurred at regular intervals throughout the day.
Sadly, both the comic strip and Little Beaver Town folded in 1964. The amusement park briefly changed its name to Sage City and rented itself out as a film set and venue for rock and roll concerts. This didn’t stick either, and the park was soon abandoned. Over time, the Western town was defaced, damaged, and burnt to the ground.
In 2010, 50 years after Little Beaver Town’s heyday, the City of Albuquerque purchased the property and renamed it the Route 66 Open Space, adding it to the city’s expansive land conservation effort. Despite a handful of volunteer-led cleanups and plans for a system of hiking trails, nothing substantial has been done with the property. Little Beaver Town exists today as nothing but an empty lot of curious concrete foundations, littered with broken glass and unchecked cacti, waiting like the highway it sits on for another chance at glory.
Know Before You Go
Along Central Ave. (Route 66/NM 333) east of Tramway Blvd., between Believers Center of Albuquerque and the town of Carnuel, just past Carmellia Dr. There's a tiny dirt lot, a gate, and a single Open Space sign.