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A card game in a different time and place

Photo courtesy John M. Motter One of the early tractors in Pagosa Country is moving down a very muddy San Juan Street in front of what today is the county courthouse. I have been told this vehicle was used to pull wagons loaded with limber. The scene looks southeasterly.

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
One of the early tractors in Pagosa Country is moving down a very muddy San Juan Street in front of what today is the county courthouse. I have been told this vehicle was used to pull wagons loaded with limber. The scene looks southeasterly.

We are continuing from last week an eyewitness account of an 1879 scene in a Pagosa Springs bar as described by 17-year-old Will Price, whose family had just moved to town.

The Pagosa Springs of 1879 was a very different place.

Fort Lewis occupied the western side of the San Juan River, where the old part of town remains.

Merchants’ businesses occupied the east side of the river.

Included among those merchants were several bar operators catering to the needs of the thirsty soldiers.

Young Will is describing a scene from one of those bars located on the south side of San Juan Street.

“One day the place was very quiet and I went to one of the saloons to watch the games. A buck and squaw were talking to the saloon keeper. (Motter: Notice the change in acceptable language. Will’s use of the terms “buck” and “squaw” for a male and female Indian was common and acceptable at that time. Don’t try it today. The same goes for “papoose,” meaning baby.)

“The squaw had a papoose on her back and was trying to get him (the bar keeper) to give her 50 cents for a large turkey, which he refused positively to do, as he said that he was boarding at the hotel. There was no one else in the saloon and the keeper was going to lock up and go to dinner, when the Utes returned. The saloon keeper was holding 50 cents in his hand and saying Monti, Monti (Motter: Three Card Monte).

“The saloon keeper told me I might as well take it and sat down at the table, his back to the wall at the west side of the door, the buck across from him and the squaw flat on the floor facing the Indian, quite close and under the dealer’s left hand, where he held the deck of cards face down.

“If I remember right, two cards were on the table face up, the Ute to bet on which one was paired from one drawn from the bottom. He kept winning and the dealer kept swearing. The squaw looked at the bottom of the deck, scratched her head, and brushed the short hair out of her eyes, looking at the buck at times. If she had a way to tell him a 2, 5, or 7 was on the bottom, I could not see it. After the Ute was $6 ahead the dealer got up saying, ‘Get going. I am going to eat. If I won all he had it would only be 50 cents.’ Neither of them spoke, but the squaw smiled later when they turned in for dinner at the Cade Hotel.

“Anyway, I was very pleased to see the Ute get the best of the dealer as he would not have hesitated to get the best of them any way he could.”

This story was posted on June 20, 2013.