An entertaining account of early settlers

Photo courtesy John M. Motter This log building with the Alamo-like front stands on the right side of U.S. 160 just after crossing the Piedra River bridge on your way to Durango. Wayne Farrow told me it was the old Peterson place, moved to its present location by the Farrow family some years ago.

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
This log building with the Alamo-like front stands on the right side of U.S. 160 just after crossing the Piedra River bridge on your way to Durango. Wayne Farrow told me it was the old Peterson place, moved to its present location by the Farrow family some years ago.

An early pioneer by the name of Jay Randolph Scott leaves us an early and entertaining description of the first settlers along U.S. 160 as it follows Yellow Jacket Creek west of the Piedra River Bridge.

Scott was born in Ohio in 1848 and died in Pagosa Springs in 1939. Suffering from poor health, Scott moved to Colorado Springs in 1874 and to Pagosa Springs in 1880, settling on the Piedra River near the old Durango-Pagosa wagon road crossing. The writer of his obituary described him as a well-educated man.

The words of Scott: “John Peterson, a disciple of Confucius, who has worn out a number of shovels prodding the Santa Fe railroad westward, resigned at Pueblo, materialized in this rock-bound landscape and unloaded his possessions on the west bank of the Piedra near where Colonel Baker had bridged it in 1862 or 1863. His cuisine and pioneer caravansary were well known far and near, and there, if the Devil himself had stepped in, he would have given his trail a friendly shake ‘son.’

“He was our first postmaster. The post office consisted of a time varnished desk, where patrons picked out their mail, then took a snort from a part-filled flask and went about their business.

“Along about 1878 Henry E. Freeman, an energetic cattleman from Colorado Springs located some three miles northwest of the Piedra, at the junction of Yellowjacket and Squaw Creeks, where he afterward built for himself and family a solid log house foundationed on the unfortunate ruins of the Aztecs.

“Trailing the spoor of these early squatters came J.R. Scott in ’80 and R.A. Howe in ’81. Both became tenderfoot sod-busters and erected signs warning the Indians off their grass.

“These seven Mikados were the first early birds to nest within view of the archaic Chimney Rocks, where the lizards still play peep. In the meantime Little Evans, the Grimes brothers, John Brown, C.H. Freeman and others had come and vamoosed.

“In the waning eighties the Snooks brothers, John Thompson, Chris Lorenson, Elias Hansen, and the Campbells came crying in the wilderness to knock at Uncle Sam’s land office door.”

While Scott’s entertaining story missed the coming of the Farrows and maybe some others, he still gives an eyewitness account of the area. I never looked up the chain of title for property at the intersection of Yellow Jacket and Squaw creeks, but suspect the old building remains on the Freeman place. As I reported last week, in those days the road west followed Squaw Creek rather than its present route over Yellow Jacket Pass.

When I first started attending history meetings in Pagosa Springs circa 1973, the old-timers were still talking about Peterson and his Scandinavian accent son. Military records also record a fight between couriers stationed at Fort Lewis, which took place there, and Peterson received an IOU given by Gen. Phil Sheridan in 1879 for spending the night there on his way to Fort Lewis in Pagosa Springs.

This story was posted on October 27, 2016.