A town created, its leaders elected

Pagosa Springs incorporated in early 1891, some 15 years after Welch Nossaman built what were probably the first cabins on the townsite.

The actual plat of the town had been staked out in 1883, the surveyor paid by the U.S. government. Ownership of the land on which Pagosa Springs now sits is kind of complicated to sort out.

If we don’t count the various configurations of Ute Indian reservations which included Pagosa Springs, the picture is still occluded. First Spain and then Mexico owned this part of the San Juans. Following the treaty of Guadalupe Hildago in 1848, ownership of about half of Mexico, including Pagosa Country, passed to the United States.

When Utah Territory was formed, much of western Colorado, including Pagosa Country, became part of Utah. The remaining eastern part of Colorado belonged to Kansas Territory. In 1861, the Territory of Colorado was formed and included Pagosa Country. In 1876 Colorado became a state containing Pagosa Country.

Still, ownership of the land which eventually became Pagosa Springs remained under federal jurisdiction. When plans to build Fort Lewis near Pagosa Springs surfaced, a bewildering set of government land creations ensued. The government created a one-square mile townsite in 1877, six-square mile military reservation in 1879, and two 80-acre plats, all generally centered on the hot springs. Until government ownership of the military reservation and townsite ended, all of the several hundred residents within those areas were squatters.

The hot springs property was first to pass into private hands in 1883, followed by auction of town lots in 1885. I’m not certain what steps were taken ending the military reservation and allowing that land to pass into private hands. I think it curious that homesteading was allowed on the former military reservation, but that town lots were sold for market value, or as near as the auction allowed market value.

In any case, by 1891, the town voted to incorporate. The vote was 28 votes for incorporation, 12 opposed.

Elected to the first Pagosa Springs Town Board were: John L. Dowell, mayor; and trustees C.H. Harpst, C.H. Freeman, M.A. Patrick, J.C. Strawn, A.J. Lewis and C.D. Scase. All were business men except Dowell, who was a rancher who homesteaded Mill Creek Ranch. H.R. Bowling was appointed the first treasurer, A.D. Garvin the town marshal, John A. Walters the street commissioner, N.G. Peterson the town judge, and E.M. Taylor the clerk and recorder.

It’s interesting that the incorporated town still contained several of the buildings from Fort Lewis on Lots 21 and 22 and crossing Lewis Street where one building touched Lot 7 of Block 19 near the Fort stables.