One of the earliest groups to head into the “San Jon Country” was lead by Thomas Pollock in 1861. The Pollock party formed a wagon train in Denver, trudged mile by agonizing mile across La Veta Pass, down into the San Luis Valley past Fort Garland into New Mexico, turned north up the Chama River Valley, wondered at the Great Pagosa Hot Spring, then completed their journey north and west to Baker’s Park. Here is the story of their quest told by Nellie Pollock Snyder.
“They left Denver with a large wagon train, and of that train there was nothing left but two yoke of oxen when they returned about two years later. I do not know how many graves were left in those lonely hills. I have heard her tell of men killed in their beds under the wagon in which she was sleeping. The tribes of Indians were at that time all hostile and they never knew when the war-whoop would sound. I have heard her tell many things of that trip, of the dreadful winter and the terrible storms, she was at one time nearly frozen to death, and they cut to pieces the wagon box to make wood for fire to keep her warm. She told me that she saw my father drive his men around the wagons, and whip them with a black-snake whip to keep them moving so they would not freeze to death. Several times on that trip they were compelled to take the wagons to pieces and lower them over bluffs and cliffs. She told me of her first impressions upon seeing what is now Pagosa Springs, and when I later stood and looked at that little town and big, boiling spring, I tried to picture my self how that camp of white men and one woman must have looked in that lonely and dangerous country when they never knew from one moment to the next when they must fight for their lives. It is a lonely place now even after so-called civilization has robbed it of much of its original beauty, what must it have been in all of its wild glory?
“Mother said they had a nice laugh at one of the men who thought that nice hot water hole an ideal place to launder his shirt, a woolen one. Of course it simply fell to pieces when he took it out of the spring — no small loss at that time I assure you.
“Mother was Sarah Chivington Pollock, the daughter of Col. John M. Chivington. Pollock’s party joined Baker at Baker’s Park. The Pollock family later left the San Juans but returned in later years. Tom Pollock died at Howardsville in 1876. The widow married William Giardin, the grandfather of Lewis Giardin, now living in Pagosa Springs. (Motter —This was told me in 1984. There are still, to the best of my knowledge, Giardins living in Pagosa Springs). Pollock was the grandfather of Phyllis Dennis, who also lives in Pagosa Springs and was the source of this story.”
Settlement of the San Juan Mountains and Pagosa Country began in earnest following the end of the Civil War. The end of that war freed men, civilian and military, to move West looking for their personal fortunes. A favorite self-improvement project was to move to an area known to produce gold and prospect for your own El Dorado. And, not surprisingly, a whole cast of entrepreneurs followed the prospectors, each with a plan for personal fortune. More often than not, the latter group prospered more than the former.
Two difficulties continued to delay settlement of Pagosa Country—poor transportation and the fact that most of the land still belonged to the Ute Indians.