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When the only legal resident was the Army

When Fort Lewis was launched in Pagosa Springs, a six-square-mile military reservation was formed, centered on the Great Pagosa Hot Spring.

The result was that every civilian who took up land within that area was a squatter. “Squatter” was a term used in the early days for people who settled on land they did not own.

Just about everyone who settled in Pagosa Springs was a squatter.

There were a lot of them.

That is one reason Fort Lewis was moved from Pagosa Springs to Hermosa within two years after it was formed. Apparently, it was easier to move the fort than it was to move the squatters.

Even with the fort gone, local settlers were technically squatters. Finally, in July of 1891, the federal government resolved the problem, nine years after the fort was officially closed.

An item in the July 3, 1891, edition of the Pagosa Springs News announced the opening for settlement of the six-square-mile military reservation surrounding Pagosa Springs.

The item read, in part: “When it is opened there will be a lively scramble to get a piece of it. A good part of it is already improved and resided on by those who improved it... The bill makes no stipulation in regard to those squatters, but it is assumed that they have no prior rights.”

We learn of no disputes concerning ownership of the land.

Meanwhile, life and especially socialization of Pagosa Springs continued.

Charter members of the Literary Society formed in February of 1891 were: Miss Pearl Latham, Miss S.A. Norris, Miss Hattie M. Taylor, Misses May and Maggie Thompson, Miss Emma Macht, Will Macht, J.S. Hatcher, W.M. Parrish, E.R. Chambers, S.C. Bell, Chas. Hendrickson, W.J. Arey, Mort Bayles, and Leo Hersch. The first debate question was, “Resolved — That women have more influence over men than money.”

We don’t know the results of the debate.

On March 5, 1891, we read in the News: “The snow blockade on the Cumbres Range continues and we are still without any eastern mail … It is reported that at some places the snow is deeper by four feet than the height of the telegraph poles, and there is more snow there than there was in 1884, when the road was blocked for three months.”

When News editor D.L. Eggers says Cumbres Range, he is talking about what we today call the South San Juan Mountains and, more specifically, Cumbres Pass where the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad crossed those mountains. Pagosa mail was carried on that rail line. No trains, no mail.

We read in the same paper in an April of 1891 news item: “Nearly all the water consumed by the citizens of this town is taken from the river below the bridge. (Motter — That bridge would have crossed the river linking the east and west portions of San Juan Street.) The attention of the city dads is hereby called to the numerous piles of manure and privy vaults on the banks of the river above that point.”

In 1891, Pagosa Springs did not have central water distribution or sewage collection. Water was dipped out of the river into horsedrawn water tanks and delivered to citizens who could afford to buy it.

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