Bookmark and Share

Failed mining claims and plenty of stray donkeys

A plethora of mining claims excited the Pagosa Springs community during 1892.

A.D. Archuleta reported a silver find on the Weminuche that promised to be “a second Creede.” Archuleta’s claim died an early death.

Then Mason Farrow recorded a gold strike in the First Fork area of the Piedra River. Farrow’s claim also failed to blossom.

Others reported strikes on the Navajo and Blanco rivers, Turkey Creek, Four Mile Creek and the San Juan River. None of the claims, to use a mining expression “panned out.”

The most promising claim was filed on Turkey Creek. That claim was developed more extensively than any of the others, but I know of no ore shipped from that or any other claim near Pagosa Springs, in any direction.

It should be remembered that the early history of Colorado, including the San Juan Mountains, focused on the discovery of gold, silver and other precious minerals. Remember, even the Hispanics who entered the Southwest as early as the 16th century were searching for El Dorado.

“Striking it rich” was a sure-fire way to live a life of luxury ever after.

Many early Pagosans had come West lured by the hope of finding gold. The Farrow family is a classic example. They had been to California following the strike at Sutter’s Mill in 1849, then moved to Colorado after gold was found west of Denver in 1859, then to Silverton following Baker’s strike in 1860. In 1879, they finally settled on the Piedra River along the wagon road connecting Animas City and Pagosa Springs. The family raised cattle, but you can be sure that every spare moment was spent prospecting in the nearby mountains for gold.

Many early Pagosa settlers had histories paralleling the Farrow family history. Every spare moment the bread winner had was spent prospecting. On top of that, the mountains surrounding Pagosa were filled with other prospectors during the snow-free months of the year. When winter came, many of the prospectors came into town, enjoyed the hot baths, and turned their donkeys loose to forage for themselves. Stray donkeys were a bigger town problem than stray dogs.

Shortly after I came to Pagosa Springs circa 1970, the local historical society was reorganizing. I attended as many of their meetings as I could. A common conversation topic was prospecting and talking about where there was a good chance of a gold strike. Several of those oldtimers, such as Earl Mullen and Bill Warr, recalled personal prospecting expeditions and likely discoveries they were itching to revisit “as soon as they could find time.”

Bill Warr’s father-in-law (or maybe a generation earlier than that), John M. Laughlin, moved to town from the San Juan East Fork mining camps in May of 1892 and opened a cigar factory and fruit and vegetable stand on Pagosa Street. By August of 1892, J.M. Archuleta opened a store on Pagosa Street. I think Archuleta’s store was on the same lot on which Sullenburger later built his hotel. Buildings on that lot burned several times during the 1890s and early 1900s. Archuleta had a lot of enemies.

blog comments powered by Disqus