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Tracing Pagosa’s forgotten roadways

We’ve just finished writing about Pagosa Springs’ last stage coach holdup, which took place in October of 1892. Now might be a good time to write about the only other local stage coach holdup we can verify.

Having said that, I am reminded of a story frequently told at local historical society meetings I attended during the mid-1970s. I think former barber Earl Mullins was the principle teller of this story. Mullins talked, not of a holdup, but of an abandoned stage located somewhere between the Navajo and Blanco rivers. According to Mullins, Red Sisson, the husband of Ruby Sisson for whom the Archuleta County Library is named, talked about seeing the stage coach abandoned in that area, maybe in an Aspen grove.

The intimation of the story was that a stagecoach traveling between Chama and Pagosa Springs had been hijacked, driven off of the main road, looted and abandoned where it wasn’t likely to be found. Even at the time I was hearing the story, Earl talked as though someone willing to invest time and effort into searching for the lost stagecoach had a good chance of locating it. The story sounds a lot like lost treasure stories.

If Red really knew where it was, I wish I’d had the opportunity to talk with him about it. Unfortunately, I never knew him. He had passed on by the time I moved to this country.

I did have a good acquaintance with Ruby, who continued to operate their hay and cattle ranch in the Upper Blanco Basin after Red passed away. Ruby, despite her accumulative years and diminutive size, not only ran the ranch, she continued to teach math in the Pagosa Springs High School in town.

There are still oldtimers around who can tell you how arduous and difficult the road from the Upper Blanco to Pagosa was during winter snow storms. Most of us survived by using chains on our vehicle tires. There weren’t a lot of four-wheel drive vehicles in those days, and no front-wheel drives.

What might make the lost stagecoach story more credible is the possibility that the road between the Navajo River and the Blanco River might have followed a different route during the very early days of the county.

For sure, the road from Chama to the Navajo followed a different route. It left Chama by following the west branch of the Chama River (going through today’s Sargent Wildlife Area) and dropped down to the Navajo River at what we today call Price Bridge. Price Bridge is named for pioneer Barzillai Price, who ranched near where today’s bridge crosses the Navajo.

It is suspected that the road then followed the Navajo for a few miles downstream, then swung north across the ridge of mountains separating the Navajo from the Blanco. It is possible the road passed just beneath what we today call Spring Creek Lakes and then crossed the spine today carrying the road from U.S. 84 to Buckles/Harris Lakes and then dropped into the Spence Creek drainage. From there the road would have hit the Blanco River about where Blue Creek runs into the Blanco from the north side. From there, the road followed today’s Blue Creek Road to the Little Blanco and, from there, across the next ridge of mountains into Squaw Valley. It would have joined U.S. 84 from the east where Squaw Creek Road joins U.S. 84 today.

The story and possible stage route may not be true, but they are fun to think about.

Next week I’ll write about the Allison Gang stage holdups west of Pagosa Springs.

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