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Pagosa pioneers: tough, resourceful, successful

Last week, we started printing short biographies of key Pagosa pioneers.

Our purpose is to give a snapshot view of the diversity of those first pioneers. When possible, we show when they arrived in Pagosa Country, where they came from, how they traveled, what their occupations were, and other relevant information

Sarah and H.R. Bowling were early Pagosa Springs merchants. She was born in Knoxville, Kentucky, June 6, 1850. She came to Colorado with her parents in 1863. At Pueblo, in 1865, at the age of 15, she married H.H. Melrose and from this union were born James W. and Joseph M. Melrose. Joseph was born April 11, 1874, in Wetmore, Colorado. At the age of 12 he came to Pagosa Springs with his mother, Sarah E. Melrose Bowling and stepfather H.R. Bowling, as did his brother James. They had a half sister, Mrs. Edith Mack, and half brothers Walter and Arthur Bowling.

Sarah married H.R. Bowling at Rosita, Colorado, in 1879. Both the Bowling and Melrose names are prominent in early Pagosa Springs history — financially, as merchants, as ranchers and as active in civic affairs.

Kittie Sallee Brown was born Jan. 11, 1854, at Clinton, Missouri. With her husband, James Reavis, and son Thomas she moved to Del Norte, Colorado, in 1874. At that time there was no town at Pagosa Springs. Early Pagosa history claims she was the first white woman to visit the Pagosa Hot Springs. According to the story, she made the trip from Del Norte to Pagosa Springs on horseback in 1876, still before the town was started. She carried her baby son, Tom, on that horseback trip across the Continental Divide by way of Elwood Pass and down the East Fork of the San Juan River before any roads were built in that direction. She married U.B. Vincent in Del Norte and moved permanently to Pagosa Springs in 1879, where she married M.O. Brown in 1892. She passed on May 25, 1928, leaving as survivors son Thomas Reavis, daughter Mrs. Muriel Vincent Bowling, and sister Mrs. Richard Wooderson.

Frank Buckles was one of the early pioneers of the West having spent time at Tombstone, Arizona, purportedly at the same time the Earps and Clantons were shooting at each other at the OK Corral. He moved to Pagosa Springs in 1899 and built what is now the Adobe Building on Lewis Street, which he operated for a few years as a general store and hotel. Buckles was civic minded and served on the Pagosa Springs town board. A lake just below V-Rock is named for him. I don’t know the story of how that came about, but suppose Buckles and Harris lakes are enhancements of naturally occurring beaver ponds.

Felix A. (Fil) Byrnes was born in Ohio May 27, 1858, and died in a Durango hospital Dec. 10, 1932. Upon his arrival in Colorado ,where he came from Kansas at an early age, he engaged in freighting in the San Luis Valley. He first came to Pagosa Springs in 1878, a community he helped to settle and where he spent the remainder of his days. He came here as a teacher, first teaching in a little log cabin on the east side of the river when Fort Lewis was still an active frontier fort on the west side of the river where the main business district of town now is. He carried mail from Summitville, making his trips by wagon, horseback and on homemade skis. He also drove the stage and carried the mail between Amargo and Pagosa Springs while living in the Halfway House in Halfway Canyon.

In addition to being the first school teacher, he was the first county school superintendent. At the time of his death, he was serving his eighth year as county judge. He served 35 years in the Archuleta County courthouse. He helped organize and was an officer of the San Juan Pioneer Association. On Nov. 26, 1887, he married Miss Annie Kern. He also launched several local businesses, including a title company and an insurance business.

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