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Unable to find El Dorado, the first settlers move on

Pagosa’s earliest settlers were a varied lot, coming from all parts of the nation and representing a variety of occupations. The very earliest wave of settlers were prospectors searching for El Dorado, get-rich-quick gold. Those first settlers left few tracks and, if they didn’t find El Dorado, tended to move on as silently as they came.

Right behind were the homesteaders, the kind of people who build a country. Pagosa’s prospectors came in the mid-1870s and by 1880 were mostly gone. There was no oro, no gold near Pagosa Springs. A few of the settlers followed Fort Lewis into the community circa 1877/1878 and stayed. Some of their descendants are still here. A class of people who could be called settlers, some of them in covered wagons, continued to trickle in as late as the early 1920s. Agricultural homesteads were available until the 1920s, although the quality of the choices was pretty much gone. And so, we continue to look at those early settlers who contributed to the foundations of our community.

Dr. McKendree DeMotte was born in Kane, Illinois, in May of 1822 and died June 2, 1924. At the age of 12, his heart turned to the ministry. He was licensed to preach by the time he was 17, when he entered Illinois Wesleyan University. Two years later, he joined the Union Army, reached the rank of captain in the 10th Missouri Secret Service, and was twice captured. He spent 64 years in the ministry, the latter part of which were served in Utah, Nebraska, and Colorado. He was pastor of the Methodist and Episcopal Churches in Pagosa Springs and Meeker, and the Community Church at Cedaridge. He was married twice, his first wife passing away. By that marriage he had four daughters and one son. He married Myrtle G. Webmer at Sterling, Colorado, Sept. 21, 1898.

Mrs. Myrtle DeMotte was the wife of Dr. DeMotte. They came to Pagosa Springs Jan. 14, 1905. She passed away in Sterling, Colorado, May 16, 1950. During her last years she lived with her sister, Mrs. Alford Gaylord.

Mrs. Maud Diehl was the eldest daughter of Mortimer and Emma Bayles and was born at Pagosa Springs Oct. 14, 1894. She taught several terms in Pagosa Springs and county schools.

Marie Egger Douglass was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. D.L Egger, the editor and founder of Pagosa Springs’ first newspaper in 1891. She died in June of 1952 in Van Nuys, Calif. After being born in Pagosa Springs, she worked as a clerk in the Colorado legislature for several years. After marrying Douglass, she moved to California. She had brothers Leroy and Raymond, and a sister Mrs. Helen Owen.

John L. Dowell was a member of a family that had a significant influence while helping settle early Pagosa Country. He was born in Monroe County, Ohio, Aug. 13, 1844, and served in the Union Army during the Civil War. He moved from Illinois to Kansas in 1869, from Kansas to Colorado in 1876, and to Pagosa Springs in 1878, where he resided until passing away in June of 1918. He was active in business, political, and financial affairs in the county. He was the first mayor of Pagosa Springs, served two terms as county commissioner, and in other ways served the community. He maintained a home in town and homesteaded the property now known as Mill Creek Ranch near the head of Mill Creek.

It was at this ranch during the flood of 1911 that his brother Jake drowned in the rampaging waters of Mill Creek. He had the two-story frame house built on this ranch during the mid-1890s. The last I knew, the house was still standing. He never married. His sisters were Gertrude Dowell, Laura Grimes, and Mary McDonald.

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