History – The Pagosa Springs SUN http://www.pagosasun.com The most trusted source for news and information about Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Thu, 05 Dec 2019 22:40:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.5 Crossing Wolf Creek Pass in 1916 http://www.pagosasun.com/crossing-wolf-creek-pass-in-1916/ Tue, 10 Dec 2019 12:00:34 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=192513

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
The Hersch and Hatcher families crossed Wolf Creek Pass when it was newly opened but construction still in progress. These photos shows one of their cars narrowly avoiding caroming down the mountainside.

Motter’s note: a few years ago, Marguerite graciously provided me with a typed copy of this story.
Among the first to cross newly opened Wolf Creek Pass in the family autos were the Hersch and Hatcher families. Here is the story of that adventure as told by Myrtle Hersch:
“In February of 1916, our Chalmers car was shipped from Pagosa Springs by Denver and Rio Grande narrow gauge railroad to Santa Fe, New Mexico, as the town was snowed in at that time of the year. There, our family, consisting of my husband David, our thirteen-year-old son Joseph, and small daughter Marguerite and I began a leisurely tour of 6,000 miles, through warmer, and lower altitude states. We planned our homecoming over the new pass, later in the summer, from the east side.
“At that time there were none of the luxury motels as of today, so we carried a complete camping equipment with us for comfortable living either inside or out in the wide-open spaces. We did little real camping — like the hotels better. Tent setting we found difficult on soft hands, so we took the easier way, and kept our overnight bags easily within reach.
“On our return we spent some time in Denver, where we bought a new seven passenger Cadillac V-8 car while the Chalmers was being painted and reconditioned. Joseph went into the Cadillac garage and worked and became quite an expert at placing cars, tire changing, greasing, and what-have-you. At that time there were not the rules and regulations for drivers that we have now.
The highway engineer informed us it would be a few more days, as heavy rock work had delayed their progress.”
Continued next week.

An epic journey over Wolf Creek Pass http://www.pagosasun.com/an-epic-journey-over-wolf-creek-pass/ Wed, 27 Nov 2019 12:00:52 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=191723

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Last week we showed you a picture of the Chapson family who lived at the foot of this side of Wolf Creek Pass shortly after 1900. This week we’re showing you how the Chapson boys spent their time — hidin’ out.

The first folks to drive over Wolf Creek Pass in 1916 made what was at that time an epic journey. I am fortunate to have an eye-witness account of that adventure graciously given to me by Marguerite Wylie.
Prior to the building of Wolf Creek Pass, folks coming from Del Norte and the northern parts of the San Luis Valley to Pagosa Springs crossed the Continental Divide at Elwood Pass and followed the East Fork of the San Juan River downstream to its juncture with the San Juan West Fork, and from that juncture down the San Juan Valley to Pagosa Springs.
A little review of the history of the San Luis Valley and Pagosa Country up to the time we’re talking about might enlighten the picture we’re trying to paint. Before we fire up our enlightener, it’s good to keep in mind that almost all of the roads and highways we’re using today started out as Native American trails.
We’re starting in 1858 because that is when the U.S. took over the San Luis Valley and Pagosa Country at the end of the Mexican-American War. Hispanics had already scratched out a few settlements in the San Luis Valley, which at the time was part of New Mexico Territory. The most notable of those settlements were at Conejos on the west side of the valley and San Luis on the east side of the valley. I recommend that our history-lovin’ readers spend a day out visiting both of those places.
As happened frequently in the frontier history of this area, the Southern Utes were threatening both of those communities. In 1858, Kit Carson was Indian agent for the Utes, Apaches and Navajos who frequented our area of interest. Carson, despite his diminutive 5-foot-6-inch frame, lived to dictate his life story on the frontier by shooting first and asking questions later.
Fort Garland over on the east side of the San Luis Valley was built in 1858 to house federal troops brought in to control the Utes.
Now it’s time we to bring Pagosa Springs and Elwood Pass into our picture. Let’s jump to 1876. By 1876, gold had been discovered in the San Juans and prospectors were treckin’ through Pagosa Springs to reach the gold. The Utes were metamorphising from snarley-toothed to downright dangerous. And so the Army decided to build a fort in Pagosa Springs and call it Fort Lewis. The Army also built a wagon road to transport troops and supplies from Fort Garland to Fort Lewis. The shortest route across the rugged South San Juan Mountains was across Elwood Pass while skirting the gold mines at Summitville.
Colorado soon took over the Elwood route from the Army, maintained it and promoted it. Soon, travelers from back east on their way to California’s gold bonanza crossed the San Juan Mountains using Elwood Pass. That route served its purpose until an act of nature, known as the flood of 1911, convinced the state highway higher-ups to look for a new route across the Silvery San Juans. Come back next week to learn about the origin of Wolf Creek Pass.

Pagosa Country in the early years http://www.pagosasun.com/pagosa-country-in-the-early-years/ Tue, 19 Nov 2019 12:00:11 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=191296

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
The Chapson family, pictured here shortly after 1900, lived for awhile on the east side of U.S. 160 between the bottom of Wolf Creek Pass and Treasure Falls. Stretched across the photo behind the family patriarch is good proof that you don’t have to have big bucks to build a picket fence.

It’s probably safe to say the town of Pagosa Springs started on June 5 of 1878 because that’s when the first post office opened for business. Somehow, the name Joe Clarke wasn’t mentioned as a pioneer when I started attending San Juan Historical Society meetings and writing history columns in The Pagosa Springs SUN in 1976. Incidentally, you history buffs likely remember that Colorado celebrated her 100-year anniversary as a state in 1976.
Despite the History Society’s lack of affirmation, the license for that post office was issued to Clarke, who also had a general store and saloon in the general vicinity of the sewage lagoon south of town on the west side of the San Juan River. There was a bridge across the river at that point carrying the road (Baker’s Toll Road) from Española to high in the San Juan Mountains at Baker’s Park and its newly discovered gold ore deposits. Other businesses in town at that time were Clarke’s rooming house; a stables, livery and feed business run by William S. Peabody; Tom Blair’s Rose Bud Saloon and the area’s first sawmill started by E.R. Cooper.
These early-day pioneers were soon joined in 1879 by E.T. Walker and Charles Loucks, who freighted their sawmill, and Walker’s steam engine over Cumbres Pass. Margaret and James Voorhees opened a general store. Fil Byrne taught in the government school. Nossaman staked out a claim to his ranch north of town. Norbert Berard hauled freight, maybe with an ox team. Newman, Chestnut and Co. came down from Summitville to start a drug store.
With the newly acquired Army base, soon to be named Fort Lewis, things were a-hummin’ in Pagosa Country.
In October, the 15th Infantry came hup-two-three-fourin’ into town. As anybody who lives here knows, winter weather can lather Pagosa Country anytime. And, so, the Army got busy building shelters for troops and horses and mules. The Army pitched their tents on the northwest side of the San Juan River, where the main block of downtown Pagosa is today. The business buildings I mentioned earlier in this column, except for Clarke’s, were scattered along what today is San Juan Street on the east side of the river. Since the town wasn’t platted and surveyed until 1883, folks set up housekeeping and shops anywhere that was convenient and not already occupied.
Anything you ever saw in a western movie happened in Pagosa Country during those early years. Picture shoot-outs, knife fights and the threat of Native American warfare. Imagine pushing and shoving over who owned the water and whose cows grazed where. There were hardworking sodbusters just “lookin’ for a home,” and there were hard-ridin’, quick-shootin’ cowboys lookin’ for a fight. During the winters, miners and prospectors abandoned their high mountain digs and came to town where they turned their burros loose and drank hard whiskey as long as there was a jingle in their jeans.

Hot springs, hot water and high hopes http://www.pagosasun.com/hot-springs-hot-water-and-high-hopes-5/ Tue, 12 Nov 2019 12:00:56 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=190745

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
In the pioneer days of Pagosa Country, it was thought that “real” cowboys were cowboys who worked with cattle. Old-timers have said that the real money was earned by sheep ranchers because they had two crops, wool and mutton. This photo of J.T. Martinez loading bags of wool to be sent to market at the Pagosa Junction railroad station seems to support the sheep-raising proposal. In those days, sheep were raised by the tens of thousands in Pagosa Country.

Ownership of the bubbling hot waters known as the Pagosa Hot Springs has always been a source of contention from the beginning of recorded history for this area. As we have written in previous columns, several races and cultures fought over the springs.
Finally, the Mexican/American War ended in 1848 with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. One provision of that Treaty gave the U.S. title to an area containing the Hot Springs as part of the more than 500,000 square miles of newly acquired land.
When settlers started homesteading on the recently acquired acreage, it was obviously incumbent upon the U.S. to explore the newly acquired acreage. Also, since most of that territory was inhabited by a variety of Native American nations who had not been invited to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and had not been asked if they objected when a large number of whites began unloading their wagons and digging gold mines and plowing up crop lands where those Native Americans were accustomed to pitching tipis and searching for grub.
Not surprisingly, the abused Native Americans began to acquire rifles and point them at the white invaders. And so, the U.S. sent in the Cavalry with more combatants and guns than the Native Americans had ever seen. Those Cavalry troops not only rode horses, they moved pretty fast when riding the rails.
Now that we have established the context of what was going on in Hot Springs and Pagosa Country, we resume describing local history after peace returned following the Civil War.
The Army built Fort Lewis in Pagosa Springs starting in 1878 and sent Company D, Ninth Cavalry into Southwestern Colorado and Utah to learn: (A) if the Old Spanish Trail would be a good place to build a rail line connecting Santa Fe with the West Coast, and (B) to calm down the itchy-fingered Southern Utes who were spending nights dancing to the beat of war drums as they contemplated using force to persuade miners and settlers to go somewhere else to dig holes and plow up the ground.
Company D was a unit manned by black soldiers and white officers who had recently been engaged in combat with Apaches in New Mexico and Texas.

Hot water, hot springs and high hopes http://www.pagosasun.com/hot-water-hot-springs-and-high-hopes-7/ Tue, 05 Nov 2019 12:00:20 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=190300

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
This photo shows the enlisted men’s and officer’s quarters of Old Fort Lewis, which in 1887 occupied the main block (Block 21) of what is now downtown Pagosa Springs. This was the original site of what is now Fort Lewis College in Durango.

This week we conclude the story we started based on a memoir Nellie Pollock Snyder received from her mother. The memoir described an 1861 visit to the Great Pagosa Hot Springs, one of the earliest visits to the Springs on record.
“Mother said they had a laugh at one of the men who thought that nice hot water hole an ideal place to launder his shirt, a woolen one. Of course, it simply fell to pieces when he took it out of the spring — no small loss at that time I assure you.”
Mother was Sarah Chivington Pollock, the daughter of Col. John M. Chivington. Later that year, Pollock’s party joined Charles Baker, who discovered gold near today’s Silverton, triggering a gold rush which led to the initial settlement of San Juan Country.
The Pollock family left the San Juans but returned some years later. Tom Pollock died at Howardsville in 1876. His widow married William Giardin, a well-known name in Pagosa Springs a few years ago.
Col. Chivington’s place in Colorado history is unfortunately marred because in 1863, he commanded a 675-man cavalry unit that massacred the residents of a Native American village located along Sand Creek on the Colorado/Kansas border. The number of Cheyenne/Arapahoe Indians killed or injured is estimated to be as high as 500. Most of the warriors from the village were reportedly absent, leaving the women and children almost helpless to resist the onslaught.
Meanwhile, Welch Nossaman dropped down from his Summitville gold digging activities to visit the Pagosa Hot Springs circa 1876. The San Juan Mountains had been the destination for an untold number of prospectors hoping to enrich themselves with the supposed golden jackpots hidden beneath the San Juans’ craggy crests. A goodly number of those miners, including the one who literally “lost his shirt” according to the opening paragraphs of this column, got a look at the Hot Springs on their way to Silverton.
Prospectors also entered the San Juans by way of Del Norte and Stoney Pass, where they dropped down into Cunningham Gulch. Some of these miners coming from the east across the Continental Divide also took a side trip to the Hot Springs. Nossaman was one of these. In fact, more gold was dug out of the mountains surrounding the Summitville camp near the headwaters of the San Juan River than was mined at Silverton. The Silverton mines produced mostly, as you probably guessed, silver.
Where we’re going with this story next week is, even with all of the busyness surrounding the bubbly hot water, it had not occurred to anyone to seek ownership. That omission was about to change, a change which resulted in confrontation amongst several would-be owners.

The first settlers http://www.pagosasun.com/the-first-settlers/ Tue, 29 Oct 2019 11:00:13 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=189898

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Welch Nossaman, in 1876, built the first cabin in what today is Pagosa Springs.

In 1876, Pagosa Country’s first settlers located along the road connecting Tierra Amarilla and the lower Animas Valley, where Durango is today. In the southern part of what today is Archuleta County, they settled on the banks of the Navajo River in the Edith area.
Those first settlers were Jose Marcelino Archuleta and Jose Guadalupe Trujillo. Archuleta County was formed in 1885 and named for the father of Jose Marcelino. Archuleta and Trujillo had been living near Conejos in the San Luis Valley for several years. They crossed Cumbres Pass and dropped into the Chama River Valley on the west side of the Continental Divide while driving a herd of 500 sheep and 17 cows. Trujillo later moved on to the Montezuma Cañon area. The community of Trujillo is named for him.
Also in 1876, Eli Perkins settled on the Piedra River near the present U.S. 160 bridge. It was written of Perkins, “Along about 1876, Anno Domini, there came to this virgin land of promise a bachelor named Perkins, whose outlines reminded one of Kit Carson, and one-half mile west of the Piedra, and just off the present highway, excavated himself a primitive doodlebug dugout with a periscope in its attic for observing Lo’s early morning habits. Nearby he tilled a few acres of wild soil all by his lonesome.”
Needing cash, Welch Nossaman, probably the first to live in the town of Pagosa Springs, helped Peterson dig an irrigation ditch from Yellowjacket Creek. After working for two months for the promise of one dollar a day, Nossaman learned that Perkins couldn’t pay him and left for the mining town of Silverton. Along the way to Silverton, Nossaman stopped in Pine River to work for Charley “Racehorse” Johnson for a few days. River was today’s Bayfield.
More next week.

Hot water, hot springs and high hopes http://www.pagosasun.com/hot-water-hot-springs-and-high-hopes-6/ Sun, 20 Oct 2019 11:00:24 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=189151

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Ma and Pa Cade played a prominent role in Pagosa Country history. Their Lynch descendants survive yet today and a short drive north of town will take you to Cade Flats, named for the Cades.

We continue the history of the Great Pagosa Hot Springs intent on describing the competition among white settlers for ownership of the Springs. First, I’d like our readers to see the Springs through the eyes of one of the first white families to see the Springs.
In 1861, a party led by Thomas Pollock trotted out of Denver on their way to test their luck for gold in the recently discovered lodes in the south San Juan Mountains. They formed the wagon train in Denver, then trudged mile by dusty mile down the east side of the Front Range, struggled across La Veta Pass, turned southward down the east side of the San Luis Valley past Fort Garland into New Mexico and the Chama River Valley, which they followed northward, then crossed over to the San Juan River Valley at Pagosa Springs, where they rested for awhile before going on to the gold fields. Here is the story of that adventure as told by Nellie Pollock Snyder:
“They left Denver with a large wagon-train and of that train, there was nothing left except two yoke of oxen when they returned about two years later. I do not know how many graves were left in those lonely hills of men killed in their beds under the wagon in which she was sleeping. The tribes of Indians were at that time all hostile and they never knew when the war whoop would sound. I have heard her tell many things of that trip, of the dreadful winter and the terrible storms, she was at one time nearly frozen to death, and they cut to pieces the wagon boxes to make wood for fire to keep her warm. She told me that she saw my father drive his own men around the wagons and whip them with a black snake whip to keep them moving so they would not freeze to death. Several times on that trip, they were compelled to take the wagons to pieces and lower them over bluffs and cliffs. She told me of her first impression upon seeing what is now Pagosa Springs, and when I later stood and looked at that little town and the big, boiling spring, I tried to picture for myself how that camp of white men and one woman must have looked in that lonely and dangerous country where they never knew from one moment to the next when they must fight for their lives. It is a lovely place now, even after so called civilization has robbed it of much of its original beauty. What must it have been in all its wild glory?”

Hot water, hot springs and high hopes http://www.pagosasun.com/hot-water-hot-springs-and-high-hopes-5/ Sun, 06 Oct 2019 11:00:34 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=179240

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Back in the days before gasoline or diesel engines did most of the farm work, teams of horses, mules or oxen did the sweating, as shown in this photo where a crew near Edith, Colo., is harvesting rye. The rye was used to feed the livestock, especially the horses.

One of the best-loved stories buried in Pagosa Country history tells of a knife fight between Albert Pfeiffer and a huge Navajo brave for ownership of the Great Pagosa Hot Springs.
Just to set the stage for this story, our readers should know that in the days before white settlement of Pagosa Country, the Hot Springs were considered “Big Medicine” by Indian tribes living in the southwest. Among the best known of the tribes who left moccasin prints here were the Navajo, Southern Utes and Jicarilla Apaches.
Our story took place circa 1870 when well-known frontiersman Kit Carson served as Indian agent for those tribes. During his last years, Carson lived with the last of his wives in Taos. He had a compadre, also a well-known frontiersman and Indian fighter, Pfeiffer. Pfeiffer spent his final years near South Fork on the other side of Wolf Creek Pass from Pagosa Springs. A historic marker sits in front of his home near South Fork.
And so, let the story begin.
The curtain opens a few miles west of Pagosa Springs where a band of Navajo and a band of Southern Utes made camp while they argued about ownership of the Hot Springs. A stone marker on the east side of U.S. 160 identifies the location where today’s story took place.
Finally, the tribal leaders chosen to negotiate the problem agreed on a solution. Instead of fighting a bloody battle which would claim the lives of many warriors, each tribe would choose a man and the two would fight to the end, winner take all. The Navajos chose a giant of a man, a warrior they were confident could not be beaten.
The Utes chose long-time tribal friend Pfeiffer to represent them, a seemingly illogical choice. Pfeiffer stood only 5 feet 5 inches and looked like a dwarf beside his opponent. Without hesitation, Pfeiffer accepted the challenge. Given the choice of weapons, Pfeiffer slipped a much-used bowie knife from its sheath on his hip, licked his lips and tested the keenness of the blade, and insisted the two strip and fight buck naked.
Now is a good time to point out that Pfeiffer was not as overmatched as it might seem. His naked body was tattooed with scars revealing the number of battles he had already fought and won. His opponent knew of Pfeiffer’s prowess and possibly, after eyeballing the scars, considered him unbeatable. And so, the Navajo warrior may have been the combatant most intimidated.
We’ll finish this story next week.

Hot water, hot springs and high hopes http://www.pagosasun.com/hot-water-hot-springs-and-high-hopes-4/ Sun, 29 Sep 2019 11:00:14 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=178774

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Many an adventure took place at these springs. During pioneer days, cowboys and Indians celebrated July 4th by staging winner-take-all horse races near the springs. The springs’ surroundings were dotted with tepees.

It has been well documented that before the white man shouldered his way into Pagosa Country, the Great Pagosa Hot Springs were a source of awe to the resident native Americans. A legend of uncertain origin, but attributed to the Southern Ute Indians, is passed down with the folklore of Pagosa Country.
The legend tells of the origin of the Springs and adds to the aura of mystery surrounding the Springs to this day. Even now, when folks exchange stories about the Springs, voices get softer, more secretive, and sentences begin with “Did you know … ?” Everyone leans closer to the storyteller, hands cupped behind ears so as to not miss a word, and the mystery begins to unfold.
According to the Ute legend, a perplexing plague fell upon their people. They exhausted all of the skills of their medicine men, to no avail. Tribal members continued to drop dead. Drum beats thundered in desperation throughout the night, reaching the ears of large numbers of Utes, who abandoned buffalo hunting and other life skills and padded silently across the mountains to Pagosa Country, where they planted tepees on the banks of the San Juan River near the Springs.
A council of the greatest chiefs squatted in a ring around the Great Hot Spring, smoking pipes of peace as their guttural voices lifted heaven-ward, begging help from the ethereal gods.
Finally, after blackened pipes had rounded the circle many times, it was decided to build a gigantic fire accenting the desperate, upward cry for help. Around the roaring fire they danced and prayed. During the night while they slept on the spot where the fire had raged, a pool of boiling water appeared.
The grateful Utes bathed in and drank the water from the boiling spring and were healed.
Another story, which may well be fact, tells of a battle between Ute and Navajo for ownership of the Spring. Some say the fight took place in 1867. Others say it was in 1873. The tribes, both desirous of owning the Springs, met and skirmished all day long with neither side gaining advantage. Finally, they settled the bitter fracas by choosing one man from each tribe and having the two, armed with knives, confront each other. The winner’s tribe would own the springs.
Who won? Read next week’s column and you’ll know.

Hot water, hot springs and high hopes http://www.pagosasun.com/hot-water-hot-springs-and-high-hopes-3/ Wed, 25 Sep 2019 11:00:00 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=178230

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
The steaming waters of the Great Pagosa Hot Springs are not as innocuous as they appear in this photograph. Read the following account of how one itinerant failed to survive immersion in those waters.

In last week’s column, we reported the braggado of Daniel Egger, editor of Pagosa Springs’ first newspaper started in April of 1890.
Egger proved to be an excellent promoter of the healing qualities of the Great Pagosa Hot Springs. While Egger was encouraging the local business community to build more hotels and restaurants to attract more tourists, an Army surgeon in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., arrived in town with a cadre of injured and ailing soldiers.
On July 3, 1890, 20 soldiers from the Kansas fort arrived at the Springs under command of a Maj. Weaver. They bivouacked at the cabin home of S.C. Bell on the north side of the river.
More soldiers arrived as the year progressed and Egger unfailingly noted their arrival and improving health. Weaver had no problem in getting Egger to report on his soldiers in every edition of the “Pagosa News.”
Egger quoted the Army surgeon as saying, “I have much reliance in Pagosa as a health resort, from its peculiar position as to altitude and surroundings (pine forests), in which in every respect it is superior to Carlsbad, and infinitely more so to every other thermal spring in this country, not excepting the much vaunted springs of Arkansas.”
Soldiers weren’t the only ones bathing in the healing waters. Eggers reported in May that “L. W. Smith, Peter Usler, and E.W. Digges; miners from Red Mountain, were bathing in the celebrated waters,” and “Mr. Slevin of Silver Cliff could hardly walk when he arrived at the Springs ten days ago , and last Saturday he ran a foot race. Such are the wonderful cures of the Pagosa Springs.” Slevin liked the treatment so much he soon moved to Pagosa Springs, maintained a home in Pagosa and a farm at Arboles, and eventually died at the Old Soldiers Home in Monte Vista. Smith also moved to Pagosa Springs. Ten years later he published a newspaper in competition with the ebullient Egger.
At least one tragedy took place in the bubbling hot sulfur waters. A headline in the Pagosa Springs News of Nov. 30, 1900, proclaimed, “An Unknown Man Parboiled In the Pagosa Hot Springs.” The story following the headlined described the remains thusly: “The hot water certainly did its work well, for when the corpse was examined more closely, it was found that the flesh was literally boiled to pieces, flesh falling from his hands and face, those being the only part exposed … the spring has a temperature of 160˚(sic) and death no doubt occurred almost instantly.”