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Early writings describe Ute camps and natural beauty

Photo courtesy John M. Motter Welch Nossaman, the pioneer who filed the first homestead claim in the Pagosa Springs area. He is credited with building the first cabin in Pagosa Springs in 1876 and many other firsts. Welch was a small man, maybe 5-foot-7.

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Welch Nossaman, the pioneer who filed the first homestead claim in the Pagosa Springs area. He is credited with building the first cabin in Pagosa Springs in 1876 and many other firsts. Welch was a small man, maybe 5-foot-7.

We continue from last week, when we were quoting from memoirs left by Joseph W. Picket, a minister who described the Pagosa Hot Springs in June of 1878.

“June 8 — I arose early and walked along the beautiful banks of the river. The tents of the Utes were stretched along the bluffs on the opposite side of the river, looking very romantic, their ponies feeding and their flocks of sheep and goats nearby. The springs send up a dense steam in the cool morning air. The Warm Springs of North Carolina do not compare with these. The government retains ownership, one square mile. There are no accommodations whatever. I had a charming bath, though my pit hole was most too hot.

“I had a nice breakfast — ham and eggs, goat’s milk, furnished by the Indians. These mountaineers will not take a cent for anything. When I went to catch my pony, I saw a man fishing. He drew out the largest mountain trout I ever saw, a speckled beauty of over two pounds, that made my mouth water.

“Now I am in another of the smiling valleys, sweet as the fields of Paradise, a green lawn, uncropt, bordered with hills of yellow pines, and above all the deep blue sky, with great white rolling clouds. Pony walks about, monarch of all this wealth of grass. I laugh, when I think that at first I dared not let go his rope, for fear he would run away … Had dinner with some freighters, of mutton and warm bread. At six, reached the Rio Piedra, a lovely stream, breaking through the wild mountains. I crossed the bridge, and rode up to a log cabin, without floor, window, or door; and here was a woman, the first I had seen since leaving Conejos, save the Ute squaws. Her husband had taken a claim of 160 acres, reaching to the Ute reservation south of us. He had planted wheat, oats, potatoes, and had some stock. They are Danes, have a Danish Bible.

“June 10 — I left the quiet home of Mr. Peterson this morning. My ride has been up and down the mountains all the way.”

We find scant record of the 100 or so people living in Pagosa Springs from June 5, when the post office started, until Oct. 18, when the Army marched in to begin building Fort Lewis.

Joe Clarke had a rooming house, general store and the post office. South of the hot springs, William S. Peabody pioneered a stable, livery and feed business. Tom Blair opened the Rose Bud Saloon. E.R. Cooper started the first sawmill in 1878, followed by E. T. Walker and Charles Loucks, who freighted in their sawmill and steam boiler over Cumbres Pass in 1879. Margaret and James Voorhees opened a general store. Fil Byrne taught school. Welch Nossaman filed the first homestead about a mile north of town and east of the San Juan River. Norbert Berard was a freighter. Newman, Chestnut & Company established a drug store.

This story was posted on July 17, 2014.