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Expedition from Santa Fe to Pagosa

Looking eastward from the western boundary of Pagosa Springs, we see the railroad station in the foreground and water sprouting from the town’s first geothermal well in the center. I think the well located in the parking lot along the river paralleling Pagosa Street is the same well.

Looking eastward from the western boundary of Pagosa Springs, we see the railroad station in the foreground and water sprouting from the town’s first geothermal well in the center. I think the well located in the parking lot along the river paralleling Pagosa Street is the same well.

In an earlier column, we began the report of a Captain Augnex (Augney?), who traveled the Old Spanish Trail from New Mexico to California in 1850. We finish Captain Augnex’s report this week.

“Captain Augney and his party left here about the 25th day of July last, with 10,000 or 12,000 sheep for California. He is an intelligent man, a lawyer of distinction, and implicit confidence may be reposed in his statement which he has been pleased to give to Gen. Choice. In relation to the locality of his camp, I have not been able to obtain any reliable information. The rios Piedra and Plata are rivers unknown to me; but it seems they are not remote from each other, west of the Sierra Madre, and the first in Utah country and the latter in the Navajo region. It is perfectly evident that the whole Indian country should be thoroughly examined.” The above information was contained in the official correspondence of James C. Calhoun, governor of the Territory of New Mexico in 1850 and included in State Territorial Papers, New Mexico, 1851-1872 on microfilm at the Center for Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis College in Durango.

Traders acquired the valued California horses and mules by bartering New Mexico goods or Indian slaves. A great many more were captured by raiding. The famous mulatto mountain man James Beckworth said he drove 1,800 horses back from California in the spring of 1846. Among the most notorious of the horse thieves was Peg-leg Smith. In 1847, Smith, Old Bill Williams, and Phil Thompson were said to have stolen 3,000 California horses and mules.

It is mind-boggling to learn that these huge herds were being driven across the Rocky Mountains along the Old Spanish Trail as early as the 1840s. As a comparison, the first cabin in Pagosa Springs was built circa 1876. For decades, Pagosa Country echoed to the sounds of trade caravans, slave traders, horse traders and horse thieves.

Finally, in the summer of 1859, the U.S. government responded to the admonition of Augnex to explore the “whole Indian Country.”

Capt. John M. Macomb was given command over an army expedition whose purpose was to follow the Old Spanish Trail from Santa Fe northward to determine if the route would be suitable for a wagon road connecting New Mexico with Utah.

Macomb was the Army’s chief topographical officer in New Mexico. Twenty thousand dollars was appropriated for the expedition. Geologist John Strong Newberry and four assistants provided scientific support. Albert H. Pfeiffer, subagent to the Ute Indians at Abiquiu, served as guide. A detachment from the 8th Infantry commanded by Lt. Milton Cogswell provided military protection.

The expedition left Santa Fe in the middle of July, passed through Abiquiu, up the Chama River and near Horse Lake on what is now the Jicarilla Apache Reservation, and then apparently crossed the Navajo River at present-day Edith. From there, they traversed Coyote Park, Halfway Canyon, the Blanco River and on to the Pagosa Hot Springs. More next week on the 1859 Macomb expedition.

This story was posted on May 8, 2014.