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Game grew scarce, leading to threat of war

Photo courtesy of John M. Motter This 1890s photo of Pagosa Springs was taken from a little hill north of town with the camera lens pointing south. In the foreground, stretched along 4th Street, are four identical buildings. These buildings housed the officers of Fort Lewis, which occupied what is now the main business block of Pagosa Springs. It is said two of these buildings were dismantled and reassembled as one building on the Hott Ranch north of town on Fourmile Road.

Photo courtesy of John M. Motter
This 1890s photo of Pagosa Springs was taken from a little hill north of town with the camera lens pointing south. In the foreground, stretched along 4th Street, are four identical buildings. These buildings housed the officers of Fort Lewis, which occupied what is now the main business block of Pagosa Springs. It is said two of these buildings were dismantled and reassembled as one building on the Hott Ranch north of town on Fourmile Road.

During the early years of settlement in Pagosa Country, the naturally occurring wild game such as deer, elk, sheep and antelope nearly disappeared. The cause is obvious, and relates to the fact that many of the businesses that employed large numbers of men often provided room and board for those men.

The room was often just a place to pitch a tent. That was usually the case with the crews building railroads. That was true when Gen. William Palmer extended his Denver & Rio Grande narrow gauge railroad across the southern San Juan Mountains and into the San Juan Basin during the late 1870s and early 1880s.

Palmer’s crews lived in tent cities that moved periodically to keep up with the westward-moving track that crossed the San Juans at Cumbres Pass in the mountains east of Chama and snaked its way to a city created by Palmer called Durango. Durango was founded in 1881, the year the railroad arrived.

As the tracks crept westward, new communities sprouted around the tent cities where the construction crews lived. Many of those sprouting communities lasted until the railroad was closed. A few remain until this day. Some of those communities in New Mexico included Monero, Amargo and El Navajo. As the line crossed the border into Colorado, communities such as Juanita, Cat Creek, Arboles, Allison and many more appeared. Most of these communities no longer exist.

Now, returning to our opening comments about the game disappearing, the railroad was involved because Palmer hired professional hunters to supply wild (free) meat to his hungry workers.

In addition to the railroads, the proliferation of mining companies in the high mountains also hired hunters. The mining camp of Summitville started in 1870 and, by that time, mines were already operating at Lake City, Silverton, Ouray, among other places that no longer exist. Naturally, the mining companies fed the free meat to their crews.

And, finally, the settlers also believed it was their God-given right to eat anything they could shoot.

Attacked by such intense hunting pressure, it was not long before most of the game disappeared.

Enter a new problem. What about the original residents of the area who had depended on the naturally occurring meat supply long before Columbus sailed across the Atlantic?

The answer is, those original inhabitants could no longer find game to feed their families. They grew increasingly desperate and angry. They knew who was taking away their food.

And so, the threat of war loomed large and imminent between natives indigenous to Pagosa Country and the settlers. The Anglo response was predictable. This sequence of events had been going on since the first Europeans landed on the east coast of the continent. Bring in the Army and build forts.

This story was posted on June 26, 2014.