Hot water, hot springs and high hopes

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.

This story was posted on November 5, 2019.