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Old Spanish Trail influenced Pagosa history

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Photo courtesy John M. Motter The Archuleta family, for whom our county is named, were prominent in local business affairs during the early days, as shown by this letterhead.

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
The Archuleta family, for whom our county is named, were prominent in local business affairs during the early days, as shown by this letterhead.

Donkeys and mules were used to carry freight along the Old Spanish Trail between Santa Fe and Los Angeles during the mid and early 1800s. The trail crossed Archuleta County, therefore influencing our history. Historians Leroy and Ann W. Hafen leave us this description of the daily chore of packing and unpacking the beasts of burden.

“Muleteering is the natural occupation of the Mexican. He is in all his glory while traveling as one of the mozos of a large atajo — a caravan of pack mules; but the height of his ambition is to attain the rank of mayordomo or capitan — the brigadero of Castile. The atajos, numbering from fifty to two hundred mules, travel a daily distance — journada — of  twelve or fifteen miles, each mule carrying a pack weighing from two to four hundred pound. To a large atajo eight or ten muleteers are attached, and the dexterity and quickness with which they will saddle and pack an atajo of a hundred mules is surprising. The animals being driven to the spot, the lasso whirls around the head of the muleteer and falls over the head of a particular mule. The tapojos is placed over the eyes, the heavy aparejo is adjusted, and the pack secured in three minutes. On reaching the place where they purpose to encamp, the packsaddles are arranged in regular order, with the packs between, and covered with petates, a trench being cut around them in wet weather to carry off the rain. One mule is always packed with a metate — the stone block upon which the maize is ground to make tortillas, and the office of cook is undertaken in turn by each of the muleteers. Frijoles and chile Colorado comprise the daily bill of fare.”

Sometimes sheep and horses in large herds were driven over the trail. James C. Calhoun, Governor of the Territory of New Mexico, received this report in 1850.

“Captain. Augnex (Aubrey) confirms the location of the Utahs west of the San Juan river: The following copy of a letter, the original of which was transmitted to me by Gen. Choice, is not only worthy of entire credit, but contains valuable information — 3 miles below crossing of St. John — Dear Genl. The bearer of this, Tamucha, came to camp last evening and is the first Utah seen since leaving Abiquiu. We have now in camp some ten or twelve — two chiefs. These men aided us this morning in crossing the St. John. Their main encampment is some three or four leagues from here, on the Rio Piedra — and they seem peaceably inclined — They are a little importunate for presents; but otherwise very quiet and well inclined. Unless they change we anticipate no difficulty from them. Hitherto we have not seen any of the Utahs we saw at your house. For Indians, they are seemingly clever. With little trouble you can secure their lasting friendship.”

More next week from people traveling through Pagosa Country in 1850, an unknown wilderness to them.

This story was posted on April 24, 2014.