Pagosa’s Past: Locating Pagosa Country

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Dr. Mary Winter Fisher circa 1900, a Pagosa Springs doctor for whom Pagosa Springs medical facilities have been named.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist

An hour south of Pagosa Springs in New Mexico is the Jicarilla Apache Reservation. The Indian Agency headquarters for the Jicarilla Apache Nation is located in Dulce. The tribal government is located there and that is where most tribal activities are conducted.

Dulce is located on the Amargo River near its confluence with the Navajo River. The Navajo River joins the San Juan River in Archuleta County, after which their mingled waters flow into the Colorado River and thence into the Pacific Ocean by way of the Gulf of Lower California.

A few miles from Dulce over a gentle divide (the Continental Divide) are the headlands of the Chama River. The Chama drains into the Rio Grande River and eventually their joined waters flow into the Gulf of Mexico.

One of the great trails of the early west began in Santa Fe, ran north along the Rio Grande River, turned northwest and followed the Chama River to the vicinity of Los Ojos, crossed the Chama River, crossed the Continental Divide, passed down the Amargo River near Dulce and on to the Navajo River, then the San Juan River, thence westerly to Los Angeles, Calif. Native Americans, fur traders, ‘49ers headed for the California gold fields and settlers “lookin’ for a home” all followed this trail. It became known as “The Old Spanish Trail.”

The Old Spanish Trail and other geographical similarities link the Chama River Valley of New Mexico with Pagosa Country. Roads, railroads, logging and kinship of settlers has strengthened. In this history, it is all treated as Pagosa Country.

Today, much of the Chama River Valley is taken up by the Jicarilla Apache Indian Reservation. The word Jicarilla means “Basket Maker” in old Spanish. 

Next week, we’ll launch a brief history of the Jicarilla.

This story was posted on December 29, 2020.