Pagosa’s Past: The Sheepmens’ Cattlemens’ War, part three

Photo courtesy John Motter
In the early days of this area, oxen were used as draft animals as demonstrated by this load of logs headed for the mill to be sawed into lumber.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist

Once back in Pagosa Springs, Kern bedded his wounded prisoner down at Ma Cade’s Hotel on San Juan Street below Reservoir Hill. He knew the flimsy county jail was not a place in which he could protect his prisoner.

During the night, someone had taken the message across the San Juans to Juan de Dios Montoya’s family in Monte Vista that Juan was in trouble, had been shot and was being held in the custody of those gringos led by the Archuleta County sheriff. All through the night, Kern and his deputies sat with a tin cup of Ma Cade’s coffee in one hand and loaded guns at the ready.

Outside, the steady clop of horse hooves through the night echoed off of Roubidoux Hill, the sound of Montoya’s family and hired hands riding in to protect their compadre. Meanwhile, Ma Cade patched up the wounded man and spoon-fed him soup.

Roubidoux was a trapper/trader from the beaver trapping days of Rocky Mountain history. Today’s Reservoir Hill used to be named for this trapper who often visited the hot springs. In 1892, the time of our story, Pagosa Springs’ drinking water was gathered by bucket from the river, hopefully above the point where community’s wastes were dumped in the river.

And so, come first light, Kern and his posse saddled up, strapped their prisoner onto his horse and headed for Durango and the Sixth Judicial District offices where Montoya would stand trial. Montoya’s watchdogs rode along behind Sheriff Kern’s party, making sure that Montoya reached Durango (not be lynched) and received a fair trial.

Our readers, who rightfully expect the storyteller to tell the truth, might be interested in this aside connected with researching this story. Records of crimes and trials are normally kept in the county courthouse for the county in which the crime was committed or the trial was held. A good reporter reads those records before publishing his story. I found the record of Montoya’s arrest in the Archuleta County courthouse. Since the trial was held in Durango, those records should have been in the La Plata County Courthouse. After several trips to Durango and rummaging around in the basement, I finally located the trial records in a box of old records stashed in the basement. Lo and behold, I couldn’t read them. I took them to Fort Lewis College seeking expert help. The expert told me, “You can’t read that because it’s Pittman shorthand. Pittman hasn’t been used for years and years. I don’t know who you’ll get to transcribe it.”

After searching unsuccessfully for a transcriber, I gave up and relied on newspaper stories. I read an account of the shooting in the Del Norte newspaper, a Silverton newspaper, two Durango newspapers, the Pagosa Springs newspaper, an Alamosa newspaper and a Denver newspaper.

The story of the trial results reported in the Durango newspaper said Montoya was exonerated for having acted in self-defense and concluded with “and these delighted sons of southern climes celebrated their victory by retiring for a steak dinner at Del Monico’s.”

I’ll have another sheepman-cattleman shoot-out story next week.

This story was posted on August 25, 2020.