Pagosa’s Past: The very first settlers

Photo courtesy John Motter
This photo shows the first Archuleta County school, building on the left, and first Catholic Church in town, building on the right. Both buildings are on the north side of Lewis street on the block between 3rd and 4th streets.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist

Shortly after AD 1, small bands of Indians entered the San Juan River Basin. Where they came from is uncertain. They may have come from the Mogollon Rim area of New Mexico, where there is evidence of an earlier, corn-raising, sedentary, population. These Indians occupied portions of Pagosa Country until about A.D. 1125. They are generally referred to as the Ancestral Puebloans.

By the time Europeans entered Pagosa Country, the Ancestral Puebloans were gone. They left behind deserted buildings and villages surrounded by ground strewn with potsherds and other artifacts. The availability and quantity of these relics we were regarded with awe by early explorers and settlers. They often referred to these long-gone inhabitants as Aztecs, perceiving similarities in the artifacts and buildings with those of the Aztec Indians encountered by the Spanish explorers in Mexico.

The earliest Pagosa area settlers little understood the culture or the extent of Ancestral Puebloans civilization. They often entered these ancient sites and carried away pottery, arrowheads, turquoise jewelry and other artifacts.

At that time, Professor J. Allard Jeancon, curator of the Colorado State Museum, took an interest in the Ancestral Puebloans. He was introduced to the Chimney Rock ruins by Ed Colton, a Pagosan. Parties under Jeancon’s direction or influence surveyed the extent of Ancestral Puebloan ruins in Pagosa Country.

A scientific party directed by Frank A. Roberts, in the summer of 1923, started from Pagosa Springs and went down the San Juan River in search of evidence of Ancestral Puebloan habitation. About 20 miles south of Pagosa Springs in the Trujillo/Montezuma area, they encountered remains of residences.

As they continued downstream to Arboles where the San Juan is joined by the Piedra River they discovered artifact ruins on both sides of the river with concentrations at Trujillo, Juanita, Pagosa Junction and Carracas.

This story was posted on November 23, 2020.