Prosperity rolls into Pagosa Country

Photo courtesy John M. Motter Engine No. 70 was a workhorse for the Pagosa Lumber Company. She was used to haul logs to the mill, as shown in this photo, and to haul lumber to the main Denver and Rio Grande Railroad for shipment to the outside world.

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Engine No. 70 was a workhorse for the Pagosa Lumber Company. She was used to haul logs to the mill, as shown in this photo, and to haul lumber to the main Denver and Rio Grande Railroad for shipment to the outside world.

Folks in Pagosa Country were so enthused in 1900 over the economic future of their homeland, they conducted not one, but two masquerade balls at the end of the year to celebrate their good fortune.

Prosperity rolled into Pagosa Country in 1900 on the wheels of the narrow gauge railroad. The major resource, the “money crop,” was trees, thousands of acres of huge, yellow-bark ponderosa pines. Two large companies equipped with the latest logging and milling equipment harvested most of the easy-to-reach trees. They both used narrow-gauge trains to move the saw logs to the mills and then to transport the newly manufactured lumber products to ready markets in eastern Colorado and metropolitan New Mexico. By 1916, the easy-to-reach trees had been cut and soon after the big mills, the biggest in Colorado, moved out looking for new forests to slay.

The New Mexico Lumber Company, led by Edgar Milton Biggs, was the first of the logging, lumber and railroad giants to enter Archuleta County. Biggs erected a large mill at Edith, named for his daughter, then pushed rail lines like giant tentacles up the Navajo River and across Coyote Park to bring the trees to the Edith mill for sawing. Forests were clear cut in the drainages of the Navajo and Blanco rivers, and along Coyote Creek, Montezuma Creek, Echo Creek and Mill Creek, as well as smaller drainages. The mesas adjoining these drainages were also cleared of lumber-producing trees. Stumps left by the loggers were burned by settlers anxious to raise crops, especially hay and grains, on the newly cleared land.

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This story was posted on December 31, 2015.