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Story of gold spread like wildfire

Photo courtesy John M. Motter Early day logging in Pagosa Country was not all fun and games. Many of the branch logging railroads were not well-bedded, resulting in shifting rails and wrecks as demonstrated in this photograph.

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Early day logging in Pagosa Country was not all fun and games. Many of the branch logging railroads were not well-bedded, resulting in shifting rails and wrecks as demonstrated in this photograph.

Apparently, Albert Pfeiffer, the guide for Capt. John N. Macomb’s 1859 exploratory journey through southwestern Colorado, spread the story that gold could be found in the San Juan Mountains. Like wildfire, the story spread from Abiquiu to Santa Fe to Denver.

In 1860, Charles Baker led a small party of men from New Mexico into what became Baker’s Park near today’s Silverton. At this location high in the San Juans, Baker’s party uncovered placer gold. Soon, the prospectors came.

Baker returned to Abiquiu and formed the Abiquiu, Pagosa and Baker City Wagon Road Company. In the spring, he marked the route, built a bridge over the San Juan River about a mile south of the Pagosa Hot Springs, another bridge across the Piedra River just downstream from where Yellow Jacket Creek runs into the Piedra River, and possibly other bridges.

Baker’s road through northern New Mexico approximated the route followed by the Macomb party a year earlier, probably entering today’s Archuleta County at Edith, crossing Coyote Park and snaking through Halfway Canyon and on into town. The number of prospectors rushing into the San Juans that first year is unknown, with estimates ranging from a few hundred to many thousands. A large number of them must have passed near Pagosa Springs.

Historian Duane Smith wrote the following description of the ensuing gold rush in “The Song of the Hammer and the Drill.”

“Without adequate information, moving toward an unknown destination, the vanguard of miners set out that fall. Newspaper reports from Santa Fe fanned the flames with some specifics. The old village of Abiquiu on the Chama River (a ‘miserable village’ in a ‘God-forsaken land’ moaned a Denverite) was the nearest settlement to the San Juans. From it stories originated regarding Albert Pfeiffer’s tour, during which gold had been found. The news created interest wherever it went. Canon City, erstwhile gateway, was nearly depopulated as men left for the ‘San Wan’ Mountains. Toward Abiquiu the hopeful journeyed; many wintered there, organizing themselves into companies and making preparations to ‘pan clean’ the snow-locked San Juan Mountains.

“Pikes Peakers flooded into the northern New Mexico communities of Abiquiu and Taos. Some of them, with household goods lashed to wagons, left Denver, passed through Pueblo, crossed the Sangre de Cristo Mountains at La Veta Pass, rested at Fort Garland, then continued south through the San Juan Valley and circling the south extreme of the San Juan Mountains near Española. They were then poised to reach the gold fields by following the Old Spanish Trail up the Chama River Valley.”

This story was posted on May 22, 2014.