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Taking control of the hot springs

Photo courtesy John M. Motter This 1888 photo shows two bathhouses at the Pagosa Hot Springs. In the background are the old bridge across the San Juan River and some of the Fort Lewis buildings on the west side of the river.

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
This 1888 photo shows two bathhouses at the Pagosa Hot Springs. In the background are the old bridge across the San Juan River and some of the Fort Lewis buildings on the west side of the river.

Hispanic maps made before Anglos came to Colorado, even before the early 1800 trapping days, showed the Pagosa Hot Springs. The hot springs were well known and revered by native Americans before the white man showed up.

Army engineer Lt. C.A.H. McCauley wrote in 1879 after visiting the initial construction of Fort Lewis at Pagosa Springs near the hot springs, that at an earlier meeting between the southern bands of Utes and General Edward Hatch, the Utes asked that “the Great Father in Washington retain possession of the place, so that all persons, whether whites or Indians, might visit it, and when sick come there and be healed, firmly believing its waters to be a panacea for all diseases and afflictions.”

Interested parties had begun filing ownership claims of various types on the springs as early as 1875. To offset the various claims, the President of the United States directed that the place be reserved as a town site; and in May 1877, a square mile, centered on the main hot spring, was reserved by executive proclamation ,”because of the grandeur of the Great Hot Springs, and the medicinal qualities of the water.”

By presidential order issued Jan. 28, 1879, six square miles were set aside as the “Pagosa Springs Military Reservation.” The previously designated town site was excluded from the military reservation. In order to give effect to two 1875 scrip claims, in April of 1879 the President modified the previous order so as to exclude 80 acres around the major hot spring.

On July 5, 1883, patents were issued to Maj. Henry Foote of Del Norte, and James L. Byers, John Conover and Dr. A.C. Van Duyn, transferring title to 80 acres surrounding the main hot spring to those gentlemen. All of the 80 acres were obtained with Valentine scrip. Foote obtained the north 40 acres containing the main hot spring, and the other gentlemen the south 40 acres.

The Pagosa Springs Company incorporated under Colorado law November 12, 1883. The corporation, among other things, declared its intent to acquire land, and to own and to operate resorts. Byers, Conover, and Van Duyn purchased Foote’s 40 acres for one hundred dollars in August of 1883. One writer, many years later, placed the dollar value of the scrip used to claim the entire 80 acres at $5.09. Valentine scrip had been issued during the Civil War in lieu of money as a reward for valuable service to the government.

Through good times and bad — mostly bad for they were often delinquent on their taxes — the Pagosa Springs Company controlled the Great Hot Springs until Owen F. Boyle of Durango purchased them at a public trustee sale in 1910.

More next week on early ownership of the hot springs and creation of the town of Pagosa Springs and of Archuleta County.

This story was posted on October 10, 2013.