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Troops supplied as Fort Lewis built

Drawing courtesy John M. Motter This 1879 line drawing of Fort Lewis in Pagosa Springs made by Army engineer Lt. McCauley shows tents lining the San Juan River behind today’s county courthouse. Company D, 9th Cavalry, inhabited these tents.

Drawing courtesy John M. Motter
This 1879 line drawing of Fort Lewis in Pagosa Springs made by Army engineer Lt. McCauley shows tents lining the San Juan River behind today’s county courthouse. Company D, 9th Cavalry, inhabited these tents.

In last week’s column, we described the 1878 arrival of troops in Pagosa Springs. They busily set about building what was to become Fort Lewis.

Fort Lewis stretched along the main business block of what we now know as Pagosa Springs. In the last months of 1878, Pagosa Springs was on the east side of the river, separated by a newly built bridge and an armed guard from the troops building the fort on the west side.

Work had scarcely begun when orders arrived from Capt. Shorkley of Fort Garland. Camp Lewis in Pagosa Springs was a sub-post of Fort Garland.

Shorkley’s orders read, “purchase in the open market such amounts of corn and hay as you may need for use at your cantonment.” Shorkley thought it might be necessary to make an immediate purchase of 100,000 pounds of corn, and from 50 to 100 tons of hay.

At the same time, Pagosa’s commander, Capt. Hartz, sought to restrain M.J. Warren from building within the 1 square mile reserved at Pagosa Springs for public uses by the president of the United States. An 1879 directive allowed civilian squatters on the townsite, but not between the San Juan River and Lomas Creek, known today as McCabe Creek.

Contracts were let with T.D. Burns, of Tierra Amarilla, for 75 tons of hay at $20 a ton delivered at Animas City (today’s Durango) or $45 a ton delivered at Pagosa Springs. At that time, there was already a workable wagon road between Tierra Amarilla and Animas City because the Tierra Amarilla farmers had already been supplying miners in the Silverton area for several years. The wagon road ran from T.A. across the Jicarilla Reservation (not created until 1887) through Carracas on the San Juan River and from there northwesterly to Animas City.

Another contract was given to William S. Peabody, of Pagosa Springs, later appointed the post trader to furnish “fresh beef on the block” at a price not to exceed eight cents per pound. On the block described meat already butchered.

Peabody was also authorized to furnish “one hundred tons of hay, one hundred thousand pounds of corn, and the necessary lumber and shingles required in the building of the cantonment … at prices not to exceed forty dollars per ton for hay, five cents per pound for corn, forty-five dollars per thousand board feet for seasoned lumber, and eight dollars per thousand for shingles.”

This story was posted on July 31, 2014.