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One of the earliest parties passing through Pagosa Springs before the town formed was the 1861 wagon train led by Thomas Pollock.
Constructed in Denver, the wagon train plodded mile by agonizing mile south to La Veta Pass, where it crossed the front range mountains, down the eastern side of the San Luis Valley through Fort Garland into New Mexico and into the Chama River Valley, then northward to Pagosa Springs and finally to Baker’s Park, near today’s Silverton. The story of its journey was recorded by Nellie Pollock Snyder.
“They left Denver with a large wagon train, and of that wagon train there was nothing left but two yoke of oxen when they returned about two years later. I don’t know how many graves were left in those lonely hills; I have heard her tell of men killed in their beds under the wagon in which she was sleeping. The tribes of Indians were at that time all hostile, and they never knew when the war-hoop would sound.
“I have heard her tell many things of that trip, of the dreadful winter and the terrible storms, she was at one time nearly frozen to death, and they cut to pieces the wagon boxes to make wood for the fire to keep her warm. She told me she saw her father drive the men around the wagons, and whip them with a black-snake whip to keep them moving so they would not freeze to death. Several times on that trip they were compelled to take the wagons to pieces and lower them over bluffs and cliffs.
“She told me of her first impressions upon seeing what is now Pagosa Springs, and when I later stood and looked at that town and big, boiling spring, I tried to picture myself how that camp of white men and one woman must have looked in that lonely and dangerous country when they never knew from one moment to the next when they must fight for their lives. It is a lovely place now even after so-called civilization has robbed it of much of its original beauty, what must it have been in all of its wild glory?
“Mother said they had a laugh at one of the men who thought that nice hot water hole an ideal place to launder his shirt, a woolen one. Of course it simply fell to pieces when he took it out of the spring—no small loss at that time I assure you.”
“Mother” was Sarah Chivington Pollock, the daughter of Col. John M. Chivington. Pollock’s party joined Baker at Baker’s Park. The Pollock family left the San Juans, but returned in later years. Tom Pollock died in Howardsville in 1876. The widow married William Giardin, the grandfather of Lewis Giardin, who lived in Pagosa Springs at the time I was writing “Pagosa Country: The First Fifty Years.” Pollock was the grandfather of Phyllis Dennis, who also lived in Pagosa Springs when I wrote the book.