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Welch Nossaman may have been the first permanent settler in Pagosa Springs.
He was born April 2, 1851, in Pella, Iowa, and died Dec. 22, 1933, in Albuquerque, N.M., at the age of 86.
In the company of Mark Butts and Dr. B.F. Keebles, Welch left Pella in 1876, bound for the then flourishing gold camp of Summitville. Gold was discovered at Summitville by 1870 and Summitville was the leading gold producer in the San Juan Mountains during the 1870s.
Many of Pagosa Country’s first settlers were attracted to Summitville before moving on to Pagosa Springs. Welch was among those settlers, maybe the first.
Nossaman first visited the area that is now Pagosa Springs in 1876. After returning to Summitville, he again returned in the fall, this time bringing wagons.
He was probably the first to bring wagons across Elwood Pass and down the East Fork of the San Juan River.
Nossaman brought with him two witnesses. His mission was to file a placer claim on behalf of Dr. Keebler in order to obtain title to the Pagosa Hot Springs. He is likely the one who seeded the site with gold via a shotgun as reported by Army Engineer William McCauley in 1879. He and the witnesses built log cabins, posted the proper claim notices, then he sent the team and two witnesses back to Summitville.
In his memoirs written during the 1930s, Nossaman claimed to have spent the winter in Pagosa Spring along with Joab Baker and Lafe Hamilton.
In the spring, a band of Utes visited Pagosa Springs. In Nossaman’s own words, “They didn’t come on the ridge at all, they came right up to the house and stopped in front of the cabin. The bull dog wanted to go after them. I held him by the collar and was sure shaking. The Indians just stopped in front of the cabin. There was one Indian whose name was Colorow Ignatio. There was an agent in Pine River (today’s Bayfield), but Colorow was a younger Indian and he was in charge of this gang.
“So when he came to the cabin door I took my six-shooter out of the scabbard hanging on the corner of the bunk and put it under the corner of the blanket and sat down on the bed and held the dog. This Colorow came to the door and I motioned for him to come in and he did. He said, ‘sugar.’ I shook my head and told him I didn’t have any. He said, ‘biscuit.’I shook my head—no biscuit. “Bacon. Coffee, tobacco.” I shook my head, I didn’t get off the bunk at all, but I put my hand on the 45 that was lying there under the blanket and it was cocked.”
On March 14 we detailed Nossaman’s 1876 encounter with Colorow.