Where did the early settlers live?

Photo courtesy John M. Motter The much-altered remains of the Old Joe Mann cabin remain to this day. It is the first building reached if you drive eastward up the East Fork of the San Juan River road.

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
The much-altered remains of the Old Joe Mann cabin remain to this day. It is the first building reached if you drive eastward up the East Fork of the San Juan River road.

We’ve been writing about the fact that the first settlers in Pagosa Country lived along the then-existing travel routes. We’ve described the most easterly of those entrances from the east, Elwood Pass. And, so, where did the first of those entering by way of Elwood Pass make their homes? The answer is along the east and west forks of the San Juan River.

A mining community called Elwood popped up just below the western end of the pass and on the south side of the San Juan River and below Crater Lake. I haven’t visited the site of Elwood in more than 30 years, but the last time I was there, some evidence of prior mining activity remained. To reach Elwood, I followed the East Fork Road up the river until the road crossed the river just before ascending the pass. At the crossing, I turned the old four-wheel-drive Scout upstream in the middle of the river and bumped along for a short distance upstream until reaching a road I could follow on the right side of the river.

Much of what I know about the East Fork of the San Juan I got from Bill Warr, whose family lived for a time on the bank of the river as it climbed Elwood Pass. Among other things, he showed me a postcard stamped by the Elwood Post Office. Incidentally, the upper reaches of the San Juan east and west forks are in Mineral County, with Creede as the county seat.

Another logging town called Bowenton was located approximately where a road/trail to Quartz Lake branches to the right. There used to be the remains of a few log cabins in this locality. A few cabins were scattered along the river between Elwood and the Old Joe Mann cabin. Most of the people who lived in these cabins worked in the Summitville mines.

The Old Joe Mann cabin remains, although it is much altered. To reach this cabin, drive up East Fork road through the narrow canyon until the valley widens enough to accommodate ranching. Located on the left side of the road, the cabin is the first building to be seen. We know Mann lived in the cabin during the 1890s. Since then, it has accommodated a number of people plus the Forest Service.

Mann lived his last years in an aspen log cabin on Elwood Pass just a short distance up from the mine where Warr’s parents lived. They took care of him during his dying illness. Warr’s parents were of Welsh mining stock and worked at the Summitville mines and at Creede.

Warr’s wife, Goldie, was from the Laughlin family. The Laughlins also worked the mines at Summitville and lived on the upper reaches of the San Juan East Fork before moving into Pagosa Springs. If you drive east out of Pagosa Springs to the first bridge over the San Juan, the place on the left as you cross the bridge was the Laughlin place. Old-timers knew that bridge as the Laughlin Bridge.

A number of the Summitville miners also took up land along the upper West Fork of the San Juan River. We’ll talk about that subject next week.

This story was posted on September 29, 2016.