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Winter of 1878 descended on fort with special fury

Photo courtesy John M. Motter Hunting has always been big in Pagosa Springs. In this circa 1900 photo, Pagosa Springs’ first school teacher, Fil Byrnes, is shown with a newly purchased 30-30 and a black bear that was shot in the Blanco River area.

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Hunting has always been big in Pagosa Springs. In this circa 1900 photo, Pagosa Springs’ first school teacher, Fil Byrnes, is shown with a newly purchased 30-30 and a black bear that was shot in the Blanco River area.

Troops to build and staff Fort Lewis in Pagosa Springs in late 1878 were very busy, just ahead of what was to be an especially cold winter. Construction of quarters for enlisted men and officers was underway and purchase orders had been issued for food for the troops and their horses.

In order to spend as much time on the building program as possible, Capt. Hartz issued the following daily schedule initiated by the wakeup blast of the trumpet: first call for reveille — 6:30 a.m., reveille — 6:45 a.m., breakfast — 7 a.m., fatigue call — 7:30 a.m. (fatigue call was assembly for construction, etc.), recall from fatigue — 11:45 a.m., dinner — noon, fatigue call — 1 p.m., stables — 3:30 p.m., recall from fatigue — 4 p.m., assembly of guard details — 4:20 p.m., adjutant’s call — 4:30 p.m., retreat — sunset, supper — after retreat, taps — 9 p.m., on Sundays company inspection at retreat. The length of the army work day followed seasonal daylight hours. Reveille was always at first light.

Winter descended on the unfinished cantonment with a special fury in 1878. In anticipation of the approaching danger, Capt. Hartz dispatched Lt. Cornish of the 15th Infantry on Dec. 7 to pick up the supplies contracted from T.D. Burns in Animas City (today’s Durango). Burns couldn’t deliver. Neither could Peabody, the post trader. Snow came and the cantonment at Pagosa Springs did not have grain and hay enough for the horses and mules in this remote hot springs facility separated from the rest of the world by heavy snow and winding mountain roads — unpaved, of course.

On Dec. 12, Capt. Hartz issued Special Order Number 7: “Owing to the heavy fall of snow and the impossibility of procuring a sufficient supply of forage at this place Second Lieutenant John F. Guilfoyle, 9th Cavalry, will proceed tomorrow morning for Animas City, Colo., with a Det. (detachment) from ‘D’ Co., 9th Cav. of one non-com. officer and seven enlisted men, all of the cavalry horses, and such other public animals as are not required for immediate use … He will hold himself, the detachment, and the animals under his charge in readiness to return to this place at an hours notice. The detachment will be rationed for 30 days …”

The forage was stored at Animas City, but could not be moved across the wagon road to Pagosa Springs because of the heavy snow.

This story was posted on August 7, 2014.