A changing Pagosa Country

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Ma and Pa Cade were among the earliest settlers in Pagosa Country. Some of their descendants still live in this area. The name is preserved as Cade Flats, where a subdivision is located near the base of Pagosa Peak.

One of the most common discussion topics among a group of old-timers is, “What ever happened to the good old days? Have you noticed how much things have changed?” One of my favorite cartoons addressed the subject pretty well.

For several years, until just a few years ago, there was an ice cream stand on the river bank at the corner of San Juan and Pagosa streets where an apparent stage or bandstand is being built. The cartoon pictured an old-timer saying to a greenhorn, “I’ve sure seen a lot of changes. Fought every one of them.”

It used to amuse me when, while reporting on a county planning commission meeting in which a proposed new subdivision was being reviewed, someone living in a nearby subdivision that was maybe two years old would object, “I bought my home because there wasn’t much development around it. If you approve this subdivision, you’ll destroy my investment. You can’t approve this proposed subdivision.”

I always wanted to suggest to the planning commission chairperson, “Why don’t you invite a Southern Ute from Ignacio to one of these meetings and find out what he has to say about new development? This was their home once upon a time.”

Having set up the topic for this week’s column, let’s get moving. The truth is, folks have been promoting the sale and “improvement” of Pagosa Country property since white men crossed the Continental Divide into Pagosa Country.

For example, in 1883, there were three post offices in this part of Conejos County: Pagosa Springs, Price and Piedra. This part of Conejos County didn’t become Archuleta County until later in 1885.

One of the earliest land promoters in the southwest wrote at least 10 books describing the desirability of living in the west. Croffut’s 1885 publication covered Colorado in great detail. A copy of Crofutt’s “Grip-sack Guide to Colorado,” 1885, is in the Hershey history section at the Sisson Public Library in town. Crofutt made several trips across Colorado in trains.

The book had the following to say about communities formerly in the part of Conejos County that is now Archuleta County. Arboles is a good railroad eating station. Bowenton and Elwood are mining towns along the San Juan River (no railroad and way up in the San Juan Mountains). Pagosa Springs on the old Fort Lewis military reservation is now called Fort Pagosa. Its population is about 50 plus military troops and it is reached from railroad at Amargo 26 miles south in New Mexico via military ambulance. The hack fare from Amargo to Pagosa is $4. The writer used several paragraphs to describe the hot springs and said there was a post office, restaurant, several saloons and one hotel. (Motter’s note: Crofutt’s description of Pagosa is not very accurate, maybe based on an 1880 book he wrote on the same subject).

At Piedra, people raise stock, have coal, cut timber and it is an above average roadside stopping place. (Motter’s note: This is where U.S. 160 crosses the Piedra River on its way to Durango).

Price is now known as Chromo. Crofutt was profusive in his description of Price as having a population of 50 who produce cattle, sheep, lumber, oil, have gold and silver prospects, and five hot and cold springs, a promising location. Barzillai Price was credited with being the first to settle in this park in 1878.

Summitville. Crofutt made the following description of Summitville recently alluded to in my columns describing the East Fork of the San Juan. It is in Rio Grande County at an elevation of 11,092 feet, the highest mining town in the country and is reached by a good wagon road in summer, saddle and snowshoes in winter. The mines are the richest in the state, with 2,500 locations on South Mountain alone, 12 of them developed. Summitville’s population is listed at 800 with an appropriate number of businesses.