Billy Kern, and other early-day Pagosans

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Billy Kern, an early-day sheriff in Archuleta County, poses in his newly-built home on San Juan Street. Built in 1892, the home also served as a post office and still stands on San Juan Street east of Hot Springs Boulevard. For many years it was known as the Sturtevant House.

William H. “Billy” Kern, a former resident of Pagosa Springs, died at his home in Inglewood, Calif., July 17, 1946.

He moved to Pagosa Springs during the early 1880s and made a significant impact on early Pagosa Country history.

Kern married a daughter of Ma Cade and among his employment activities was carrying the mail from Summitville to Pagosa Springs on horseback in summer, on homemade skis in winter.

He also drove the stagecoach between Pagosa Springs and Amargo at one time, and Pagosa Springs and Durango at another time.

Kern was sheriff during the early 1890s and it was he, at the head of a posse, who arrested Juan de dios Montoya following Montoya’s shooting of county commissioner William Howe during the 1892 Montoya-Howe Sheepmen’s/Cattlemen’s War.

In 1908, when 50 years old, and on a horse 33 years old, Kern finished third in an endurance race from Medicine Bow, Wyo., to Denver,  sponsored by the Denver Post.

In 1892, Kern built the yellow, two-story house standing on San Juan Street just across the alley from the Healing Waters Resort and Spa. During the housewarming party for the new home, cowboys from New Mexico, including Emmet Wirt, shot out the lights and, in general, hurrahed the party with their six guns. They made it back across the New Mexico border without getting arrested. That same house served as a post office for a time.

Other early-day immigrants made their marks on Pagosa Country.

Mrs. Margaret Kelly was a native of New Mexico born July 7, 1876. She was the wife of cattleman Bob Kelly and died May 27, 1957.

Mrs. Tully Kemp, nee Matilda M. Richards, was born in Tuscaloosa, Ala., March 10, 1819, and died at Pagosa Springs July 30, 1901. She married Tully Kemp May 18, 1842. After the Civil War they moved to Texas. In 1874, they moved to Colorado and came to Pagosa Springs in 1878, where her husband died in 1888. She was the mother of four children. Pagosa residents who know Tom Richards will recognize the shared last name and kinship. The Kemps came to Pagosa Springs very early, when Fort Lewis still occupied today’s downtown Pagosa Street. Tully Kemp was one of the first to serve as justice of the peace in Pagosa. I don’t know if Pagosa was still part of Conejos County at the time. Pagosa Springs was part of Conejos County until 1885.

Mrs. Gladys Mae Kent will be remembered as Mrs. Thomas Reavis. Tom Mee was her brother. He was born in Kansas City during 1899 and died Feb. 29, 1972. She moved to Pagosa with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Mee, while still a child. She married Thomas Mee in 1928 and he died in 1932. She then moved to Ohio and married Russell Kent in 1938.

Claude D. Keith was born in Cimarron, N.M., March 11, 1879, and came to Colorado when he was 6 months old. He died in March of 1962. He apprenticed as a blacksmith at the old Jackson Hardware Company in Durango and later worked for the Graden Lumber Company in that same city. In Pagosa Springs, he blacksmithed for 33 years.

John M. Motter, Pagosa's Past