Build a cabin — burn it down


Last week, we were retelling the story of Welch Nossaman, the man who built the first log cabin in Pagosa Springs.

The year was 1876.  Nossaman spent the winter in his new cabin. Now, it was spring.

A band of Utes appeared suddenly. Their leader, Colorow Ignatio, was in Nossaman’s cabin, demanding food. Nossaman sat on his bed, one hand holding his dog, the other hand concealing a Colt 45 under a blanket.

What the story doesn’t tell us is that Nossaman was a small man, maybe five-feet four or five inches. Ignatio was a tall Ute, hardened to warfare and dressed in nothing more than a breechclout, with feathers on his head. As we resume the story, Ignatio, angered by Nossaman’s unwillingness to share rations, grabbed Nossaman’s arm and ran his finger across his throat.

“When he done that,” Nossaman said, “I got kind of scared. He had a big knife sticking out of the belt that kept his breechclout on. I thought he could pull it out in a shake, so I jerked the six-shooter out and put it up against his belly. When the muzzle of the gun got up against him he made two jumps and out he went.

“They went on down below (the band of Utes with Ignatio) and when the boys came in that night (two men who spent the winter in Pagosa with Nossaman) they said, ‘Well, you are all right?’  I said, ‘Yes, alright. But there is an awful big bunch of Indians down below there.’ They said, ‘There is?’ I said yes. I told them what happened and I said, ‘He ran his finger across my throat as though he would cut my throat if I didn’t give him our grub. Then they all went down there and camped.’ The boys said, ‘Well that means we all sit up tonight. But with the squaws and children along they are not on the warpath.’

“We did sit up all night, but the Indians never came back until about eight o’clock the next morning and then they came back and stopped right there in front of the cabin again and shot off three volleys in the air. Didn’t try to shoot us or anything.

“Then this Colorow said, ‘Me camp Pagosa. You vamoose.’ That means leave. We told him, all right, we would go. Lafe and Joe ran over to grease the wagon and load while I got the cattle. About 11 o’clock we got started and we hadn’t gone more than half a mile when we looked back for the first time and they had set the house afire. We thought they might change their minds and think they hadn’t oughta let us go, and went 22 miles to where Edith now is, drove those cattle until dark. They never followed us, and we never went back until fall, of course, when the Indians quit coming there.

“The next winter (1877-1878) we built the cabins on our ranches and they fired them three times — until Fort Lewis came there. They never harmed us, but they burned every cabin we built every spring”.