Dutch Henry Born settles down in the San Juans

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
This photo of Dutch Henry Born appeared in a copy of an archeological review of the Battle of Adobe Walls. He is holding his buffalo gun and his pistol is in his belt. Pictures of a considerable number of Old West buffalo hunters are included in the document.

Born’s Lake is one of the more remote, pristine properties in the local area. It is located north of Pagosa Springs in Mineral County near the headwaters of the West Fork of the San Juan River. Born’s Lake happens to be named for Dutch Henry Born, the subject of our current column featuring Pagosa Country pioneers.

After an early life filled with criminal activity, Dutch Henry Born married Ida Dilbaugh, his childhood sweetheart, and homesteaded the Born’s Lake area. There he raised a family of four. There are people living here, including myself, who knew his daughter, the former Mabel Bennett. He has grandchildren still living here.

Dutch supported his family by conducting a trout fish hatchery in the lake. In addition, a generation of Pagosa’s early settlers enjoyed the lake’s amenities by taking their families out to boat, fish and enjoy a meal.

Last week we pointed out a number of Dutch’s questionable activities before he settled down in San Juan country. In my reading about early western history in books about early gunfighters of the West, Bat Masterson, Dodge City, various activities in the panhandle of Texas and Oklahoma, the battle of Adobe Walls, among others, Dutch’s name shows up frequently, and mostly associated with activities inconsistent with activities approved by the law.

Dutch’s life seemed to center around Dodge City, a central focus point for buffalo hunters, cattle drivers, etc. Dodge City histories refer to Dutch in connection with certain rustling activities. On one of the occasions, it is said Bat, with his head full of visions of capturing folks advertised on wanted posters, learned that Dutch was hanging out in Trinidad, Colo. One of Bat’s biographers rated Bat as maybe one of the fastest gunslingers in the West, ahead of Wyatt Earp, with whom he shared law enforcement responsibilities in Dodge.

Bat surprised Dutch in Trinidad, picked him up without incident and returned to Dodge City with his wanted poster in his back pocket, his prisoner in tow. It’s not clear whether Dutch stood trial for rustling in Dodge City or was sent to Arkansas to stand trial before Hanging Judge Isaac Parker. In any case, Dutch beat the rap.

Some time after, Dutch abandoned the “Owlhoot Trail” and took up prospecting in the San Juan Mountains. He is said to have uncovered one of the better strikes at Summitville, but to somehow have lost it. He likely discovered the Born’s Lake homestead site where he raised his family while out prospecting.

Shortly before Dutch passed away in 1921, he had a famous visitor. One of the most well-known lawmen in the Old West, Bill Tillgham, had heard that Dutch was far out on a limb that was about to let him down, so he rode all of the way from Oklahoma to visit his friend. Among other activities, Tilgham had worked for Judge Parker rounding up outlaws in the Oklahoma Territory, a favorite place to hide from the law.

The editor of the Pagosa Sun recognized Tilgham and reported in his next edition (I paraphrase) “Lawman Bill Tillgham rode into town recently to visit his old friend Dutch Henry. Yesterday when the two came into town for some tobacco, I noticed as they rode in from the east, most of the town’s bars emptied as a passel of their drinking customers completely abandoned their mugs and poker hands, slipped out the backdoors, and galloped off as fast as they could in a westerly direction.”