Old Joe Mann: Doing what he had to do

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
This is the first cabin Joe Mann built on the east fork of the San Juan River. I don’t know when the cabin was built, but it was likely during the 1880s. It has had several owners and significant modification since it was built. During his waning years, Mann built a cabin using aspen logs, and that was where he died and was buried. The aspen log cabin location is identified on Forest Service maps.[/caption]

Old Joe Mann was one of the first settlers to enter Pagosa Country. I don’t know when he came to Pagosa Country, but it might have been earlier than 1870. The New Mexico territorial census for 1870 included southern Colorado and the name Joe Mann.

He passed away Aug. 4, 1912, at the age of 86. At the time he passed away, he was living on the north side of Elwood Pass across the road from the Warr family. He was interred in the garden spot at the Joe Mann cabin on Elwood Pass shown on Forest Service maps.

A lot of what I know about Joe Mann was told me by Bill Warr. Bill Warr’s parents were descendants of a Welsh mining family and were Pagosa Country pioneers in their own right. At the time Mann died, they were living on Elwood Pass, where they were working the Black Diamond Mine gold mine. The Black Diamond was located on the bank of the San Juan East Fork River. Bill said he never heard of any gold ore being shipped from the Black Diamond.

Bill’s wife was a Laughlin, another pioneer family. Mann, the Warrs, the Laughlins and others all lived and worked in the Summitville area and at the headwaters of the San Juan East Fork before there was a Pagosa Springs and many years before there was a Wolf Creek Pass. They even incorporated a town called Bowenton at about the point where the San Juan River starts up Elwood Pass. There was also a town called Elwood. Both Elwood and Bowenton had post offices, but were short-lived and are long forgotten.

It seems Joe Mann was sick for a time before he passed and the Warrs took care of him. When he passed, they buried him in the garden behind his cabin.

Mann was an engineer who killed a man back east and came west to save himself from the hangman, according to Bill Warr.

He was involved in mining interests at Summitville, Elwood and Bowenton. When Fort Lewis first came to Pagosa Springs in 1878, the post suttler put out a bid for hay and grain to feed the outfit’s horses and mules. Joe Mann was awarded the bid.

Pagosa Country was so untrammeled at that time that wild hay could be cut from natural meadows. I’m sure that was Joe Mann’s intent when he submitted the bid. That’s not what happened. A bit later, the Fort Lewis commander wrote to his commanding officer at Fort Garland in the San Luis Valley to the effect that he’d awarded the contract to a Joe Mann but he hadn’t seen Mann since. The government animals were now hungry so he had moved them to Animas City (now Durango) where feed was available.

Mann continued to show up in Pagosa or Summitville or Del Norte from time to time. It was during that time that he built a house and barn still standing but much modified that became known as The Old Joe Mann cabin. It is the first building reached when driving up the road on the East Fork of the San Juan River. This particular cabin was built before the aspen log cabin on Elwood Pass where he died.

Mann joined the Howe Brothers during the Montoya/Howe Sheepmen’s/Cattlemen’s War in 1892. Cattleman William Howe was killed and sheepman Juan de Dios Montoya was wounded during that fracas on the At Last Ranch.

Joe Mann was not a hero, politician or financial wizard. I guess I’m telling his story because he was an ordinary man doing what he had to do in the times he lived. He might have been a character actor in a Hollywood western movie, maybe a Festus in Gunsmoke.