Recollections: Pagosa Country in the late 1800s

old-timer-fort-lewisWe’ve been writing from the recollections of C.W. “Will” Price, who came to Pagosa Springs with his family as a teenager in 1879. Will was the son of Barzillai Price, who settled his family in tents at the east end of San Juan Street while he freighted between Fort Garland in the San Luis Valley and the Ute Reservation headquarters in Ignacio.

Barzillai and his wife, Martha, lived in Iowa in the early 1860s, then moved to Hebron, Neb. There Barzillai became the first county judge of Thayer County. In Pagosa Country, Price established a stage stop near present Chromo, where he was the first postmaster. The community and post office were named Price in acknowledgment of the Price family. Barzillai was active in county politics, serving as county judge and county school superintendent before passing away in 1916.

Following is a continuation of 17-year-old Will’s story we started last week. In 1879, the San Juan River separated Fort Lewis on the east side, from Pagosa Springs on the west side.

“One day the place was quiet and I went to one of the saloons to watch the games. A buck and squaw were talking to the saloon keeper. The squaw had a papoose on her back and was trying to get him to give her 50 cents for a large turkey, which he refused positively to do, as he said he was boarding at the hotel. There was no one else in the saloon and the keeper was going to lock up and go to dinner, when the Utes returned. The saloon keeper was holding 50 cents in his hand and saying Monti, Monti. The saloon keeper told me I might as well take it and sat down to the table, his back to the wall at the west side of the door, the buck across from him and the squaw flat on the floor facing the Indian, quite close and under the dealer’s left hand, where he held the deck of cards face down.

“If I remember right, two cards were on the table face up, the Ute to bet which one was paired from one drawn on the bottom. He kept winning and the dealer kept swearing. The squaw looked at the bottom of the deck, scratched her head, and brushed the short hair out of her eyes, looking at the buck at times. If she had a way to tell him a 2, 5, or 7 was on the bottom, I could not see it. After the Ute was $6 ahead, the dealer got up saying, ‘Get going. I am going to eat. If I won all he had it would only be 50 cents.’ Neither of them spoke, but the squaw smiled later when they turned in for dinner at the Cade Hotel.

“Anyway I was very pleased to see the Ute get the best of the dealer as he would have not hesitated to get the best of them any way he could.”