Logging industry once a competitive Pagosa venture

It’s hard to imagine the pristine nature of Pagosa Country before 1900. I suspect folks today would be most surprised if they could see the huge groves of Ponderosa pines unaltered by logging. Yet logging may have altered the countryside more than any other human activity.

During 1895, Pagosa News editor Daniel Egger made a trip from Pagosa down through the southern part of Archuleta County. He commented on the “industry” shown by new settlers, especially as evidenced by fields of grain. What he didn’t say was how much the clearing of fields and planting of crops was facilitated by logging.

He did reach Edith where the Biggs family had built what might have been one of the most modern lumber mills in Colorado, complete with electricity. Much drama took place before the Edith mill was built.

In January of 1895 the News reported, “The Rio Grande and Pagosa Springs Railroad Company has been incorporated. This line of the road is to be built from Lumberton to Pagosa Springs through Coyote Park. It will undoubtedly be built as far as the park the coming season, and perhaps the whole line will be completed by next fall.”

The incorporators of this railroad were Denver people, C.D. McPhee and J.J. McGinnity of the firm of McPhee and McGinnity. The railroad was incorporated with the secretary of state with a capital stock of $100,000. The country through which the railroad would run was described as “a wilderness, scarcely explored … the road will penetrate a forest of splendid timber … It is to reach this timber that the road is being built.”

By April the Chama New Mexican reported, “The Biggs Lumber Company is putting in a mill at Chromo. It will have a capacity from twenty-five to thirty-five thousand feet a day. The lumber will be hauled to Azotea, some eight miles, at which place it will be loaded on cars. There is any amount of fine timber in that country. The mill will be ready for business in thirty days. S.M. Biggs of Durango will take charge of the business.”

Competition between Biggs and the New Mexico Lumber Company was seen as a threat to the lumber business in Archuleta County by at least one observer who wrote in May:

“A Lumberton correspondent calls our attention to the fact that two lumber companies are now seeking to secure control of the timber in the southern part of the county, and that the rivalry existing between the two companies will not be conducive to the best interests of the county. The putting in of the mill at Chromo may be the means of defeating the railroad project from Lumberton to this place. The New Mexico Lumber Co. five years ago secured an option on most of the timber on the Navajo. We now understand that Mr. Broad is now trying to secure this timber for the Biggs company, and the way for litigation is open. It would seem to an intelligent person that from the experiences the people of this county had with their dealings with Broad that they would let his schemes severely alone.”

More next week on the competition among logging companies.