Do you like snow? Move to Summitville

Last week we launched a series of articles about Summitville, possibly the source of more gold than any of the San Juan mining camps.

In the other camps, silver was the predominate money maker. Mining at Summitville started about 1870 and lasted, off and on, until just a few years ago.

Many of Pagosa Country’s first settlers lived in Summitville at an altitude of over 11,000 feet before dropping down to Pagosa Springs’ 7,200 feet.

Snowfall at Summitville was legendary. After all, the mountain camp was not far from Wolf Creek Pass and was more than 1,000 feet higher.

Supplies and mail for Summitville came in from Del Norte, mostly on wagons pulled by draft horses. When winter snows piled up on the road, the horses had a hard time of it.

In an article titled “Sounds Like a Lie But It Isn’t,” we find the following story in the Del Norte Prospector of April 19, 1884.

“Last Monday, on the line of snowshoe travel (sarcasm by the writer ... Motter) between Del Norte and Summitville, a feat was performed probably never actually accomplished before in the West, or anywhere.

“The first heavy snow of the past season that blockaded the road between Baker’s Station and Summitville, caught a span of horses in Summitville, which could not be brought out through the heavy snow. These horses were the property of Mr. Brockman, a freighter, and remained in the camp until last Monday, when they were started for the outside world on snowshoes. The shoes were made of wood, two inches thick, eight inches wide, and eighteen inches long and were fastened to the horses’ feet by means of wire and straps. The fact that a horse steps almost in the same place with its hind feet that it does with its fore feet seemed to render such an experiment out of the question. The shoes were fastened on, however, and after a few days practice in Summitville, the horses learned the modus operendi (stick a pin here) of the scheme, and on Monday Mr. Brockman rode one horse out over from fifty to one hundred feet of snow, while the second horse pulled a sled loaded with provisions over the same course. The outfit left Summitville at 9 o’clock a.m. and arrived at Baker’s place at 5 p.m.

“If the above feat has ever been performed before, we have not heard of it as yet.”

Did you hear the “50 to 100 feet of snow” description? As you might guess, cabin fever was a major problem for Summitville residents.

The following item was passed off as humor in February of 1885, maybe under the category of “You’d Better Watch Out.”

“F.L. Ward, an employee of the Annie, met with an accident some weeks ago. While climbing up the trail to the mill, he kicked up his heels (not jubilantly) and fell on his chest. He carried a watch in his upper vest pocket and fell on it. Did not hurt the watch, but broke a rib. The old man thought of having it extracted and using it as a foundation on which to build him a mate.”

And we quote, “Summitville has a private school under the tuition of Mrs. Jas. Lester, than whom a better instructress could not be wished for. (Winston Churchill must be turning over in his grave ... Motter) She is a lady of refinement and culture, and endowed with a goodly supply of pluck. Mr. Lester, her husband, is at present rusticating at Pagosa Springs. Among Mrs. Lester’s pupils is Leon Montroy. His attendance at school shows a very commendable spirit, and can only redound to his credit.”

What about that, Jake?

(Motter’s note: Jake Montroy is keeping the family name alive in Pagosa Springs.)


Photo courtesy John M. Motter
This photo showing the Little Annie mine at the top, French’s boarding house near the bottom, was taken by Motter in 1982. Over the years, the Little Annie mine was Summitville’s top producer.