The birth of a (small) town

We’re writing about Pagosa Springs during the 1890s, a time frame when the place began to gel as a real town, albeit a small one.

Remember a few columns back when we pointed out that land ownership in and around Pagosa Springs was a mess? The U.S. had set a side one square mile around the hot springs as a town site, six square miles around the hot springs as a military reservation, and two 40-acre parcels, one of which contained the hot springs, as reserved from the town site and military reservation.

Then, the ownership layers were peeled off like peeling an onion. First, the two 40-acre parcels passed into private hands, then the town site was surveyed in 1882 and lots sold at auction.

Finally, in 1891, almost 10 years after Fort Lewis had gone west to Hesperus, we learn that the six-square mile military reservation was opened for settlement. As if, in fact much of that land wasn’t already settled on.

The Pagosa Springs News editor wrote: “The opening for settlement of the six-square mile military reservation surrounding Pagosa Springs was announced for July 3, 1891 (Motter’s note —Are they being patriotic, the day before July 4?). When it is opened there will be a lively scramble to get a piece of it. A good part of it is already improved and resided on by those who improved it. The bill makes no stipulation in regard to those squatters but it is assumed they have no prior rights.”

Another Motter question — wonder how many, if any, of the already developed properties were lost to their owners?

Charter members of the Literary Society formed in February of 1891 were: Miss Pearl Latham, Miss S.A. Norris, Miss Hattie M. Taylor, Misses May and Maggie Thompson, Miss Emma Macht, Will Macht, J.S. Hatcher, W.M. Parish, E.R. Chambers, S.C. Bell, Chas. Hendrickson, W.J. Arey, Mort Bayles, and Leo Hersch. The first debate question: “Resolved — That women have more influence over men than money.”

While a few descendants of this socially elite group remain in the area, only the Macht name remains extant.

On March 5, 1891. Editor Daniel Eggers reported: “The snow blockade on the Cumbres range continues and we are still without any eastern mail… It is reported that at some places the snow is deeper by four feet than the height of the telegraph poles, and that there is more snow than there was in 1884, when the road was blocked for three months.”

The editor reported on a minor health issue in April of 1891 when he wrote: “Nearly all the water consumed by the citizens of this town is taken from the river below the bridge. The attention of the city dads is hereby called to the numerous piles of manure and privy vaults on the banks of the river above that point.”

Motter’s note: In the years before a town water system was installed, a water barrel mounted on a wagon pulled by a horse circulated around town kind of like a milk route, (those are gone too, aren’t they?), and delivered water to homes and businesses.

And proving the Wild West was beginning to disappear, at least in Pagosa, in May of 1891 the town board passed an ordinance against firing guns within the city limits. “Should be enforced — maybe it will prevent such scenes as were on our streets Monday.” Motter: Maybe I spoke hastily about the shoot ’em up West disappearing.

No, I was right. In May of 1891, Editor Egger also wrote: “Tons of wire were received by our ranchers this springs which denotes that our ranchers are erecting miles of fences”