Mining, but no rich strikes in Pagosa Country

A plethora of mining claims excited Pagosa Country residents during 1892.

Maybe Pagosa Country residents were searching for a way to stop their citizens from running off to Creede where a real rush was under way. Creede and its nearby mining camps had a population estimated as high as 65,000 people during those years. Among them were a number of former Pagosa people hoping to strike it rich.

In Pagosa Country, A.D. Archuleta reported a silver find on the Weminuche that promised to be a second Creede. Mason Farrow reported a gold strike on the Piedra and others reported strikes on the Navajo, Blanco, Turkey Creek, Four Mile Creek and the San Juan River below town.

None of these supposed strikes amounted to anything, nor did they create much of a rush to Pagosa Springs.

The claim on Turkey Creek contained copper ore and was more highly developed than any of the others, but I have found no evidence that any ore was shipped from that location.

Nevertheless, strikes and fortune after fortune had been made from ores uncovered in the San Juan Mountains.

During the 1890s, the mountains were still full of prospectors searching for their own El Dorado. Owing to the severity of winter in the high San Juans, those prospectors had to come down during the long winter season.

Many of them spent their winters in Pagosa Springs, creating a problem for the Town Board. A lot of those miners had donkeys carrying their supplies. When they came to town for the winter, they turned the donkeys loose to fend for themselves. Stray donkeys in large numbers are a much bigger problem than stray dogs and the town had to deal with the problem. I don’t know what their solution was, but I never heard of a donkey pound.

In May of 1892, Alice Phillips was chosen president of the newly formed Kings Daughters. Alice’s father, James Phillips, had been one of the founders of Del Norte during the early 1870s. Before the community of Del Norte as we know it was founded, there were a series of small Hispanic communities in that area known as Las Lomas, the Little Hills. Pagosa Mayor Ross Aragon traces his ancestry back to Las Lomas.

In any case, the Phillips family was responsible for constructing what we now know as the Hersch Building on Pagosa Street. The Hersch name didn’t become attached to the building until a couple of decades after it was erected. Some say bricks made by A.A. Putnam — remember we talked about him a couple of weeks ago ... Put Hill? — were used in the Phillips Building finished in 1898.

John M. Laughlin moved to town from the San Juan East Fork mining camps, and in May 1892 opened a cigar factory and fruit and vegetable stand near the center of the business block on Pagosa Street. By August of 1892, J.M. Archuleta had built a business building on Pagosa Street. I don’t know exactly where Archuleta’s building was, but I suspect it was the precursor of where Sullenburger later built a hotel which burned.

Ironically, Archuleta also seemed to have a problem with buildings burning down, a problem probably related to the difficulties he had in getting along with the Anglo population. Archuleta also had stores in Edith and Amargo, and when Amargo faded, in Lumberton.