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Land grabs, railroad rumors and the Bayles school

Last week, we talked about the Dawes Act and its injurious effect on the land holdings of Native Americans. We talked specifically about the Southern Utes because they have been residents of Pagosa Country since Hispanics and Anglos first entered these parts.

It is no secret that many of Pagosa Country’s first settlers, if the 1890s writings of “The Pagosa News” editor Daniel Egger mean anything, pushed to get the Utes moved out of The Four Corners area. While the Dawes Act did not remove them, it greatly reduced their land base by removing from Tribal ownership any land not homesteaded by a Ute. That amounts to a high proportion of the land south of a line started at the Utah border 15 miles north of New Mexico and extended eastward about to the San Juan River in Pagosa Springs.

While reading The Pagosa Springs News of 1895, we learn of rumors that a broad gauge railroad was headed for Pagosa Springs. The rumor excited Editor Egger, but was not new. Such rumors had been fluttering around since 1878. In truth, most of the east/west passes through the San Juan Mountains were surveyed during those early years, first by military engineers, later by railroad companies. Although Cumbres Pass was the route finally selected for the railroad, other passes were considered. One which gets little attention today was once seen as a competitor of Cumbres. I’m speaking of Silver Pass, located generally between Wolf Creek Ski Area and Elwood Pass.

A few weeks ago The Sun ran a photo I provided showing a feed store/livery stable which stood during early days in Pagosa Springs. The photo attracted a response from Genevieve Phelps in the July 16 letters to the editor section. I appreciate the response very much and wouldn’t quarrel with her corrections at all.

If my memory is correct, Genevieve, serving as county appraiser/assessor, was active in the formation of the local San Juan Historical Society during the mid-1970s, about the time of the 1976 Colorado Centennial celebration. I have learned a great deal from her over the years.

I haven’t talked with Genevieve for a long time. Just the same, I am submitting a photograph of Luther Johnson fishing in the San Juan River near the Pagosa Hot Springs circa 1912. Luther was Genevieve’s grandfather according to the obituary of his son, Charles Bradley Johnson, published in The Pagosa Springs SUN during May of 1973. Charles homesteaded at Bayles east of Pagosa Springs in about 1909, and with his wife, the former Elizabeth King, raised four daughters: Genevieve, Elaine Nossaman, Charlotte Johnson, and Marilyn Mundy. I believe the home Genevieve was born in during 1921 and still owns is located on the south side of U.S. 160 some miles west of Pagosa Springs immediately preceding the curves leading into Aspen Springs. Until the 1930s, that highway continued in a more-or-less straight westerly direction until reaching Dyke. The community of Bayles was located there and the former Bayles school (moved) is highly visible from the highway near that first bend. I think I remember that Virginia Decker, formerly known as Virginia Selby, attended school in Bayles also. She and husband Paul were active in the same years of forming the historical society.