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Old-timers for the old-timers

I’ve been writing this column, I suppose, for about 12 years. In an earlier employment session with The SUN, I wrote a history column titled “Pagosa Before 1900” soon changed to”“En Busca de Leyendas.” Those two columns endured from 1976 — Colorado’s Centennial year — until 1984, about eight years.

During those approximately 20 years of writing a history column, one of the enduring questions I’ve faced has been, “For whom should I write, newcomers or old-timers?” Most of the time, I’ve tried to strike a compromise satisfying both.

Today’s column leans towards the old-timers, because the information is supplied by old-timers in response to columns written in the past. Newcomers might be surprised at how many relatives of original pioneers remain in Pagosa Country. I’m sure the old-timers are amazed at how many newcomers live in Pagosa Country.

The history of many communities centers around the activities of one, prime early settler. The history of Pagosa’s first non-Indian settlement is a little broader than that.

Still, a man called Welch Nossaman is the closest pioneer Pagosa has to being a central founding father.

Susan (Nossaman) Felts wrote me the following letter back in 2002. I’m sure she won’t mind me quoting her letter. I’m also sure many old-timers will learn some new facts from this letter, written July 8, 2002.

“Dear Mr. Motter, I always enjoy reading your columns. The past couple columns that you have written about the stories from Pioneers of the San Juan Country have been especially interesting to me. For my fourteenth birthday, my grandmother, Elizabeth Johnson, gave me a copy of that book. I still have it and I often pick it up and read a few stories just for fun. She had the original books, all four volumes, that she had gotten as they were individually published.

“The past week your headline was, ‘Pioneer descendants still in Pagosa.’ I might add there are more than you think. Here is a little more information to go with what you wrote concerning the Belmear family.”

Motter’s note: At least two basic facts are relevant to writing about the Belmears. Firstly, Belmears were numbered among the first Anglo settlers in the San Juan region, the settlers of Baker’s Park in 1860. Baker’s Park is today’s Silverton. The mining rush to Baker’s Park basically triggered the settling of this part of Colorado, including Pagosa Springs. Secondly, when I moved to Pagosa Springs about 1970, there was a small family grocery at the top of Put Hill west of Pagosa Springs. That grocery was operated by a direct descendant of the Belmear family. Now let’s return to Susan (Nossaman) Felts’s letter.

“Here is a little more information to go with what you wrote concerning the Belmear family. If you go back to page 34 (in my copy) pf Book IV you will find the Henry Clay King story, This story was written by Minnie King Belmear. She was married to William Belmear, but I always referred to him as ‘Uncle Will.’ Henry Clay King was her father and also my great-grandfather. Aunt Minnie was my grandmother, Elizabeth King Johnson’s older sister. Elizabeth King came to the Pagosa Springs area to teach school around 1917. She was teaching school at the Bayles school and my grandfather, Charles B. Johnson was a member of the school board. Charles had come from Kansas in 1909 looking for a homestead. They were married June 22, 1920.

More next week from the letter of Susan Nossaman Felts.