We’re setting the stage for a series of articles about Welch Nossaman who first visited Pagosa Springs in 1876 before there were any buildings on the townsite.
Nossaman, with a couple of compadres, probably erected those first buildings.
The Pagosa Hot Springs were certainly known to outsiders before Nossaman’s 1876 visit. As we described briefly last week, trader Juan Maria Rivera came through Pagosa Country from New Mexico as early as 1865. The Hispanic Fathers Dominguez and Escalante came through on their epic journey in 1876, the year the United States War of Independence started.
There may have been other traders from New Mexico before the fur trapping industry kicked into high gear circa 1820. It is known that a number of beaver trappers working out of Taos, N.M., during the early 1820s trapped much of San Juan Country.
It is also known that by 1821, perhaps sooner, regular trade between California and New Mexico was taking place. These traders followed close to the routes pioneered by Rivera as they crossed what we now know as Archuleta County, by way of Carracas and Arboles on their way to Spanish Forks, Utah, then southward through Las Vegas — it wasn’t Las Vegas then, but it had a good spring so it was a good place to camp. From Las Vegas the trail led to Los Angeles, the City of the Angels, in Southern California.
Wagons were not used on this route, only pack animals, especially mules. The traders left New Mexico mostly with woolen goods, and at least once, a herd of sheep driven by Kit Carson. Carson’s route was a branch of the trail that followed the Rio Grande northward to Cochetopa Pass, then picked up what has become known as the Old Spanish Trail over near the Gunnison River.
In any case, many of those headed for California crossed Pagosa Country. On their way home from California, the traders brought horses and Indian slaves, mostly Paiutes from Utah and Nevada. The slaves were the most valuable trade item. The entire trip took several months.
As the fur trade in the Rockies prospered, many of the trappers used this same trail to go back and forth between the Northern and Southern Rockies.
Mexican independence from Spain was gained in 1821. The Mexican government was much more tolerant of U.S. citizens entering New Mexico than the Spanish had been. This friendliness encouraged U.S. trappers and traders to live in New Mexico. As a result, most of the trappers of the Southern Rocky Mountains lived in Taos.
Interestingly, a few of those trappers, both Anglo and Hispanic, moved permanently to Los Angeles from Taos by way of the Old Spanish Trail we have been talking about. And so, some of the first Anglo citizens of Los Angeles arrived there by riding horses or mules across southwestern Archuleta County.
Other people visited the Pagosa Hot Springs before Nossaman built his cabin. We’ll continue discussing that subject next week.