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Miss Kitty’s trip to the hot springs

No one knows how many people gazed at the Great Pagosa Hot Spring during the years after the Civil War ended and prior to the founding of Pagosa Springs in 1877-1878.

A few prospectors combed the San Juan Mountains looking for gold during the Civil War and a proverbial “Rush” took place once the country turned its eyes west after that great conflagration ended.

Gold was never found close to Pagosa Springs, but one of the major roads from the south leading to the gold mines in the higher mountains led past Pagosa Springs.

One of the early visitors the old timers used to talk about when I attended historical society meetings during the 1970s was Kitty Brown.

Also referred to as the wife of M.O. Brown, Kitty is said to have made the trip from Summitville across Elwood Pass and down the East Fork of the San Jan River to Pagosa Springs in 1873, at least four years before the town started. Mrs. Brown supposedly had her young son Tom Reavis and her aging father Mr. Sallee with her. Mr. Sallee was blind and suffering from acute rheumatism. He was the reason for the journey. The Pagosa Hot Springs already had a significant reputation for relieving pain and symptoms from inflictions such as Mr. Sallee’s.

Kitty’s journey is especially remarkable because I know of no evidence of any road across Elwood or down the East Fork of the San Juan River in 1873. The route was undoubtedly a well-known Indian trail and that must be the route the party followed. They left from Summitville, already a bustling gold mining camp in the high mountains between Del Norte and Elwood Pass.

Nevertheless, Miss Kitty must have made the journey on horseback while caring for a blind father and a young son each on a separate horse. Remember, during those times, prospectors with various levels of respectability, or lack of respectability, roamed the mountains. The Ute Indians were not yet confined to a reservation and grizzly bears and wolves were plentiful in the San Juans. Miss Kitty must have been a lady of true grit to take on those odds.

The builder of Pagosa Springs’s first cabin, Welch Nossaman, did not make his journey to Pagosa Springs along the same route from Summitville until 1876.

Knowing that Kitty made the trip from Summitville to Pagosa Springs and back gives cause to wonder how may others made the identical trip. Surely she was not the only one, even at that early date.

It is also believed that a Dr. Frank Keebles accompanied by an Arnold Howard made the trip in 1875. Keebles was from Pella, Iowa, as was the Nossaman family. A medical doctor, Keebles forsaw the future profitability of the Pagosa Hot Springs as a medical mecca and consequently attempted to acquire title to the Springs. At that time the Springs were owned by the U.S. government.

Nossaman was employed by Keebles at times as a freighter.

When talking of his visit to the Springs in the fall of 1876, Nossaman said: “Keebles wanted me to take two witnesses and post up some notices. Doc had filed on 144 acres of placer ground at Pagosa.”

More next week on early visits to the Pagosa Hot Springs.