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Early descriptions of Pagosa Country

This week we continue to quote from a report filed by Army Engineer Lt. C.A.H. McCauley.

Last week, we reported McCauley’s description of the Pagosa Hot Springs as he viewed them in 1878, even as Fort Lewis was under construction on the present site of Pagosa Springs. McCauley also described the land around the hot springs.

He described the land surrounding the hot springs as a peculiar, honey-combed ground over which a passerby must exercise extreme caution. Elsewhere, he noted, the general surface is solid and will bear the weight of a horse and rider, “Although a hollow sound will be heard while passing over it.”

Until construction of Fort Lewis began in late 1878, we have no written record of anyone living permanently near the hot springs. There were some buildings located about one mile south of the hot springs where a road crossed the San Juan River as it connected Tierra Amarilla in New Mexico with the mining areas along the upper Animas River upstream from today’s Durango.

It is documented that this road existed as early as 1861 when a man named Charles Baker incorporated the road as a toll road in New Mexico. Baker is said to have built a bridge in 1861 across the San Juan about one mile south of the hot springs and another bridge across the Piedra River about one mile south of the present bridge that helps U.S. 160 on its present path to Durango. We know that Baker’s toll road was used during the 1860s and 1870s by miners bound for the Animas River mines.

Returning to McCauley’s description of the Pagosa Springs area, we read the following:

“This noted region, bidding fair to become in time one of the richest silver-producing sections in the world, is that portion of Colorado lying in the southwestern portion of the state, to which of late immigration has rapidly increased, and the attention of capital attracted by its fine agricultural valleys and the great mineral wealth of its mountains, so that several towns and numerous settlements have sprung into existence in remote localities, while much of the country has been occupied with a view to farming and pastoral pursuits.

“The appellation of “’San Juan’ is derived from the river of the same name, into which pour all of the waters of the lower country. Long before the advent of the white man upon the continent it banks teemed with an unknown population of whose habits and mode of life history speaks not and tradition is silent, with naught to aid the intelligent investigator save fragmentary pottery and the ruins of their dwellings. After long lapses of time, their former lands are being occupied by the progressive Anglo-Saxon in his inexorable movement westward.

“Within the last quarter of a century, the country has been penetrated by explorers, and reports of the wonderful wealth in its mountains had attracted, hitherto, at the risk of death from hostile red-men, numbers of prospectors. A tide of immigration set in, and nearly two decades have passed since the same kind of adventurous spirits as at present may be found flocking to the country. Disappointments, continual attacks of hostile Indians, and other causes combined to stem the tide, and with its reflux the lands were left to the tribes that possessed them by virtue of original habitation.”

More next week from Lt. McCauley.