Bookmark and Share

An early description of Pagosa Country

Continuing with the assessment of Pagosa Country made in the spring of 1878 by Army Engineer C.A.H. McCauley, we read:

“A comparative wilderness, unoccupied by whites, the country remained unnoticed or forgotten until 1870, when it was again penetrated by a small party of prospectors with the resulting discovery near the present town of Silverton of the “Little Giant,” a gold lode famous for its ore and notorious in subsequent litigation. Their wonderful discovery, bruited abroad, was the cause of another influx, solely of hardy prospectors, resulting in the establishment of a permanent population.

“In the treaty of March 2, 1868 (Motter— made at Conejos, Colo. between certain representatives of the Southern Ute Indians and representatives of the U.S. government), setting aside for the Utes all save a fragment of Colorado west of the one hundred and seventh meridian, the San Juan land became a definite portion of the Indian reserve. Their numbers and hostility were too powerful to overcome by the settlers within their country. The white man demanded the valuable territory of the weaker one, and force compelled him to yield. What is generally known as the Brunot Convention, from the name of the United States commissioner, ensued. Articles of agreement for the cession of the San Juan were entered into September 13, 1873, by the confederated Utes, and the necessary satisfaction made by Congress April 29, 1874. The portion ceded by the Brunot Convention contains about 6,000 square miles, and includes all the rich mineral section save the Summit District, a gold region; that part of the State generally known as the San Juan Country, comprising, however, in addition to the above contiguous territory aggregating over 13,000 square miles, one-eighth of the entire state, and an area equal to that of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut combined.

“In the lower portion of the Great Continental Divide, in a general direction of northwest and southwest, is for 125 miles or more known as the San Juan Mountains, including many lofty peaks and spurs.

“For convenience of treatment, the main agricultural region, watered by streams and rivers springing from the summits and flowing down on the southern and western trend of the range all on the Pacific watershed, may be distinguished as the lower country, the rest the upper.

“Lines of Communication. Roads are the highways of civilization. Their construction is the first and essential stage in the gradual development of any section. Without an easy outlet for its resources, no country, however productive, can acquire that wealth and prosperity which free and easy communication alone can furnish. This is particularly so in an inland section and a mountainous region. The discovery of precious metal is almost invariably made by one or more adventurous prospectors, whose outfit, of the most modest nature, is generally borne upon ‘burros,’ or jackasses, capable of climbing over difficult mountainous country. With the discovery of a mineral deposit, their log cabin is established, becoming the nucleus of a mining camp. The outlet and inlet by a trail permitting pack trains only with the advent of newcomers, an embryo town appears, and well-watered lands en route are taken up for grazing and farming purposes.”

More next week from Lt. McCauley.