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Early day Pagosa, a strategic center

We continue with First Lt. McCauley’s description of Pagosa Country published when he visited fledgling Fort Lewis in Pagosa Springs in 1878. McCauley was not a newcomer to the San Juans in 1878. For some years, the Army of the West, with headquarters in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, had been studying the Four Corners area and keeping a watchful eye on the Southern Ute Indians.

Gold had been discovered in the San Juans on the Southern Ute Reservation and fortune seekers swarmed across the reservation. It was feared that a bloody conflict between whites and Utes could erupt at any time. Consequently, at least since 1874, under direction of Chief Engineer Lt. E.H. Ruffner stationed at Ft. Garland, Army surveyors and reconnaissance parties combed the San Juans, seeking suitable passes, reservation sites, and in general, preparing for the possible battle. As an engineer, McCauley worked under Ruffner’s direction and had already seen much of the San Juans personally. One of the early Army decisions was to build a fort at Pagosa Springs. Ruffner, himself, ssurveyed the six square miles in Pagosa Springs centered on the great Pagosa Hot Springs, the six square miles set aside as the site of Fort Lewis.

As it turned out, when it came to moving onto the land, the settlers ignored the federal military land claims as blithely as they had ignored federal instructions setting aside the Ute Reservation. In any case, the knowledgeable McCauley is reporting on progress in the San Juans, even as Fort Lewis is being erected in Pagosa Springs. McCauley includes information from his earlier surveys while making the 1878 report.

“As the lower country is least favored with respect to outer communication, it may be well to first consider it. Hemmed in on the north and east, which, with outlying spurs that contain many peaks of great altitude and few practicable or natural passes, the summits of the mountain chain lie approximately in the arc of a circle with Pagosa Springs nearly at the center. It is, moreover, south of the position of Garland City but 11 miles, being about 100 miles west thereof. From the railroad terminus all roads to the lower country at present have a common point, via the crossing of the Chama at the plaza of Los Ojos, one of the villages of the Tierra Amarilla section, whence the main-traveled line, known as the““Upper Road,” passes to the Animas via Pagosa Springs while, while the distance to the Animas is greater by this than by the route called the”“Middle Road,” which, passing by the Laguna de los Caballa, Piedras de Legunadso, and the Canyon Cureacon, (Carracas?) to the San Juan just below the mouth of the Navajo, and crossing the Rio Piedra and Rio de los Pinos, unites with the Upper Road on the Rio Florida; it is preferable to the latter, on account of more frequent water and the fine grazing along the route, timber being every where abundant. Hence, from its natural position and relative points of supply, Pagosa becomes a strategic point, and the line which will easiest and quickest enable travel to reach it, will, in fact must, become the popular and frequented road.”

As you can see, from McCauley’s viewpoint, Pagosa Springs as a strategic center to the San Juans, was extremely vital to the Army. More next week from McCauley.