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The road to Pagosa’s Fort Lewis

We have been writing for some weeks about ventures conducted during the 1870s, primarily by the Army, to determine the best roads into the San Juan Mountains and Four Corners Country, especially that portion west of the Continental Divide.

To put things into a broader historical perspective, the Four Corners area was one of the last areas in the lower 48 states to be settled. By the time settlement seriously began in the 1870s, California, Oregon and Washington, far to the west on the Pacific Coast, were already states.

This week we publish information from a report written by 1st Lt. E.H. Ruffner, chief of the Army Engineering Corps, which explored the San Juan Region. It is also well to remember that at the time of Ruffner’s report, Col. Custer was still alive, the Meeker Massacre had not taken place, and Army units in New Mexico and Arizona had failed to resolve issues between the Apaches in those states and the U.S.

And so, in that context, here is the report written to Congress as justification for the funding of certain roads including the road between Fort Garland and Fort Lewis at Pagosa Springs, a report written March 8, 1878 and largely based on the explorations we have been writing about the past few weeks. The reader will see that Fort Lewis in Pagosa Springs was the nexus of the recommendations.

“The Secretary of War has the honor to transmit to the House of Representatives copies of a report on existing and required lines of communication between Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico, with maps; also, report and maps of the San Juan reconnaissance in 1877.

“The commanding general Department of the Missouri forwards these papers with the following remarks:

“Garland will undoubtedly be the shipping point, for some years, of all the freight destined for Southwestern Colorado, Eastern Arizona, and the whole of New Mexico, excepting only the posts of Union and Stanton; freight rates from Garland, as will be seen, being much below any others offered.

“From Fort Garland depart three routes of this service—one to San Juan country, one to the posts in Arizona, and one via Santa Fé to the Lower Rio Grande.

“The amount required on each of these roads to make good roads, and thereby still further cheapen freights and facilitate communications, is as follows, viz:

“To San Juan Country and the site of the military post in that region, to which Fort Garland is to be transferred (Ruffner is talking about the road from Alamosa to Fort Lewis at Pagosa Springs) … $11,517, to Fort Wingate and posts in Arizona north of the Gila River … $2,485, and to Santa Fé … $10,000 for a total of $24,002.

“With this small amount these roads can be put into excellent condition; and there is no doubt that the whole sum will be repaid twice over in a few years by reduction of freight rates. I respectfully ask that the Secretary of War ask a special appropriation for this work, of the amount specified, the work to be done under the charge of Lieutenant Ruffner, chief engineer of this department. The sooner it can be done, the better for the government and all concerned.

“The great importance of the roads in the settlement and development of the regions which they transverse need not be set forth. It will suffice to say that in my opinion every interest of the government in that section of the country will be greatly benefited at very small expense in this direction.”