After years of surveying, studying and surmising, Army troops finally arrived in Pagosa Springs with orders to begin building Camp Lewis, the original name of Fort Lewis.
The new post was named Camp Lewis in honor of Lt. Col. William H. Lewis, who had been killed by Cheyenne Indians near Fort Wallace, Kan., on Sept. 28 of 1878.
Troops commanded by 2nd Lieutenant Alexis R. Paxton marched down the Blanco River and into Pagosa Springs Oct. 15, 1878.
Paxton was a temporary commander. The company commander, Capt. Chambers M. Kibbons, was on recruiting leave and apparently never reported to Pagosa Springs. Paxton’s manpower report for October of 1878 showed one officer and 22 enlisted men present for duty. Another absent officer was 1st Lieutenant George A. Cornish who had been “stationed at Ojo Caliente in New Mexico) since September 18, 1877. The troops commanded by Paxton had come from Fort Garland and were members of the infantry Company I, 15th Regiment.
Paxton wasted no time in carrying out orders which called for him to pick the most suitable site and erect temporary quarters as soon as possible.
With only 22 men, he accomplished a great deal in a very short time, for Captain Hartz arrived on October 28 to take command of the Camp and of the building program. His letter of October 30 described the work done by Paxton and his troops.
Hartz wrote: “Commanding Officer, Fort Garland, Col., Oct. 30, 1878. Sir: I have the honor of reporting my arrival here late on the evening of the 28”. I find that Lieut. Paxton has a large hackle (jacal) or stockade building for dirt roof 110x18 feet in the clear two thirds completed, also a building 20x30 feet for his own use, as they are so nearly finished I will allow him to complete and occupy them. His company will then be comfortably housed and the other work can then go on without interruption. In the meantime, I will take part of the working force and go on with the cantonment, and the buildings above mentioned can then be used for storehouses, hospital, or other similar purposes, these buildings are in my opinion too near the springs and on the northern exposure, by crossing the river—a good ford—there is a fine bench about 20 feet above the river with fine southern exposure, overlooking the river and springs, it is a little further from water, but in my opinion in every way a more desired location for the cantonment. As soon as the general (Hatch) arrives we will determine on the location. In the meantime I will be getting logs cut, lumber and other materials delivered, and will push the work as hard as the men at hand — about 20 in all, and limited facilities will permit.
“I enclose a list of Q.M. property required, and as I find other wants, I will notify you by letter. If you want regular estimates in approved form let me know, but I am very short of clerks, and will have to be very busy out-side looking after the work. Have directed Major Peabody to purchase & deliver 100 tons of hay, and the lumber and shingles as per your estimate. I have also authorized him to furnish the troops with fresh beef at reasonable market rates until such time as a regular contract can be made. I will furnish you copies of my letter of instructions to him by next mail, probably by this, if time will permit.
“The post office is about a mile below the springs, mail once a week.”