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Pioneers arrive in Pagosa Country

The decision by Hartz to build the cantonment on the west bank of the San Juan River is a clue that he knew of claims filed to possess the hot springs and adjacent land by civilians.

The location he selected was outside of 80 acres of land awarded to private parties. A Presidential Order dated May 22, 1877, had created the townsite of Pagosa Springs. By Presidential Order dated January 28, 1879, six square miles, excluding the one-square-mile townsite centered on the Great Pagosa Hot Spring, was declared a military reservation.

Camp Lewis was, therefore, erected on the grounds of the Townsite within the military reservation. By the time troops arrived in October to start the post, civilians had already taken up land and constructed buildings within the military reservation and within the Townsite.

The wagon road connecting New Mexico and the San Luis Valley settlements with Animas City ran past Pagosa Springs about a mile south of the hot springs. It crossed the San Juan River by bridge in 1878 about opposite of where the current high school is.

A road branched from the main road running north up the east side of the San Juan River past the Hot Springs to reach the beginnings of town along San Juan Street. That road is now called Lightplant Road.

At least four buildings straddled the main road where it crossed the river. One of the buildings housed Joe Clarke’s general store and the Pagosa Springs Post Office, which had been in business since June 5, 1878. The post office application claimed it would “serve about one hundred citizens.”

Other buildings lay on either side of Lightplant Road and more stood at the foot of Reservoir Hill east of the hot springs and along what is now San Juan Street east of the river.

The names of many of the first settlers and the exact date of their arrival in Pagosa Springs is clouded and uncertain. They must have come in the time interval between the summer of 1876 and the awarding of the Pagosa Springs Post Office in June of 1878.

Gordon McKean Grimes, according to the family history, “began a cattle ranch near Pagosa Springs in 1873.” We found no additional confirmation of this. The first township maps of Archuleta County, surveyed during the early 1880s, show “settlers cabins” without identification. No Grimes were listed in the 1880 Conejos County census.

In any case, settlement began in Pagosa Country. Welch Nossaman leaves an account of the earliest cabins in Pagosa Country of which we have a record.

Nossaman, in the company of Mark Butts, and Dr. B.B. Keebles, left Pella, Iowa, early in 1876, bound for the then flourishing gold camp of Summitville. Summitville was discovered and partially developed in 1870 and was the leading gold producer in the San Juan Mountains during the decade of the 1870s. It is located about 30 miles northeast of Pagosa Springs and near a pioneer wagon route surveyed between Fort Garland and Pagosa Springs by Lt. Ruffner. The usual entrance to Summitville was from Del Norte, then one of the gateways to the San Juans. Many of Pagosa Country’s pioneers went first to Del Norte, then to Summitville, and finally to Pagosa Springs. Nossaman was one of these.