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A confrontation with Colorow

One of Pagosa Springs’ earliest founding fathers, Welch Nossaman, first visited Pagosa Springs in August of 1876.

Fortunately for Pagosa Springs historians, Nossaman dictated his diary before he passed away Dec. 22, 1937 at the age of 86. We are quoting his diary when we write that, after visiting Pagosa Springs in August of 1876 he returned to Summitville the same fall, then came back, this time driving wagons.

This trip was probably the first time wagons had been driven down the East Fork of the San Juan River. Nossaman said he took with him two witnesses for the placer claim he filed on the Pagosa Hot Springs in the name of his employer Dr. Keebles. One of the witnesses was probably the redoubtable French-Canadian Luis Montroy, though Nossaman doesn’t name the witnesses in his diary.

At the springs, Nossaman put up the placer claim notices, then sent the team, and we assume, the witnesses, back to Summitville. He said he spent that winter with only a bull dog for company. In the spring, Keebles sent for him to return to Summitville. Snow covered the mountains. To reach Summitville he would have to snowshoe better than sixty miles across the Continental Divide. A better opportunity presented itself.

“I got a chance to go out with Old Man Johnson. That was in the spring of ’77. I only had a wagon and $15 with me, as I had bought my grub the fall before, and I had bought a beef. I got tired of deer and wild meat and bought a beef and 500 pounds of potatoes and it took all of the money I had. The other two boys didn’t have any.”

Nossaman and Charley (Race-horse) Johnson left Pagosa Springs by way of Tierra Amarilla to the south in New Mexico after building a bridge across the San Juan south of Pagosa Springs.

In another part of his story Nossaman again tells of spending the winter at Pagosa Springs, this time with Joab Baker and Lafe Hamilton. The stories were written as much as 50 years after the events described happened and some of the events tend to blur together.

In his second story he and his cohorts “built a cabin and one for Doc Keebles and one for Mark Butts and one for John Russell, and built a bridge across the San Juan River a mile below town.”

In the spring, the Indians showed up. Nossaman describes the confrontation this way: “They didn’t come on the ridge at all, they came right up to the house and stopped in front of the cabin. The bull dog wanted to go after them. I held him by the collar, and was sure shaking. The Indians just stopped in front of the cabin. There was one Indian whose name was Colorow Ignatio. There was an agent on the Pine River, but Colorow was a younger Indian and he was in charge of this gang.

“So when he came to the cabin door I took my six-shooter out of the scabbard hanging at the corner of the bunk and put it under the corner of the blanket and sat down on the bed and held the dog. This Colorow came to the door and I motioned for him to come in and he did. He said, ‘Sugar.’ I shook my head — told him I didn’t have. He said, ‘Biscuit.’ I shook my head — no biscuit — ‘Bacon’ — ‘Coffee’ — and I kept shaking my head — no coffee —‘Tobacco’ — shook my head and didn’t get off the bunk at all, but I put my hand on the 45 that was lying there under the blanket, and it was cocked. When I kept shaking my head that I didn’t have it for him, he grabbed me by the arm and ran his finger across my throat and tried to scare me. He had nothing on but a breech-clout — no blanket — but feathers on his head. When he done that I got kind of scared. He had a big knife sticking in his belt that held his breech-clout on. I thought he could pull it out in just a shake, so I jerked the six-shooter out and put it up against his belly. When the muzzle of that gun got up against him he just made two jumps and out he went. They went on down below and when the boys came in that night and they said, ‘Well, you are alright?’ I said,’ ‘Yes, alright, but boys there is an awful big bunch of Indians down there.’’