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The Mikados come to roost

We started writing last week about the early settlements in what was to become Archuleta County, settlements taking place as early as the settlement of Pagosa Springs.

We pointed out that nearly all of those settlements were along travel routes. Most of those travel routes have evolved into the highways we use today.

For example, the road between Pagosa Springs and Durango, with some not-too-serious changes, has been in use since the beginning of settlement in San Juan Country. We are in the process of repeating a description of the settlement along that road—now U.S. 160—where it crosses the Piedra River.

Quoting from pioneer J.R. Scott in an article taken from an early newspaper, we learn: “He was our first postmaster. (Scott is speaking of John Peterson, the first postmaster of the post office near that Pagosa River crossing...Motter.) “The post office consisted of a time varnished desk, where patrons picked out their mail, then took a snort from a part-filled flask and went about their business.

“Along about 1878 Henry E. Freeman, an energetic cattleman from Colorado Springs located some three miles northwest of the Piedra, at the junction of Yellowjacket and Squaw creeks, where he afterward built for himself and family a solid log house foundationed on the unfortunate ruins of the Aztecs. (During those early years, the ruins left by Indians subsequently known as the Anasazi, were often referred to as Aztecs ... Motter)

“Trailing the spoor of these early squatters, came J.R. Scott in ’80, and R.A. Howe in ’81. Both became tenderfoot sod-busters and erected signs warning the Indians off of their grass.

“These seven Mikados were the first early birds to nest within view of the archaic Chimney Rocks, where the lizards still play peep. In the meantime Little Evan, the Grimes brothers, John Brown, C.H. Freeman, and others had come and vamoosed.

“In the waning eighties the Snooks brothers, John Thompson, Chris Lorenson, Elias Hansen, and the Campbells came crying into this wilderness to knock at Uncle Sam’s land office door.”

Barzillai Price and George Weisel were likely the first settlers on the Navajo River near present-day Chromo. With their families, they came by wagon train from Nebraska. Price, after visiting Pagosa Springs and the Ignacio Indian Agency, returned to the Navajo near Colonel Broad’s toll gate on the road connecting Cumbres Pass, by way of Chama, with Pagosa Springs, a road known as the “Ruffner Cutoff.

The year was 1879. Broad, who had lived in Conejos and later in Chama, had promised Price a mower, rake, and twenty dollars a ton for hay if Price would settle on the Navajo and take care of traffic there. Army Engineer Lt. Ruffner, for whom the road was named, stayed overnight with the Price family and told seventeen-year-old Will Price many “good hunting and fishing stories.”

Ruffner had been many years in New Mexico Territory, likely had met Kit Carson, and is, I suspect, the source of stories from the early days that Carson had earlier lived in a cabin on the Navajo while trapping beaver. The cabin could have been standing in 1879 when the Price’s settled in.