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Fort Lewis built in Pagosa Country

We’ve been writing about Ute Indian unrest in Pagosa Country circa 1879. That unrest was the reason Fort Lewis was established in Pagosa Springs starting in the fall of 1878.

The Utes living near Pagosa Springs were known as Southern Utes. Those known as Southern Utes contained three fairly closely related bands; the Weminuche, Moache, and Capote, names given by New Mexico Hispanics who had known and done business with these bands for over three centuries.

These three bands, along with the Tabaguache Utes who lived near Montrose, wintered in New Mexico in areas now identified as near Cimarron and Abiquiu. During the summer, Moaches could generally be found along the eastern side of the San Luis Valley near present day San Luis. The Capotes summered in the Pagosa Springs area and the Weminuche in the southwestern corner of Colorado and the southeastern corner of Utah.

The Utes were among the first Indians to obtain horses. Upon obtaining horses their lifestyles altered drastically. All of the bands mentioned began to hunt buffalo and consequently could be found in buffalo country or points in between during certain seasons.

Ouray, from the Spanish word for arrow, was probably the best known of the Ute leaders. Ouray was one-half Tabaguache Ute and one-half Jicarilla Apache, a combination facilitated because the Tabaguache band wintered near Cimarron, a central point in the original homeland of the Jicarilla Apaches. Ouray will figure in our story later.

In addition to the bands of Southern Ute Indians, more Ute bands roamed in northern Colorado and in Utah. The northern Utes were attached to a reservation in northern Colorado near present-day Meeker. You can guess where the name Meeker came from when you learn the Indian agent for that northern reservation was named Nathan Meeker.

As we mentioned earlier, in 1879 the Ute unrest spread among all of the Utes in Colorado, Northern and Southern. During the winter of 1878, Company D of the Ninth Cavalry Regiment, often called Buffalo Soldiers by the Indians, were attached to Fort Lewis in Pagosa Springs under the command of Capt. Dodge. The Ninth and Tenth Regiments were African-American troops. Company D had recently been recruited from the deep South and was introduced to the Army way of life by bivouacking, living in tents, along the banks of the San Juan River about where today’s courthouse in Pagosa Springs stands. The white infantry troops in Pagosa Springs lived in log barracks.

In the spring of 1879, Company D was moved to Fort Garland in the San Luis Valley and from Fort Garland sent to North Park where they were patrolling in a position to intercept any Northern Utes on their way to attack the more populous white settlements in the northern Colorado mining communities. Company D is Fort Lewis’ and Pagosa Springs’ connection with the combat between Utes and whites which we will begin describing next week.