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The cavalry winters at Camp Lewis

We’ve been writing about the rigors of starting Fort Lewis in Pagosa Springs during late fall of 1878 and early winter of 1879.

It was early December, a heavy snow had fallen, and 1st Lt. John Guifoyle of the 9th Cavalry had been ordered to take to Animas City, all of the horses and mules not in immediate use at Camp Lewis in Pagosa Springs. There was not enough hay and forage at Pagosa Springs to keep the animals alive.

At that time, there were not any established ranches at Pagosa Springs to supply the Army’s needs. Hay had been ordered from T. D. Burns of Tierra Amarilla, but that hay had been delivered to Animas City. Additional hay had been ordered from Joe Mann. Mann was cutting wild grass hay from the West and East Forks of the San Juan River but had actually delivered much less than he’d promised. To make matters worse, Mann had disappeared and the Army didn’t know where to find him.

On the other hand, there were a number of ranchers on the Animas River above Animas City, and on the Pine River north of today’s Bayfield who could deliver the needed hay. The facts of the situation were, given the condition of the roads and the heavy amount of snow, it was easier to drive the equines to Animas City than it was to haul wagon loads of hay from Animas City to Pagosa Springs.

And that wasn’t the worst supply problem bothering the Army camp in Pagosa Springs. Before the camp was established, the Army somehow had the notion that supplies could be freighted from Fort Garland to Camp Lewis by way of Elwood Pass on the Ruffner Road. They soon learned that crossing the South San Juan Mountains during winter was a difficult, if not impossible task.

So how did Camp Lewis get supplies from Fort Garland? Special Order No. 7, Par. 2 issued at Camp Lewis Dec.12, 1878, provides us with the following information:

“Private Samuel Wilson “B” Co. 15th Inf. will proceed tomorrow morning to Fort Garland, Colo., in charge of two six-mule teams belonging to that post. He will go via Tierra Amarilla and will be governed in his drives by the forage orders that will be furnished him by the A.A.Q.M. at this place and endeavoring as far as practicable to stop at regular appointed forage agencies, so as to procure proper shelter over night for the public animals under his charge. Private M. Pruden “B” Co. 15th Inf. will accompany the transportation as escort and will be under the orders of Private Wilson. The transportation and escort will be reported to the C.O., Ft. Garland., Colo., for duty immediately on its arrival. The teamsters and escort will be rationed and animals foraged in kind by order to include the 25th Inst. (Arrival will be Christmas Day, a 12-day trip from Pagosa Springs to Fort Garland—Motter).

Other than specifying a route through Tierra Amarilla, N.M., the orders for this trip do not specify other identifiable stopping points. Since Cumbres Pass was open by this time, we can assume that was the route chosen unless the snow was too deep on Cumbres. If the snow was too deep, the entourage probably went south to Ojo Caliente on the west side of the mountains, then north by way of Tres Piedra on the east side of the mountains to Conejos and from there to Fort Garland.