Anyone who has spent a few winters in Pagosa Springs know the snow and cold can be enough to test the mettle of anyone.
The Army’s first year at Camp Lewis was just such a winter
An early December snowfall and the lack of hay had prompted the Camp Lewis commander to send all of the “uncommitted public animals,” meaning horses and mules belonging to the Army, to Animas City, the approximated location of present-day Durango. Hay was available in Animas City.
By Dec. 30, 1878, Special Order No 10. Paragraph III, contained the following instructions for feeding public animals. “Parties to whom open market contracts were awarded for supplying this post with hay, having failed to meet their obligations to furnish the amount required for use, and the recent heavy snows preventing the obtaining of an adequate supply from other sources, the A.A.Q.M. of this post is hereby authorized to feed half allowances of hay and increase the grain allowance one fourth for public animals under his charge until such time as the full allowance of hay can be obtained.
“The increase of grain allowance will be oats, provided the supply on hand or to be obtained, will permit.”
On Dec. 12, military teamsters driving two six-mule teams were dispatched to Fort Garland in the San Luis Valley. Camp Lewis in Pagosa Springs was attached to Fort Garland and was expected to obtain its supplies from that fort. And so, as part of Special Order 10 on Dec. 30, 1878, we read the following, “Citizen teamster James Marshall will proceed without delay, with the spring wagon and four mules under his charge to Fort Garland, Colo., and report on his arrival to the A.A.Q.M. at that post. He will go via Tierra Amarilla. From that point he will follow the most favorable route to Conejos, then to Fort Garland.
He will as far as practicable govern his drives so as to stop at regular appointed forage agencies, but will not make a drive over 25 or 30 miles in any one day if it can possibly be avoided. He will be rationed to include the 10th of January, and the animals under his charge, foraged in kind or by order to include the same dates.”
Motter’s note: Allowing choice of “the most favorable route” seems to let the teamsters choose between crossing Cumbres Pass and then to Conejos, or going south to Ojo Caliente and then north to Conejos. It is hard to believe Marshall could have crossed a snow-packed, unpaved and poorly graded Cumbres Pass in a spring wagon. It is also hard to believe that he could have gone from Pagosa Springs to Tierra Amarilla to Ojo Caliente to Conejos to Fort Garland in 10 days under heavy winter conditions, even if the spring wagon had been converted from wheels to runners.