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They might as well be in Alaska

We continue to write of the difficulties encountered while establishing Camp Lewis, later Fort Lewis, in Pagosa Springs during the winter of 1879.

We have reported the lack of hay for the “government animals,” a lack which forced the Army to move nearly all of the horses and mules to Animas City, located on the Animas River just north of today’s Durango.

Receiving mail was also a problem, as we learn from this missive written by Post Commander Capt. Dodge of the Co.

‘D’, 9” Cav., March 4th, 1879, and sent to the Postmaster General, Washington D.C.

“I have the honor to invite attention to the inefficiency of the mail service between the Post and the East, and to recommend that said service be increased to at least semi- or tri-weekly mail. At present all the mail for the post comes over the route from Ojo Caliente, N.M., to Animas City, Colo. It is true a weekly mail has been established between Pagosa Springs and Del Norte, Colo. (carried on foot over the summit) but I have yet to learn that a single letter has been brought into this garrison by it. I cannot tell where the fault lies, but there is evidently a screw loose somewhere. The mail from Ojo Caliente is carried on horse back and so as a rule, only letters come through. Official communications have been fifteen days en route between this point and Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, and a longer time has been occupied in the transmission of letters between here and Santa Fe. N.M., a distance of only 160 miles. Last month, a detachment of recruits were sent to my company from Santa Fe in a six mule team. Their descriptive lists were sent by mail. The recruits arrived here just six days in advance of their descriptive lists. A person might almost as well be in Alaska as at Fort Lewis so far as any benefits to be derived from the public press are concerned. An officer informed me yesterday that he has lost a hundred papers since the first of January, and for myself, I can say that I have received but three members of a weekly periodical which has been regularly sent to me since the 20th of December last. I am informed by two gentlemen whom I know to be reliable, that in January last when passing through Ojo Caliente they saw a large amount of mail which had accumulated in that office — one of them was allowed to look it over and take out letters addressed to himself and friend. They report that the business of the office was conducted in a loose manner, registered letters receiving no more attention than newspapers, and all the mail stored in such a manner as to be easily pilfered. I should have made an earlier report of this matter had I not been informed that the information at Ojo Caliente had changed as well as the contractor over the route, and hoped for some improvement.

“I am told that the mail, sometimes comes through in ordinary grain sacks, and I have deemed it necessary to send a courier with a letter to Santa Fe because of the uncertainty attendant on its delivery by the mail.

“In conclusion I would make the suggestion that the contractor be required to carry the mail in buckboards or some light vehicle, and not on horse back as is now customary. We might then hope to get what belongs to us, and there is also a possibility that we might get it on time, something as yet almost unknown.”