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Trouble between the Army and civilians at Fort Lewis

The relationships between any military camp and the surrounding civilians have often been a source of friction.

Fort Lewis in Pagosa Spring was not different.

The layout and ownership of the area contributed to the problem. Fort Lewis was located on a six square-mile military reservation with the Great Pagosa Hot Spring located at the center.

By the time the fort was under construction in late 1879, a large number of civilian squatters had already arrived.

Basically, the Fort buildings occupied the northwest side of the San Juan River pretty much on land now covered by Lots 21 and 22, the main business blocks of today’s town.

Across the river on the east side, especially along today’s San Juan Street, were civilian homes and businesses. Civilians occupied much of the land on the east side of the river southward to Mill Creek, then known as Frio Creek.

A bridge crossed the San Juan about one mile south of the big hot spring. A road that crossed that bridge ran southward to Los Ojos in New Mexico and westerly to Animas City. There were civilian buildings along that road.

Another bridge crossed the river just above the big hot spring. Civilians and soldiers had to have passes to cross the downtown bridge.

Not surprisingly, lumber needed to build Fort Lewis was being cut by civilians from trees growing on the military reservation. Hence, the following letter.

“Headquarters Fort Lewis. Colo., April 14, 1879. To Mr. Thomas Graden, Pagosa Springs, Colo., Sir: I have the honor to inform you by order of the Commanding Officer, that no more Timber will be cut by you on this reservation.

“A failure to comply with this order will necessitate the removal of your sawmill from the reservation.”

(Motter’s note: The Gradens have been prominent business people in Durango from then until now.)

And on the same date we read: “Messrs. Scott, Ely, and Cooper, Animas City, Colo., Sirs: I have the honor to inform you by order of the commanding officer, that no more Timber will be cut by you on this reservation.

“A failure to comply with this order will necessitate the removal of your sawmill from the reservation.”

In truth, the presence of civilians in large numbers on the reservation was one of the main reasons, but not the only reason, that by 1880, Fort Lewis was being moved west from Pagosa Springs to Hesperus.