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The railroad pushes west

Last week we pointed out that, once the railroad entered the San Luis Valley, most freight into the San Juan Basin was freighted from wherever the railroad terminus was at that time by horse or ox-powered wagons to the designated destination.

At first the railroad ended near Fort Garland at Garland City on the eastern side of the San Luis Valley. From that launching point, freight was carried to all destinations located north, south, and west by wagons.

Of course, the terminus of the railroad continued moving west. As it moved west, the launching point for wagon-toted freight moved with it. Not counting the many smaller communities, the two larger westward communities in the San Luis Valley were Alamosa and Antonito for the rail-line destined to cross Cumbres Pass and eventually reach as yet to be created Durango.

Both the Alamosa, Antonito, and Durango communities were founded by the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. A number of smaller communities already existed before Alamosa, Antonito and Durango were founded. They all wanted the railroad to pass through their respective communities, and naturally, make everyone in town rich supplying land for railroad facilities.

In truth, it seems the residents of those communities wanted to charge the railroad owner, Gen. Palmer, more than he was willing to pay for land. It was cheaper and easier for Palmer to acquire new land and start his own towns. And that is what he did when the price for land in existing communities seemed to be too high.

In any case, the railroad marched west. When Alamosa was founded, freight bound for the San Juans was shipped by train to Alamosa. From there, a steady stream of horse — and ox-pulled wagons fanned out across San Juan Country.

From Alamosa, the railroad crossed the Rio Grande and moved to the new town of Antonito, ignoring older communities such as Conejos. Again, the trains carried freight to Antonito. From there the freight wagons followed the Conejos River upstream before crossing the San Juan Mountains into the San Juan Basin. From Antonito, the wagons crossed Cumbres and La Manga passes to Chama, newly created by Gen. Palmer.

Another branch of the railroad left Alamosa on its way to Del Norte and up the Rio Grande River Valley past Wagon Wheel Gap. Again, freight was carried by trains to wherever the railroad tracks ended. From there, the horses and oxen took over, this time crossing Stoney Pass to the Silverton area or Slumgullion Pass to Lake City. Creede is not mentioned because Creede did not exist at that time. N.C. Creede discovered silver starting the rush to Creede shortly after 1890.

The branch of the railroad that eventually passed through Chama on its way to what would become Durango reached Chama in 1880. More next week.

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