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Gunfights and gangs in old Pagosa Springs

We’ve been writing about the settlement days of Pagosa Country circa 1878/1885. In the center of Pagosa Country, Pagosa Springs was thriving and had all of the attributes of a Hollywood western movie.

Daily mail arrived from Chama, weekly mail from Summitville. Always, over and over, the press reported that another gold strike could occur any moment. Lawlessness seemed to seep into the country like a contagious disease fed by the free-spending railroad construction camp atmosphere.

Alex Fleming, the bartender, gunned down Samuel Maxwell in the Rosebud Saloon. Both men drew their guns but, Fleming was faster. Popular sentiment backed Fleming’s trigger finger. Maxwell was known to be looking for Fleming. A Conejos jury found Fleming not guilty of murder, because Maxwell was a hard case and deserved to die.

Denver & Rio Grande construction crews moved westward to live in Amargo as a base camp. Passengers and freight now reached Pagosa Springs via a stage coach and freight wagons which met the train at Amargo.

Amargo was a tent city inhabited by card sharks, gamblers, confidence men, and prostitutes, all preying on the hard-earned wages of the railroad construction crews. While writing his memoirs many years later, a Durango resident who had spent several months in Amargo said,

“day or night, there was never a time he could not hear gunfire.”

A self-styled band of desperados headed by Charley Allison set up tents in Amargo’s outskirts and proceeded to terrorize the surrounding countryside. A year earlier, Allison had been a deputy sheriff in Conejos. In a few short months, he allegedly committed five armed stage coach holdups near Alamosa before following the railroad westward where he and his gang held up the towns of Pagosa Springs and Chama. A Silverton newspaper writer warned that travel on the southern route was not safe and that lawlessness in the vicinity of Amargo had reached such proportions that it threatened to shut off travel to the San Juan Country.

In May, under a headline reading “Another Stage Robbery,” the Silverton paper reported that the Allison gang held up the east-bound stage four miles west of Pagosa Springs in a rocky canyon. There were ten passengers on the coach, from whom the robbers took about $500, plus a number of gold watches, other jewelry, and a draft for $3,300. Following the holdup, the robbers walked into Mr. Voorhees store in Pagosa Springs. “Among those present were Harry Sanderson and John Forsbay, the Division Superintendent of the Barlow & Sanderson stage line. Although they had money and valuables on their persons they were not molested. At the mouth of a pistol Mr. Voorhees opened his safe and handed over the contents to the robbers…about $450.”

A week later the same gang held up the same stage in the same rocky canyon. On May 31, newspapers reported,”“The stage robbers intended upon filling in full, the measure of their crimes. Since their escapades at and near Pagosa, they have stolen three valuable horses, two of them belonging to A.C. Hunt Jr., and one to Gov. Hunt, the latter being an elegant trotter Moro, for which he paid over $1,000. The robbery occurred at Monero near Amargo, on the night of the 28th while in camp.”

The leaders of the Allison gang were arrested in Albuquerque in July and subsequently sentenced to serve jail sentences.

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