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Power struggle lasts for decades

We’ve been writing about a power struggle between Anglos and Hispanics for control of Archuleta County. The county was formed in 1885, having formerly been a school district in Conejos County.

The first county commissioners were appointed by the Colorado governor, a temporary measure until the voters of Archuleta County could hold an election. That first election was held in the fall of 1886. Three members of the Hispanic crowd were elected. When the newly elected commissioners attempted to meet in January of 1887, an armed band of Anglos broke up the meeting.

A lot of violence took place at that time. That first meeting was held in a building on San Juan Street provided by one of the commissioners, C.D. Scase. Scase’s building was burned that night. In those years, a swinging bridge crossed the San Juan River near the Hot Spring. Old timers say a gang of Hispanics and a gang of Anglos, all wielding clubs, met in a free-for-all on that bridge.

The power struggle lasted for decades. People from Pagosa Springs accused the Archuleta family and their followers of voting on both sides of the Colorado/New Mexico border and paying taxes on neither side. It is a fair assumption that the Hispanics were attempting to move the county seat from Pagosa Springs to the community we today call Edith. Many of the election results from the Archuleta Precinct, Precinct 2, were contested. John Taylor, an Archuleta County school teacher of that time, left us this assessment of the situation. I quote Taylor:

“In the southern part of the county was a voting precinct known as the Archuleta precinct. Here over a hundred Mexicans from New Mexico were voted to hold their gang in power. All this enraged the settlers who were engaged in the cattle business. Chas. Loucks, E.T. Walker, Judd Hallett, Wm. Dyke, John Dowell, Jake Dowell, Robert Chambers, Charles Chambers, Maurice Willett, Siegel Brown, Frank Cooley, James and Doc Gilliland, John and James O’Neal, Mr. Whitaker, Judge Price and his two sons, and some 50 others including the writer organized the People’s Party of which I was elected chairman and we began a bitter four year fight to gain possession of the government of the county. The State Administration and the courts were against us.

Of the three precincts in the county, we carried Pagosa and Edith precincts with large majorities to gain which I and the above named men worked night and day, but 300 illegal votes polled under the supervision of the Archuleta brothers and Martinez defeated us. They worked to have me removed from the school and every one of their wives and children were with me. This gang even paid a Mexican to kill me. He met me on the bridge one night, knife in hand. I carried a walking stick with which I struck him on the head, he fell and rolled into the river, he swam and came out at the old bath house. I walked into the old court house, those commissioners were in session and I invited the man who planned the deed to come out and settle the matter in any manner he wished but he did not function although afterward he killed two men and a woman. Charley Johnson, Durango’s criminal lawyer, cleared him though each was a cold-blooded murder. More next week from John Taylor.

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