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Shady doings in the good old days

We’ve just written about the three stage holdups I know about from Pagosa Springs pioneer history.

While it is true that the West of the 1870s/1880s was not as much a wild, shoot ‘em up scene as western movies would have us believe, it was still relatively lawless compared to today.

One of my favorite stories came from a small, sort of matter-of-fact item published in the Pagosa Springs News during the early 1890s.

According to the item, the dead body of a man was found floating in the San Juan River near Gato (today’s Pagosa Junction). The report stated that the body had multiple stab wounds, including several in the back.

A straight-faced sounding coroner’s report concluded the unidentified man had committed suicide.

The oldtimers I used to meet with during the late 1970s told a story — fairly frequently I might add — about a trial during which a Chromo man was charged with stealing sheep. The jury’s verdict was something like, “Your honor. We find the lying, no-good sheep thief not guilty.” At the end of the telling, the teller would look me in the eye and say, “You know what? That no-good sheep thief returned home to Chromo, packed his bags, and has never seen again.”

Most of the oldtimers I knew insisted that the masked man who held up the stage just east of town in 1891 was a local man they named. I didn’t want to name the man mentioned by the oldtimers in the story I wrote because I had discovered who the real culprit was.

The same oldtimers told me the same man they thought did the holdup also was guilty of cattle rustling. Again, I have never repeated that man’s name in connection with rustling or lawlessness because I never discovered any evidence to prove what the oldtimers said was true.

I have little doubt that a lot of cattle rustling went on. I found a story in a newspaper in a neighboring town — Pagosa Springs did not have a newspaper at the time — reporting that, during the mid-1880s, one of the Brown brothers in Pagosa Springs was being tried for rustling cattle from the Hoover brothers.

What I thought was interesting was that some of the rustled cattle were driven live into the courtroom. The idea was, the Brown brothers’ attorney wanted the jury to examine the so-called blotted brands. As I recall, the Brown brothers were exonerated.

The Hoover family is no longer remembered, but they were prominent during the early days. I suspect they had a ranch just downstream from the old light plant. They started one of the early drug stores, may have been prominent in founding the early Methodist Church and donated money to start the town’s first library, located in town hall.

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