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Election ruckus and business hijinks in early day Pagosa Country

Many of the elections held during Pagosa Country’s pioneer days would make national news if they happened today.

For example, Pagosa News editor Daniel Egger wrote in 1892: “The News hereby calls attention to the fact that there is at present a movement on foot to repeat the election fraud of 1889 in this county. It will be remembered that in that year about eighty Mexican votes (Motter: You’ll notice from Egger’s writing that political correctness was much different in 1892 than it is today) were recorded in this county, and it has always been a mystery where they have their habitation. The election was contested and right won, except in one instance.”

I think the contested election protest went all of the way to the Colorado Supreme Court.

Four tickets were presented to voters in November of 1892. They were the Democratic ticket, Free Silver Democratic ticket, People’s Party ticket and the Republican ticket. Egger, a Populist, was elated at the results. Democratic/ People’s Party candidates swept all county positions except two.

In 1892, an announcement appeared in Egger’s newspaper that promised prosperity for the county. The announcement read: “It is almost definitely settled that the Biggs mill will be located on the Navajo in this county next summer. The moving of the mills there will also necessitate the building of a branch line of the railroad to the river. Should these moves take place a good market will be created for all products raised in the Navajo valley, and everybody can find employment. Many of the settlers also have valuable timber to sell but a majority of the timber will be cut on the grant.”

Egger then reported, “Many citizens of this county are thinking of securing a quarter-section of the fine timber land in this county. The cost is $2.50 per acre, and we believe there are acres of it on which the timber is worth $20 or more on the stump.”

Most of the early election issues in those days in Archuleta County were caused by friction between the Anglos living in Pagosa Springs, the county seat, and Hispanics living along the southern county border. The Hispanics were led by the Archuleta family for whom the county was named. They lived along the Navajo River in the area we now call Edith. Anticipating the Biggs move to that area, they invested heavily in the area and attempted to move the county seat there.

When Biggs finally built a railroad spur from Lumberton to the area and built the most modern lumber mill there, he changed the locale’s name to Edith, the name of one of his daughters. I don’t know what the area was called before Biggs renamed it.

In addition to Bigg’s big mill and steam operated electricity generating plant (the first electricity in the county), Archuleta built the first plant in the county for grinding grain at Edith. That was also the first entry point for the railroad into the county.

Not only were early county elections the source of much chicanery, so were the purchases of timber. Timber homesteads were available. Mill operators like Biggs, and later Sullenburger, needed vast acreages of timber to keep their mills running. Timber homesteads were a source of cheap timber, but like other homesteads, could not be purchased in bulk — one family, one timber homestead. It is said the mill operators got around the limit by giving people who could not afford the homestead enough money to make the purchase in exchange for a promise to let the mill cut the timber.

During the early 1900s, several prominent Pagosa citizens were called before a federal grand jury in Denver to answer allegations of timber fraud.

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