We have been writing about the 1859 visit to the Pagosa Hot Springs by Capt. John M. Macomb, a topographical engineer for the United States Army.
Macomb’s expedition was accompanied by experts in several of the sciences. The purpose of the expedition was to ascertain if the route of the Old Spanish Trail was suitable for a cross-country railroad, connecting the West Coast with the eastern portion of the United States.
Macomb reported that the old trail was only suitable for pack animals, not for wagons or trains. The old trail passed through the southwestern portion of what was to become Archuleta County, at Carracas. Macomb followed what was probably an alternative route of the old trail through Pagosa Springs. He left us a detailed description of the hot springs.
Many descriptions of the hot springs followed.
One year later, Charles Baker led a party of prospectors into the San Juan Mountains by following Macomb’s route. Baker’s party discovered gold ore in the vicinity of today’s Silverton, setting off the initial exploration and settlement of the San Juan Country by whites. Baker chartered (in New Mexico) and built a toll road to the newly discovered diggings. The toll road included a bridge across the San Juan River a little south of the hot springs. The first post office and general store in Pagosa Springs was built at the site of Baker’s Bridge by a man named Joseph Clarke.
A prospector bound for Baker’s Park, the name of the gold camp established by Baker up the Animas River, camped near the hot springs in 1861.
He thought, “that nice hot water hole an ideal place to launder his shirt. When the shirt, a woolen one, was removed from the water it simply fell to pieces, a considerable loss at that time.”
An article written by an early Pagosa historian, Laura C. Manson White, published in “Colorado Magazine” in 1932, reported the following 1873 visit to the hot springs.
“For some years before permanent settlement was made at Pagosa Springs, people came each summer to take baths in the medicinal springs. Among the first to come over the pass from Del Norte, in 1873, was Mrs. M.O. Brown, her young son Tom Reavis, and her father, Mr. Sallee, for whom they made the perilous journey. Mr. Sallee was blind and also suffering from an aggravate case of rheumatism.”
The route followed by Mrs. Brown was by way of Summitville, Elwood Pass and the East Fork of the San Juan River. Since there was not yet a road on that route, the trip was made on horseback. Mrs. Brown and her son later made their permanent home in Pagosa Springs.
Corrections: Last week I reported that Hispanic trader Juan Maria Rivera visited Pagosa Country in 1865. That date should have been 1765. Several weeks ago in a column, I said I didn’t know if Mel Martinez of a pioneer family living along Stollsteimer Creek is still alive. Several of Mel’s friends have let me know that Mel is, indeed, alive. Sorry for the mistake, Mel, and happy that your ticker is still ticking.