We have been talking about the interactions between our pioneer forefathers and the Native Americans who occupied Pagosa Country when the Anglos came. When we talk about dates of settlement, it’s like describing the bottom of a muddy river — do you measure from the top of the mud or from the bottom, where the ground is firm?
Three Native American tribes were living to a greater-or-lesser degree in Pagosa Country when the Europeans first entered. They were the Southern Utes, Navajo and Jicarilla Apaches. Nobody knows for sure when those entities arrived here. There is no doubt that others occupied the land before these three groups arrived.
The Anasazi were probably here a little more than 2,000 years ago. There are remnants of people living here before the Anasazi. It is thought the Anasazi left the Four Corners area during the 12th century.
It is also thought that the Utes, Navajo and Apaches arrived in the Southwest not much before the Spanish, maybe the 15th or 16th century.
Spanish arrival in New Mexico is well-documented. The visits of Cabeza de Baca, Coronado and maybe others in the 15th century are attested by written records.
When did the first Hispanics arrive in the Four Corners area? That date is not as well fixed because the Hispanic government in Mexico forbade the early New Mexico settlers from trading with the Native Americans without a permit. The permits required division of trading income with those issuing the permits.
The frontiers in New Mexico were far from the centers of governance. Who would know if a remote frontiersman slipped away and traded with Utes in Pagosa Country? Compounding the problem was the Spanish practice of populating remote settlements with genizaros, hispanicized Native Americans raised in Spanish homes and possibly Ute themselves. It was also true that the Southern Ute bands wintered in New Mexico and were already friendly with some of the settlers.
Having established the background for the arrival of the three ethnic groups represented in Pagosa Country when Anglo settlement began circa 1860, it is safe to say the Anglos were the last to arrive.
To the best of my knowledge, the first documented entry of a Hispanic to Pagosa Country occurred in 1765 when Juan Maria Rivera conducted a trading excursion in southwestern Colorado.