Fur trappers who lived in Taos were the first Anglos to visit Pagosa Country. From Taos these trappers made the on-foot or horseback trips to trap the Arkansas, Rio Grande, Platte and San Juan rivers. They also trapped through New Mexico and Arizona, into California, and some as far north as Oregon. They traveled northward through Pagosa Country to join fellow trappers from the northern Rockies and Utah.
A number of trapping parties worked the San Juan River during the early 1820s. At that time, the San Juan was called the Navajo because it was the dividing line between Ute and Navajo lands.
We have no specific written records from any of these parties describing Pagosa Country.
One of the first of these parties was led by William Wolfskill, Ewing Young and Eric Slover, who, in 1822, trapped their way west along the San Juan River.
During the next few years, several trappers crossed Pagosa Country on their way to Green River, Utah, from Taos. Among these were Peg-leg Smith, Antoine Robidoux, Etienne Provost and Francois Leclerc. William Becknell trapped in Pagosa Country in the fall of 1824. In early Pagosa Springs newspapers, I have seen Reservoir Hill referred to as Robidoux Hill, for the trapper of that name. It was not called Reservoir Hill until circa 1900 when the town installed its first community water system.
Staked by Cerain St. Vrain, Peg-Leg Smith and none others trapped the San Juan, Dolores, Miguel, and other tributaries of the Grand (now called the Colorado) River in 1824.
The best information on the Taos trappers is in a book titled “The Taos Trappers” written by David J. Weber. David Lavender, a former Telluride resident, also wrote entertaining, informative books about the southern Rocky Mountains.
In 1830, William Wolfskill gave up trapping and his Taos residence and led a party across the entire Spanish Trail from Santa Fe to Los Angeles. Wolfskill had been a shopkeeper in Taos. Among his customers were trappers William “Old Bill” Williams and Thomas Smith. Wolfskill was granted Mexican citizenship and obtained a license to take twenty men trapping in Mexican territory. In Wolfskill’s employ were trappers John Lewis, Francis Branch, John Rhea, Samuel Shields, David Keller, Love Hardesty, Martin Cooper and Lewis Burton. Three New Mexicans — Blas Griego, Manuel Mondragon, and Jose Archuleta — also went along. George Yount and five free trappers joined the party. They were Alexander Branch, Francisco Laforet, Baptiste Germaine, Zachariah Ham and Bautista Guerra.