U.S. Army units consisting of elements of B Company of the 15th Infantry and Company D, 9th Cavalry spent the winter of 1878 at the newly constructed and still unfinished Camp Lewis in Pagosa Springs.
Brutal winter weather made travel and correspondence with the outside world extremely difficult. Most of the livestock were wintered in Animas City (now Durango) because there was insufficient feed for the animals and snow-packed roads made delivery of feed to Pagosa Springs impossible.
Army and mail carriers made regular trips to Fort Garland in the San Luis Valley and Fort Marcy in Santa Fe. These trips were made by horseback and/or wagon team.
Reading from paragraph two of Special Order Number 7 issued by Fort Lewis commander Capt. Hartz of the 15th Infantry (paragraph one of the same document had sent all of the horses and mules belonging to the 9th Cavalry to Animas City) contained the following instructions:
“Private Samuel Wilson ‘B’ Co. 15th Inf. will proceed tomorrow morning to Fort Garland, Colo. in charge of two six mule teams belonging to that post. He will go via Tierra Amarilla and will be governed in his drives by the forage orders that will be furnished him by the A.A.Q.M. (Motter-quartermaster) of this place endeavoring as far as practicable to stop at regular appointed forage agencies, so as to procure proper shelter overnight for the public animals under his charge. Private M. Prudeu ‘B’ Company 15th Inf. will accompany the transportation as escort and will be under the orders of Private Wilson.”
Much of the freight delivered to Camp Lewis was hauled by private contractors. Thus, on Dec. 30, Hartz issued the following Special Order No. 11:
“Citizen teamster James Marshall will proceed without delay with the spring wagon and four mules under his charge to Fort Garland, Colo. and report on his arrival to the A.A.Q.M. at that Post. He will go via Tierra Amarilla, from that point he will follow the most favorable route to Conejos, then to Fort Garland.”
Notice that both supply carriers were sent to T.A. and then to Fort Garland. When construction of Fort Lewis in Pagosa Springs was first contemplated, it was assumed that travel between the two forts would be via Elwood Pass (not yet named Elwood Pass), the route entering Pagosa Springs by way of the east fork of the San Juan River. Wolf Creek Pass did not exist at that time. Money had already been appropriated to build the highway over Elwood.
Travel had already begun over Cumbres Pass to Conejos. A route across the mountains also existed by way of Tres Piedras.
It is almost certain that snow would have blocked all of the mountain passes on Dec. 30 of 1878.
Consequently, when Hartz told teamster Marshall to pick “the most favorable route” from T.A., he was saying “depending on the snow.” The most favorable route was probably to go further south to circumvent the mountain snow by way of Ojo Caliente. We have other information describing the use of the route through Ojo Caliente.