In March 1879, Capt. Francis F. Dodge was commander of the newly constructed Fort Lewis in Pagosa Springs. The permanent buildings built of logs occupied what is now the main downtown business block. Chief among those buildings were 10 enlisted men’s barracks and four officers’ quarters. The parade ground was in the middle of Block 21, the aforementioned main business block.
In those days, the private business buildings, including maybe five drinking establishments, were on the east side of the San Juan River. A bridge crossed the river connecting the business area with the fort, but civilians were not allowed to cross the bridge unless they had a special permit.
The fort was so isolated, Dodge complained about faulty mail delivery, saying “we might as well be in Alaska.”
Spring finally arrived at Fort Lewis in 1879 and, with it, the authorization to spend $40,000 on the fort for four companies of men, $10,000 on the wagon road from Alamosa to Pagosa Springs via Elwood Pass, and $5,000 to improve the existing wagon road between Ojo Caliente and Pagosa Springs.
The two roads had been surveyed by Lt. Ruffner. The Alamosa road was built in rudimentary fashion in 1879. Improvement was also made on the southern route through Chromo and up Spring Creek into New Mexico and on to Los Ojos, and from there to Ojo Caliente.
The Army high command withheld the money from the Pagosa Springs site of Fort Lewis because they were already considering moving the fort westward. Much of the building program was already completed and the troops settled into normal Army routine. Much of the day was spent in drills on the parade ground and target practice. Dodge ordered T.C. Graden representing the logging firm of Scott, Ely and Cooper to quit cutting timber on the 6 square-mile military reservation centered on the Pagosa Hot Spring.
On April 16, 1879, Dodge reported the following transportation inventory for the post: “thirty-five mules, two unserviceable; four horses, one unserviceable; six army wagons, one unserviceable; one ambulance, unserviceable; two sets of ambulance harnesses and wheels; sixteen sets of wheels; and thirty pounds of lead.”
He also had two mountain howitzers without carriages, entirely useless. The packsaddles and other tack were in bad shape because of the lack of webbing with which to make repairs.