1879 Pagosa Country: A powder keg waiting to explode

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Photo courtesy John M. Motter Judd Hallett was one of the first Archuleta County sheriffs. He ranched on Mill Creek and later lived in Arizona.
Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Judd Hallett was one of the first Archuleta County sheriffs. He ranched on Mill Creek and later lived in Arizona.

Pagosa Country in 1879 was a powder keg waiting to explode.

The Southern Utes had been assigned a reservation, but were bitter and disillusioned with the white man who had broken treaty after treaty.

Even with the current treaty then in effect, the designated reservation boundaries were repeatedly violated by trespassing white men. Therefore, coming before the so-called Meeker Massacre, the following story in the July 3 La Plata Miner has special significance.

“A battle is going on between the whites and Indians on the La Plata (river) was the word that reached Pagosa last week, and your correspondent (name unknown) started at once for the scene of the action, determined to get at its bottom facts and send the story to the ends of the earth by this great religious daily. To a ‘tenderfoot,’ a ride of sixty miles in twelve hours over mountain roads would have been sufficient excuse for not starting for the seat of an Indian war, any old stager don’t mind distance, fatigue or danger when his friends are in peril.

“The road from Pagosa Springs to Animas City skirts along the spurs of the mountains a little north of the Reservation of the Southern Utes, and though ordinarily one feels safe in meeting the bands of Indians that are constantly on the road as in passing a load of white headed Kansas immigrants, the frequent appearance of dusky warriors mounted on fleet horses armed with the most approved pattern of long range rifles and painted in the most hideous style of Indian art, at a time when it is known that war is imminent is not very reassuring to a lonely traveler.

“Your correspondent knows many of the chiefs and head men of the tribes, and trusting to the friendship that they have always manifested for him, felt little danger of the apprehension of danger as he drove rapidly over the rough road, soon becoming entirely reassured as Indian after Indian accosted him with the Ute salutation, ‘Wano deis,’ (bueno dias) nodding pleasantly as they passed.

“Your correspondent soon became satisfied that no serious collision had taken place, and when he arrived at Pine River post office, twenty miles from this place (the story was sent from Animas City, Pine River refers to near the still unfounded Bayfield), he learned from the white people there that there had been a fight but that Col. Page, the agent of the reservation hurried to the scene of the action, and that peace and order had been restored and all was quiet along the line. The belligerents met in council with the agent from Animas and settled the difficulty.

“It appears that at the annual roundup of cattle for the purpose of branding the calves that was progressing on the La Plata, some of the cattlemen had indulged too freely in the use of whiskey and one or two of the more turbulent had become quite belligerent. Gathered around the corral were six of Red Jacket’s band, a sub-band of the Weminuches, one of the divisions of Southern Utes of whom Ignacio is the chief.”

Continued next week.