If a visitor to Pagosa Springs today could flash back in time to the Pagosa Springs of 1879, the change would be startling. Of course, a John Wayne movie fan would feel at home.
Pioneers of every sort arrived in town on horseback, or on an assortment of wagons pulled by horses, mules or oxen and packed with the kids and all of the family possessions. These newcomers included blacksmiths and shopkeepers, freighters and drifters, jewelers and a milliner, hotel keepers and bartenders.
Freight wagons drawn by sturdy oxen or stubborn mules kicked up clouds of dust as they hauled heavy loads along the narrow, winding roads. Burros abandoned by long-gone prospectors roamed the town along with packs of stray dogs.
Prospectors slaked their thirst at the Rose Bud Saloon and swapped tales of the old days in the San Juans with bartender Big Alec Fleming. Across the street, Isaac and Martha Cade served home-cooked meals at the San Juan Hotel, while the crystal clear waters of the San Juan River flowed past their back porch.
Robert Chambers temporarily settled his growing family into a little log cabin nestled beneath what we now call Reservoir Hill, while he staked out a homestead at the juncture of the Blanco and Rito Blanco rivers.
Tully Kemp reigned as justice of the peace and the town marshal stomped back and forth, big iron on his hip, and tried to look important.
On the east bank of the river, soldiers drilled on the parade ground surrounded on the east and west by log barracks for enlisted men and on the north by more ornate log officers’ quarters. Couriers reported to command “tents.” Homesick soldiers were restricted to “three dogs per barracks.”
Mule teams dragged in supplies from Fort Garland, Santa Fe and Animas City.
Doctor Hover and his son took up land down the river south of the Tierra Amarilla to Animas City wagon road. Charles Isaiah Loucks built a cabin south of the big hot spring and turned from lumber manufacturing to farming and raising cattle. Algernon Dutton, a Colorado resident since before 1861, decided to settle in Pagosa Country. Thank him for naming Dutton Creek, where he filed his homestead.
As summer cooled into fall, Native American unrest began as a whisper, gathered momentum and finally exploded with bloody fury at the White River Agency near Meeker in northwestern Colorado. In Pagosa Country, soldiers and citizens prepared, anticipating that their Southern Ute neighbors would join their Northern Ute cousins.