We continue to describe the relationship between the Ute Indians and Pagosa Country settlers during the 1879 early pioneer days.
Following the 1879 Meeker Massacre, couriers burned up the roads between Army posts as commanders tried to learn the latest information about where the Utes were and what they were doing.
Lt. Davis issued the following orders to Pvts. Radonskie and Rowe, Company G 19th Infantry from Headquarters, Fort Lewis (in Pagosa Springs), on Oct. 27, 1879, “You will proceed today to Clifford’s Cabin on the new road to Alamosa, Colo., about 40 miles from this Post and there make camp, for which purpose the cabin may be used. You will be rationed to include November 9th from the Army forage to be obtained at the Agency two and 1/2 miles beyond the cabin. Your duty will be to carry dispatches to and from the east to couriers from this post for transmittal west, and those from the west to Lieut. Valois 9th Cavalry at Alamosa.”
Couriers rode horseback over long, isolated stretches of remote roads that were often little more than game trails. Delivering dispatches was extremely hazardous during a time of war when the routes crossed Indian country.
A courier by the name of Morris found trouble he didn’t expect in January of 1880. He was stationed at Peterson’s on the Piedra River on the route between Fort Lewis at Pagosa Springs and troops stationed at Animas City (now Durango). Here is his commanding officer’s report of the unusual incident.
“Courier Morris of the 19th Infantry from Piedra Station reports with dispatches this morning and states that the Mexican mail carrier who occupied the same room with the couriers got up in the night and attempted to kill the party, attacking and striking Courier Cunningham ‘K’ Co. 9th Cav. with an axe inflicting a severe wound supposed to have broken his lower jaw and left arm — he had first struck Courier Anderson 19th Inf. slightly bruising his head — he also shot Courier Davis ‘K’ Co. 9th Cav. inflicting a severe wound in the groin — it seems that in the fight Morris in some way got possession of the Mexican’s pistol and drove him off.
“The Justice of the Peace at Pagosa Springs has left to arrest the Mexican and I have sent the Post Surgeon with a party to the station. He will report to you the condition of the men.
“Couriers Radonskie and Rowe are ordered to take the stations of the wounded men, their services not being needed east at present.”
In fact, their services over the new road were impossible, for deep snows closed the so-called “Ruffner” road for the winter. The Ruffner road went from Pagosa Springs up the East Fork of the San Juan River over Elwood Pass and on to Alamosa.
During winter, most communications from Fort Lewis in Pagosa Springs to Fort Garland in the San Luis Valley followed a southerly route around the South San Juan Mountains through Tierra Amarilla and Ojo Caliente in the Territory of New Mexico, then northward on the eastern side of the mountains to Fort Garland.