The first Army post built near Pagosa Springs was Camp Plummer, established Nov. 6, 1866, near Tierra Amarilla in New Mexico Territory, a few miles south of the Pagosa Hot Springs.
The name of Camp Plummer was changed to Fort Lowell in July of 1866. The fort closed in June of 1869. One building from the old fort remains on the eastern bank of the Chama River south of Los Ojos.
Prospectors were already invading the San Juan Mountains seeking to find their own pot of gold. Their search took them on the Southern Ute land, an activity which angered the Utes. Little was known about the trails and passes in the San Juan Mountains at that time, but the Army soon set out to remedy that situation. Army survey teams dispatched from Fort Garland on the eastern side of the San Luis Valley combed the San Juan Mountains, mapping the best routes.
This information not only prepared the Army in the event of a Ute War, but helped the railroad companies determined to find a route across the San Juans and on to California.
A result of that survey was the decision to build what became Fort Lewis on the west bank of the San Juan River just north of the Great Pagosa Hot Spring. At the same time, the Army surveyed a wagon route from Fort Garland to Pagosa by way of Elwood Pass and the East Fork of the San Juan River. The Army constructed a portion of this route and it later became a state highway for a time. It didn’t take the Army long to discover that deep winter snows negated the plan to freight rations by wagon across the San Juans from Fort Garland to Fort Lewis by this route.
Meanwhile, the Army had also surveyed Cumbres Pass and managed to get horse-drawn wagons across it. The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad decided to use Cumbres Pass for its railroad connecting Alamosa in the San Luis Valley to the San Juan mining regions along the Animas River from Durango and up to Silverton.
Pagosa’s pioneers were disappointed that Gen. Palmer’s railroad passed south of Pagosa Country through northern New Mexico before entering Colorado at the juncture of the Navajo and San Juan rivers.
For a number of years, the location of that juncture was home to a community known as Juanita. Juanita had a school, Catholic Church and a variety of small businesses featuring mostly alcoholic beverages and a lumber mill. The small church building located in town just south of the post office is a replica of the Juanita church and actually is fronted by the original Juanita church entrance structure. The dilapidated remains of the school house remain at Juanita.