Based on the premise that Pagosa Country’s first pioneers settled along the roads existing in the 1870s and 1880s, we’ve been describing those roads and naming the settlers. So far, we’ve talked about roads entering Pagosa from the south and the east.
Today, we’re switching to the road going west to Durango we now know as U.S. 160. With some minor variations, today’s U.S. 160 pretty closely follows the route used during stage coach days.
First, I am going to describe in a general way a few of those variations, starting with Put Hill. Quite a few road changes were made during the 1930s, including the road up Put Hill. I should point out that Put Hill should be spelled with one “t” because it is named for a pioneer settler named A.A. Putnam, whose house still stands on the former route, which left town just south of the elementary school grounds.
A second significant change was in the Chimney Rock area, where the earlier road dropped down to the east bank of the Piedra River, then turned north until reaching a bridge across the river about 1 mile south of the present bridge. The John Peterson house was located on the west side of the bridge where the road swung north up the west bank until reaching the present U.S. 160 route westerly along Yellow Jacket Creek. Yellow Jacket Pass did not exist in those days. Instead, the road turned to the right in a northwesterly direction where an old ranch house and buildings still stand and did not return to the present route until reaching the Beaver Creek area near the La Plata County line.
Several of the first Pagosa Country pioneers settled around the Piedra River crossing and westerly up Yellow Jacket Creek. In 1876, Eli Perkins settled on the west bank of the Piedra River near the present bridge.
It was written of Perkins, “Along about 1876, Anno Domini, there came to this virgin land of promise a bachelor named Perkins, whose outlines reminded one of Kit Carson, and one-half mile west of the Rio Piedra, and just off of the present highway, excavated him a doodlebug dugout with a periscope in its attic for observing Lo’s early morning habits. Nearby he toiled a few acres of wild soil all by his lonesome.”
Needing cash in 1878, Welch Nossaman helped Perkins dig an irrigation ditch from Yellow Jacket Creek. After working two months for the promise of $1 a day, Nossaman learned that Perkins couldn’t pay him and left for Silverton, working for Charley “Racehorse” Johnson at Pine River (Bayfield) en route.
Perkins sold out to Mason Farrow in 1879, claiming the country was getting “too crowded.”