After the flood: from calamity to humor

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Hermosa Street in the main residential part of town in October of 1911 was a sea of mud on the day following the flood.

We’ve been writing about the 1911 flood, the worst natural disaster in recorded Pagosa Country history.

The disaster began with an innocent-looking, drizzling rain on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 1911. By Thursday, every river in the county was over its banks and every bridge in the county was destroyed. The downpour eased by late Friday, but already two lives had been claimed by the watery debacle. On Saturday, a tour was made of the flood area.

The editor of The Pagosa Springs SUN wrote on the day following the flood: “On the streets are seen clusters of people congregated together, and one who happens to linger for a moment will hear them consoling and sympathizing with each other in their loss. The people of Pagosa Springs and Archuleta County are of a class who can stare calamity in the face and smile. A class of people who will not bow to discouragement. A class who will go ahead with the battle of life with renewed energy. With this class of people, the ruined homes will soon rise from their present state, and will be built up to the same standard that they were before the flood.”

He continued, “We can yet boast that we live in the Switzerland of America. We still have the beautiful mountain scenery, plenty of hunting, thousands of acres to grow abundant crops, the famous hot springs, and a hundred other facilities are within our reach. The recent incident will pass into history, while we will remain and enjoy privileges as heretofore.”

From calamity came humor. Judge E.K. Caldwell’s home was moved from its foundation by the force of the waters to a point in the center of Town Park. After some years elapsed and Caldwell showed no inclination to return the building to its proper setting, the town board sent a delegation to ask him to move it.

“Move it?” he asked the group. “Gentlemen, I can’t move it. God put that house there. Who am I, a mere mortal, to tamper with the hand of God?”

Rally, the people did. By the end of October, a bridge was restored over McCabe Creek and a temporary bridge provided where the U.S. 160 bridge remains today at the east end of town.

A new waterworks was started on 1st Street where the museum is today. A flume was built to provide a temporary source of water for the townspeople. A levy of 32 mills was assessed to pay for replacing damaged town property, including the water works. Within a few months, the town was back to normal.