Pagosa history trivia No. 1: Did you know that Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing once owned two lots on Lewis Street in Pagosa Springs?
For those who don’t remember Pershing, he was the only American to be promoted during his lifetime to general of the Army, equivalent to a six-star general. He was commander of the American Expeditionary Force to France during WWI, and mentored many of the better-known WWII generals such as MacArthur and Bradley.
He was given the name “Black Jack” when he commanded the 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers — all black Americans — during the Wounded Knee Sioux uprising in South Dakota.
And, so, what accounts for his purchasing lots in Pagosa Springs? Pershing’s first active duty assignment following graduation from West Point in 1886 was in New Mexico, where the so-called Apache Wars were still in progress. He was assigned to the Sixth Cavalry at Fort Bayard and in the fall of 1887 to Fort Stanton. The Sixth Cavalry was also at Fort Lewis in Hesperus for a time. Pershing fought in many of the Apache conflicts and was cited for bravery.
The town was surveyed in 1883 and the lots were auctioned in 1885. I have never found evidence that Pershing visited Pagosa Springs, but his ownership of the lots is contained in old county records.
Pagosa history trivia No. 2: Did you know that Jack Dempsey, the heavyweight champion of the world from 1919-1926, once fought in Pagosa Springs?
Again, the current generation may not know who Jack Dempsey was, so here we go. Some boxing aficionados consider Dempsey to have been the greatest heavyweight of them all. He had two nicknames, the “Manassa Mauler” and “Kid Blackie.”
He was born in Manassa, Colo., a small town across the San Juan Mountains in the San Luis Valley near Antonito. His family was poor and he worked as a miner, farmhand and cowboy to help them. As he grew into a muscular young man, he started challenging people at saloons to fight him. He soon turned to fighting full time by traveling around to neighboring towns and, in saloons, challenging anyone to fight him. It was during this time that he entered a saloon in Pagosa Springs and took on all comers. The story is in an early Pagosa Springs newspaper.
The same saloon regularly featured boxing and wrestling matches between anyone volunteering to be a combatant. Many of these bar room brawls were fought with bare knuckles. Gloves had been a requirement sent adoption of the Marquess of Queensberry Rules in 1867.