Traversing Wolf Creek Pass in 1916

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
The Wolf Creek Pass work crew is shown camped here with supplies piled up in front as if being exhibited. The stuff appears to be grub or maybe dynamite. Anybody have a better guess?

We continue with a first-person account of a challenging journey over Wolf Creek Pass when the brand new pass was barely open in July of 1916. The writer is Myrtle Hersch.

Continuing from where we left off last week:

“The report came that the pass would be open shortly, so we started on our way home — David and Marguerite in the Chalmers and Joseph and I in the Cadillac following. When we reached Decker Creek work camp, high up on the mountainside above the present Decker Creek Bridge, we found my sister, and her two teen-age sons, Eugene and George Hatcher, already camped. They were returning from a trip through the Ozarks, and were also waiting to cross the pass. The highway engineer informed us it would be a few more days, as heavy rock work had delayed their progress. What were a few more days, with the semi-permanent camp, good fishing, best of cold mountain water, and big spruce trees about? Besides, it gave us a chance to really try out our equipment.

“On July 26th, a messenger came to tell us the engineer would come at ten o’clock the next morning to line us up for the trip over. By this time two more cars had joined us. We were to break camp and put our tops down, because of protruding rocks over the road. There were no hard-topped cars then. During the night we had a regular down-pour of rain. A very difficult task packing up in the mud. Clouds hung heavy over the mountains, but we were all ready to roll on time. The engineer started Mr. and Mrs. Vandenberg in front in a Ford roadster, then Mr. and Mrs. Goodnight of Monte Vista in a Buick, the Hatchers in a Velie, third in line, then the Chalmers and Cadillac last, as the heavier cars might mess up the road for the other cars — to use his words.

“While in camp, David and I walked down the narrow steep grade to the open flats below, and even when dry it looked rather hazardous as it was only a few inches wider than the camp wagon. A wall of rock on one side, and straight down on the other; but the engineer assured us it was all right, for it was well packed, but for us not to drive too close together to make room for possibilities.

“We were happy to be on our way again, although it looked as if we might have another downpour any minute. We felt too, we were making history, being the first group of cars over the hill. As we were nearly a mile from our camp, on the steepest pitch, with mud as slick as soap, the Ford stopped. The driver ran back to flag down the line of cars. We all walked down to see if there might be a rock slide, a possibility. Here they had come face to face with a wagon train, three big, loaded, covered wagons, with several extra horses leading behind each wagon, and quite a number of people in their group. These people had been camping for three weeks on Wolf Creek, at the west foot of the pass, also waiting to cross. The engineer had told them to wait until he gave the clearance, as five cars were on their way over, and it would be impossible for either group to pass the other, excepting at certain places. As the wagon train waited in its camp, the head man’s patience wore thin, and “if the pass was to be open on July 27th — By Gar — he’d take his right and go, let come what may.” Before leaving his camp, he laid in a supply of Pagosa fire-water, and when he met our group he was all set for battle. He got out of his wagon, buckled on his revolver, and with unsteady steps, and loud, abusive language, ordered all cars to back up to some place where he could pass. “Take the outside of the road, as my horses are not dependable. I’m giving orders to be understood and followed and I’m going through if I have to shoot the last—— to make way for my wagons.”

Continued next week.