Last week we completed the first person report of the adventure-laden journey of the first passenger cars over Wolf Creek Pass when that newly created crossing of the Continental Divide opened in the summer of 1916.
The story was written by Myrtle Hersch. Young Marguerite Hersch, later Marguerite Wylie, was on that crossing and was kind enough to provide me with a copy of the story.
The official opening of Wolf Creek Pass was held Aug. 21, 1916. About 1,000 people, including government officials, and 250 cars were present. Free elk meat and coffee were served.
I attended meetings of the Upper San Juan Historical Society back in the mid-1970s, shortly after I first moved to Pagosa Country. They had a few stories they repeated over and over amid considerable shared laughter.
One of their favorite stories concerned Buck O’Neal, who was said to have mixed buzzard meat in with the elk meat. O’Neal’s hunting and fishing prowess was legendary. He was, in fact, a descendant of a pioneer family from Erath County, Texas, who drove a herd of longhorn cattle along the Pecos Trail and into Pagosa Country during the 1870s. The O’Neals contributed much to Pagosa Country history.
While on that journey, they camped for a time near Cimarron, N.M. According to the story, the Jicarilla Apaches stole some of their cattle near Cimarron. At that time, Cimarron was one of the living centers for the Jicarilla Apaches.
It happens that while I was researching for my book “Pagosa Country, The First Fifty Years,” I was at the Center for Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis College scanning microfilm of Indian Agent reports from New Mexico. Much to my surprise, I ran across a report documenting that the U.S. government had paid the O’Neal family a certain amount of money because of the loss of cattle at Cimarron. The report confirmed the O’Neal story of the raid.
The O’Neals remained as cattle people, settling first near Aztec, N.M., before it was called Aztec, then near Bayfield before it was called Bayfield, and finally near Pagosa Springs. O’Neal Park on the Upper Piedra is named for this family. O’Neal served as county commissioners and in other local positions of responsibility. James and Brother John O’Neal built substantial houses on Lewis Street.
A number of Pagosa Country settlers were with the O’Neals as they made their classical cattle drive from Texas to Pagosa Country.