A battle for power in Pagosa Country

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
The Martinez family and other families of Hispanic descent have contributed much to the development of Archuleta County. Pictured here from the left are J.T. Martinez’s wife, Fred Harman, J.T. Martinez and Emmett Martinez.

Last week we presented a first-hand account of the political shenanigans that took place during the first county election conducted in 1886 for county officers. This account was written many years later by a man named John Taylor when he wrote memoirs of his life, which included a stint as a school teacher in Archuleta County during the conflict between Hispanics and Anglos for control of the county.

The accuracy of his names, dates and election counts is loose. Still, he gives us a good picture of the animosity that existed for many years between many of the Anglos and Spanish-speaking people of Pagosa Country. Some of the stress came from sheepmen-cattlemen conflicts, later a favorite theme of Western movies. The cultural differences between the two races were marked and, overall, it was a classical struggle for the power and revenue derived from being in control. If you watch today’s news, you may have noticed the same thing going on at the national level in our country today.

The battle continued for several years in Archuleta County. All of the county officers elected during the 1889 election were denied office by County Judge Barzillai Price. Price’s position as county judge was under challenge at the same time.

The court found that returns from Precinct 2 had been increased from 53 votes to 63 votes. The contest for the position of county judge between Price and J.M. Archuleta was settled in favor of Archuleta by the Colorado Supreme Court in September of 1891. That court decided that “thirty witnesses spoke for Price, all of them political cronies he had put into office.”

During the two years the case was pending before the State Supreme Court, Price served as county judge.

In any case, the contest over the years was classical Western movie fodder. We do know for sure that the Anglos arrayed themselves, gun in hand, on the east side of the river while the Hispanics loaded their guns in the abandoned Fort Lewis military barracks on the west side of the river. Only the bravery of Sheriff William Dyke stopped the shoot-out.

As an aside, Martinez, who was one the leaders of the Hispanic faction, already had a reputation for shooting and asking questions later. He is said to have several notches in the pearl of his pistol grip, including one for shooting a witness about to testify against him in a Durango courtroom and another for shooting a prostitute in the streets of Pagosa Springs. The Martinez family was considered rich once upon a time. They owned several ranches and thousands of sheep and cattle. Finally, the judge’s gun got him in trouble and he had to “sell the ranch” in order to stay out of prison. His trial was moved to Walsenburg and resulted in him being released a free but financially broke man.

Despite the rancor of those early days, the Archuleta, Martinez and many other Hispanic families have served the county with honor down through the years. Martinez’s son, J.T. Martinez, served many years as county commissioner and in other important county positions. I was personally acquainted with the judge’s grandson, Emmet Martinez, who was a pharmacist at Jackisch Drug Store. He shared much history and a number of old photos with me. The late Margaret Daugaard and other descendants of the Archuletas have also shared history and old photos.