Traipsin’, tradin’ and explorin’


As we ended last week’s column, most of the able-bodied men in the West had returned to the East and South to fight in the Civil War. Not surprisingly, the gold strike near today’s Baker’s Park located downstream from Silverton, named for the prospector who discovered the gold, was temporarily abandoned.
When the Civil War ended in April of 1865, what amounted to almost a stampede of gold seekers headed West. Some followed the Oregon Trail to the proven strike at Sutter’s Mill in California. Others followed the Butterfield Stage Route across Texas through El Paso, Southern New Mexico and Arizona into Southern California. Still others traveled westward into Colorado and on to Denver near Colorado’s first gold strike. Finally, a considerable number of millionaire wannabes followed the Santa Fe Trail from Kansas City to Santa Fe, then pointed their wagons northward along The Old Spanish Trail to Baker’s Park in the Southern Colorado Rockies. Each of these trails provided hope for the battle-scarred veterans of the U.S.A.’s bloodiest and deadliest war.
Meanwhile, the Native Americans who had become accustomed to winning their battles with the whites were now alarmed at the number of reinforcing whites traipsin’ across native lands in search for gold. They had every right to be upset. In 1848, all of Colorado and one-half of New Mexico was Ute land. In order to avoid a bloody war, treaty after treaty was signed between Ute and White as gold was discovered ever deeper into the mountains. Each treaty meant less land for the Utes, i.e., western half of Colorado, all land from Four Corners north along the Utah border 90 miles and eastward from that line to the San Juan River at Pagosa Springs and, finally, after a few more treaties, the present boundaries were established shortly after 1900. Books have been written about this subject justifying the Ute distrust of whites, ergo the cliché, “White man speaks with forked tongue.” Again, there is too much information on this subject for this short column.
Returning to Pagosa Country history, we learn that Army Lt. Col. E.H. Bergman and a detachment of troops passed through Pagosa Country in 1867 while making a reconnaissance tour of the mining country. He advised against building an Army fort at Pagosa Springs because his troops suffered from the deep snow and cold winter.