Hot springs, hot water and high hopes


Photo courtesy John M. Motter
In the pioneer days of Pagosa Country, it was thought that “real” cowboys were cowboys who worked with cattle. Old-timers have said that the real money was earned by sheep ranchers because they had two crops, wool and mutton. This photo of J.T. Martinez loading bags of wool to be sent to market at the Pagosa Junction railroad station seems to support the sheep-raising proposal. In those days, sheep were raised by the tens of thousands in Pagosa Country.

Ownership of the bubbling hot waters known as the Pagosa Hot Springs has always been a source of contention from the beginning of recorded history for this area. As we have written in previous columns, several races and cultures fought over the springs.
Finally, the Mexican/American War ended in 1848 with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. One provision of that Treaty gave the U.S. title to an area containing the Hot Springs as part of the more than 500,000 square miles of newly acquired land.
When settlers started homesteading on the recently acquired acreage, it was obviously incumbent upon the U.S. to explore the newly acquired acreage. Also, since most of that territory was inhabited by a variety of Native American nations who had not been invited to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and had not been asked if they objected when a large number of whites began unloading their wagons and digging gold mines and plowing up crop lands where those Native Americans were accustomed to pitching tipis and searching for grub.
Not surprisingly, the abused Native Americans began to acquire rifles and point them at the white invaders. And so, the U.S. sent in the Cavalry with more combatants and guns than the Native Americans had ever seen. Those Cavalry troops not only rode horses, they moved pretty fast when riding the rails.
Now that we have established the context of what was going on in Hot Springs and Pagosa Country, we resume describing local history after peace returned following the Civil War.
The Army built Fort Lewis in Pagosa Springs starting in 1878 and sent Company D, Ninth Cavalry into Southwestern Colorado and Utah to learn: (A) if the Old Spanish Trail would be a good place to build a rail line connecting Santa Fe with the West Coast, and (B) to calm down the itchy-fingered Southern Utes who were spending nights dancing to the beat of war drums as they contemplated using force to persuade miners and settlers to go somewhere else to dig holes and plow up the ground.
Company D was a unit manned by black soldiers and white officers who had recently been engaged in combat with Apaches in New Mexico and Texas.