Pagosa’s Past: Snow, snow and more snow

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
The Chapson family lived near the west end of Wolf Creek Pass during the early 1900s. The Chapson boys trapped fur bearers and sold the pelts. There might be a grizzly bear in this photo of a Chapson pelt collection.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist
A few weeks ago, I wrote a column describing the winter I remember for the most snow fall since I moved here a little over 50 years ago. I said it was during the late 1970s, maybe 1978, but I wasn’t sure.
Lo and behold! I got a message this week from an old friend, Franklin Anderson, who reads my column. He had talked with a neighbor whose family, the Englers, have lived in the Allison area since the Utes turned loose of that particular piece of real estate circa 1902. According to Anderson, the year of the great snow fall was 1978. According to the Engler friend, more snow fell in 1978 than any year since about 1902.
Thanks for the info, Cmdr. Franklin. For my readers who don’t know, Franklin’s dad, Lloyd, was the last government trapper who lived in this area. Lloyd hunted and trapped in the Southern San Juans when they were still wild; we’re talking fang-gnashin’-grizzlies wild. Truthfully, a book could be written about Lloyd, and also about Franklin. Lloyd was featured in a book about the last grizzly, one that he trapped in the upper Weminuche Valley. Franklin’s life is also worth a book. He was the first commander of the Navy Seals.
About government trappers. Not so many years ago, maybe into the 1940s, grizzly bears and wolves, you know, “The better to bite you with my dear” kind of predators who made a living chomping on the local herbivores including the thousands of domestic sheep and cattle. The ranchers blamed the government for the meat-eater meals snatched from their herds and managed to collect money for their losses. It didn’t take the government long to figure out they could save money and placate the ranchers by hiring a hunter/trapper. This governmental policy is one of the reasons we no longer have grizzlies and wolves roaming our wilderness areas.
You also may have noticed that when some folks attempt to reintroduce bears and wolves these days, the ranchers raise quite a fuss in protest. The ranchers don’t want to create more wilderness-designated geography because the bears and wolves would be protected in those areas. That is also where ranchers rent grazing land for their cattle.
The Weminuche Wilderness Area was created to protect grizzly bears. With its over 500,000 acres, it is the largest wilderness area in Colorado. Our state hunting laws say there are no grizzlies up there, but if you see one, you can’t shoot it.