Pagosa’s Past: Early Pagosa pioneers

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
This 1896 photo looking south across the main business block of Pagosa Springs shows the four officers’ barracks lined up along the north side of 3rd Street on lots now covered by the middle school gymnasium.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist
Macht was an old and honored name in Germany. Carl Macht crossed the Atlantic, landing in New York City, where he lived for a time before moving west, first to Del Norte, Colorado Territory, where Carl passed away. He left his wife, Victoria, with three sons.
Victoria successfully brought her young family and all of their belongings across the then wild and woolly Continental Divide from Del Norte to Pagosa Springs in 1883. The roads across the mountains were not the paved thoroughfares we enjoy today. The road surfaces were encumbered by rocks, fallen trees and gullies created by heavy rains and the runoff from melting snow.
Wagon wheels mired in mud holes had to be dug out by hand and everybody had to push and shove to help the teams get up the steep inclines. Going down was just as difficult. It was sometimes impossible for the teams to avoid getting run over by the loaded wagons behind them. One tactic used by these wagon travelers crossing the mountains was to fell a large coniferous tree and cut its length to reduce its weight so the mother and her three young sons could attach it to the back of the wagon, where it dragged along the ground, reducing its tendency to bump into and spook the laboring team.
The task of managing the team across such terrain would have been difficult for a husky man, let alone the beleaguered mother and her young sons. They also had to manage campfires for cooking and warmth, harness and unharness the teams, shoot wild game to have meat to cook over the campfire, and be ready to meet the challenge of menacing grizzly bears and other fanged and clawed wilderness creatures.
The family first lived in one of the abandoned Fort Lewis buildings remaining on Pagosa Street on the main downtown business block. They later homesteaded on a ranch on Turkey Creek Road, where the widowed mother with her three sons established a successful cattle ranch. The family recalls harsh winters during which the bark was peeled from willow branches in order to keep the cattle alive. At other times, one or more of the boys journeyed to San Diego and worked as carpenters and took other forms of employment in order send money to their mother to keep the ranch going.