Pagosa’s Past: Stopping at the Great Pagosa Hot Springs

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Shown here is a circa 1890s photograph of the Pagosa hot springs.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist

In last week’s column, we described the 1859 visit of Capt. John N. Macomb to the Pagosa hot springs. Macomb left us the first written description of the Springs.

During the year following Macomb’s visit, Charles Baker led a party of prospectors into the San Juan Mountains and discovered gold at what became known as Baker’s Park near today’s Silverton. Baker retired that winter to Abiquiu, N.M. The following summer, he laid out a toll road from Abiquiu past Pagosa Springs and on to the Animas Valley diggings. Baker’s road was chartered in New Mexico under the name Abiquiu, Pagosa and Baker City Toll Road Co. A considerable number of prospectors, including one who lost his red shirt in the hot springs, followed Baker’s toll road past Pagosa’s mineral waters to Baker’s Park.

Soon after Baker’s discovery of gold, the Civil War erupted back in “the States.” Most regular Army troops and many of the able-bodied prospectors in the San Juans returned east to join in the combat. Because of the scarcity of fighting men in the region, the Native Americans in the west grew bold. They increased raiding and plundering. Travel in the territories of Colorado and New Mexico became very risky. Baker’s gold was largely forgotten and travel along his toll road past the Pagosa hot springs must have been slight.

When the Civil War ended, men again returned to the west and some of them sought gold in the San Juan Mountains. The Great Pagosa Hot Springs was once again a stopping point on the road between New Mexico and the upper Animas River Valley. Friction grew between Native American and miner. The Army began to think of building a fort in the San Juans to hold down hostilities. Bt. Lt. Colonel E. H. Bergman passed through Pagosa Country in 1867 making a reconnaissance tour of the mining country. He advised against a fort at Pagosa Springs because his troops suffered from the deep snow and cold weather.

Starting in the early 1870s, health seekers, true to Macomb’s prophecy, were bathing in the waters of the Great Pagosa Hot Springs. Many of them were travelers along the now well-used road. Others were miners, down from the mountains for a rest. The new camp of Summitville, a few rugged miles northeast of Pagosa Springs, was in full swing. From that direction came the Brown family. 

Next week we’ll repeat the written account of that venture.