A BRIEF HISTORY
Come experience a region rich with the history and culture of the Wild West. Long before the French and Spanish explorers arrived, the area’s first inhabitants occupied the region in rock shelters and pithouses. For more than 1,000 years before the ancestral Pueblo and Hopi clans began chiseling stones for their cliff houses at Mesa Verde the Ancient Puebloans (300 B.C. to 800 A. D.) inhabited the Animas Valley and its environs hunting, fishing and farming corn and squash.
The descendants of the area’s first inhabitants continue to live in the southwestern corner of what is now Colorado. Once a tribe of seven loosely aligned bands, Colorado’s Ute Indians now consist of two tribes, the Southern Utes (a blend of Capote and Mouache bands) and the Ute Mountain Utes, known as the Weenuche.
In the 1990’s, having survived a century of struggle and loss of their lands and culture through treaties and broken promises, the Southern Ute’s gained control over production and extraction of the natural resources deposited under the reservation land the Tribe had been forced onto . . . and so began their success story. The Southern Ute Indian Tribe is one of the largest energy producing entities in the Southwest and the largest employer (Indians and non-Indians) in La Plata County. The revenues from the energy production are being diversified to ensure that the Southern Ute people are provided for in perpetuity. Learn more about the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.
The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s economic recovery and development is based on their casino and tourism at the Ute Mountain Tribal Park. Learn more about the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe.
Before the settlers in this country caught “gold fever”, the Spanish and French were sent over by their leaders in Europe to search for mineral treasure. They are known to have come very near to and perhaps into Vallecito in their search for precious minerals and food. The Spanish are known to have roamed much of the West in their search for treasure. The French are known to have come only as far as the Continental Divide, above Pagosa Springs and Vallecito.
A new chapter in the region began in 1860 when explorer Charles Baker found flecks of gold sparkling in a stream above what is now known as Silverton. It was the promise of gold that lured so many eager miners to the mountainous country around Vallecito. When early settlers became disillusioned after struggling in their search to find gold year after year, they decided to settle for other occupations, such as farming, ranching or perhaps working for or starting a business venture.
The Good ‘Ol Days A Ute Indian by the name of Jim Weaselskin found a source of gold somewhere up the Vallecito River and would pay for food and favors with gold nuggets. However, the first actual discovery of precious minerals near Vallecito was at Cave Basin in August of 1913. Cave Basin is located on Middle Mountain, which lies between Vallecito and the Pine River. The main mining area at Cave Basin was called Tuckerville. A five-foot vein of good copper and galena (lead ore) was found. As hard as the miners tried to keep this exciting news under cover, the secret was soon out and hordes of eager men soon followed.
What about the gold? Well, the stories of Weaselskin’s hidden stash have some substance. Many have searched for the treasure over the years. As far as we know, no one has found it – yet!