SOUTH FORK- Tucked away, just off County Road 15 in the rolling foothills northeast of South Fork lies a grave of a man that most have never heard of and some revere for his bravery, dedication and perseverance. A marker placed on the side of the dirt road reads simply, “Historical Marker: Homestead and gravesite of Col. Albert H. Pfeiffer 1822-1881. Soldier and Scout for Kit Carson, Indian Agent, adopted by Utes.”
There are several men and women of the Valley’s past that stand out among others for their tough personalities and wild adventures; some of which helped shape the cities and towns we live in today and Colonel Albert Pfeiffer was one of those men. His story alone speaks volumes to how people survived in the rough and tumble world of the 1800s in Colorado and how their bravery and sacrifice withstand the test of time for generations to come.
According to historical documents pulled from the Del Norte Prospector and findagrave.com, Pfeiffer was born in Friesland, Netherlands in 1822 and traveled to the United States in 1844 at the age of 22. From there he lived a unique life as a frontiersman, soldier, fur trapper, Indian Scout and agent as well Colonel and assistant to Kit Carson. But his story doesn’t end there and what he did for the remainder of his years still astonishes historians and history buffs to this day.
Like out of a made-up western novel, Pfeiffer rose quickly in rank when he joined the Army in Sante Fe, New Mexico and swiftly became highly regarded by the local Ute Indian Tribes in the northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado territories. In fact, according to documents collected by local historian Rosalind Weaver, he even married into a prominent Ute family.
“While serving at Fort McRae, near present Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, in 1863 he and his wife, along with a party of 10, were bathing in the hot springs near Taos, New Mexico. They were suddenly attacked by a band of Apache Indians. Pfeiffer was seriously wounded by arrows, with one arrow going completely through his body just below his heart.”
The archives continue to state that the Apaches carried his wife, who was later killed, and five other men who were mortally injured. “It was from that day forward that Pfeiffer hunted and killed Apaches with a vengeance. It was reported that at one time, he said, “They paid for it, yes they have paid for it in blood. I fight ‘em night and day – everywhere in all seasons!”
Pfeiffer, with nothing left to lose, fought in many battles over the years but the one that he is most remembered for occurred after his retirement from the Army. Pfeiffer returned to his homestead just east of the town of South Fork, then known as Baxterville, to live a quiet life when he was contacted by his Ute tribe.
The Utes were in a war with another Navajo tribe over the ownership of the hot springs near Pagosa Springs, Colorado. According to history, the Utes had possession of the hot springs for many years and after several days of fighting, the Utes sought assistance from Pfeiffer.
“Pfeiffer traveled over Wolf Creek Pass to Pagosa Springs and worked out a deal with the Navajos. It was agreed that each tribe would put up one man to battle each other to the death with the winner taking possession of the hot springs and the other leaving peacefully.”
The Navajos sent a young and seasoned warrior as their champion and the Utes sent Pfeiffer, who was five foot five and was in his late 40s. Pfeiffer agreed to do the fight for the Utes under one condition. The fight was to be done in the nude. The Navajos agreed and the fight commenced on the following day.
On the day of the scheduled epic battle, the young Navajo warrior took one look at Pfeiffer’s mangled and scarred body from past battles and submitted to the man, calling a draw and peacefully surrendering the hot springs to the Utes. The hot springs remained in the possession of the Ute tribe for many years, until after the death of Pfeiffer, when they had to concede their land in 1873 to the United States Government.
Colonel Albert Pfeiffer died in his bed at his homestead near South Fork in 1881. He was 59 years old and insisted on a quiet burial in the foothills of his home where he rests today. Those interested can visit the grave site by traveling along County Road 15. The exact location is hard to describe, so drive slowly, and watch for the historical marker which is placed on the northern edge of the road. It is a beautiful drive and a great opportunity to see the countryside.