CHAMA VILLAGE HISTORY
In February 1880, the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad began construction of the San Juan extension, a route that went from Alamosa, Colorado, to Silverton, Colorado, by way of Cumbres Pass, Chama, and Durango. Railroad service to Chama began in February, 1881 and facilities for servicing railroad equipment, a depot, warehouses and stockyards were set up along the route surveyed for the railroad.
The brief period of construction from 1880-1881 was one of the most exciting episodes in the area’s history and Chama almost immediately became a boomtown. The possibilities for development attracted both industrious and disreputable characters from all around. Individuals interested in developing the coal mines in Monero rapidly appeared on the scene as did representatives of the lumber industry, laborers, engineers and contractors to build the railroad and buildings required to accommodate the mass of people attracted to the booming railroad town of Chama.
For many years Chama remained a rowdy and exciting place to be. It was a very prosperous town with plenty of work and a great deal of entertainment in the forms of saloons, gambling houses, moonshine stills, etc. Groceries were expensive and outlaws, such as the Clay Allison gang, regularly held up the railroad pay car construction camps with large payrolls, saloons and gambling houses.
In the past, the main industries of the area were logging, mining and sheep and cattle ranching. Before the logging industry clear-cut much of the timber, the vast grasslands one now sees, were hundreds of square miles of forest. In pre-logging days the forest was so thick that it was difficult for a man on horseback to negotiate his way through the trees. The sheep industry operated on a grand scale until the depression and the terrible winter of 1931-32 combined to nearly wipe out the sheep industry.
Chama, New Mexico offers a unique blend of cultures. In the shops and cafes you will hear a mix of English, Spanish and Native languages, often used in concert. And you’ll hear a lot of laughter. Serious conversations often turn to the environment and politics, as big changes are again underway. The local economy, once fueled by agriculture, is increasingly fed by tourism and new businesses started by transplants from more congested urban areas.