When travel in the area was by foot, horseback and wagon, travelers headed west from Gunnison did not have too many obstacles caused by the terrain.
When the trail was not following close to the river, the hills were neither too steep nor too long to stop the travelers.
However, this easy travel ended 26 miles west of Gunnison. At that point the Gunnison River plunged into the narrow depths of the Black Canyon.
Steep rocky slopes and sheer granite walls plunging to the waters edge made continued westward travel along the river impossible.
Travel along either rim of the canyon was difficult and often blocked by smaller canyons where tributary streams joined the river.
The western end of the valley at the upper end of the Black Canyon was a natural place to stop and to rest before the journey was continued.
The little settlement that grew there eventually became known as Sapinero.
The first name of the site was "Buchannan" and the next was "Glendale." The February 28, 1882 issue of the Gunnison Daily Review stated that "The Buchanan townsite 26 miles west from here at the entrance to the Black Canyon has been changed to Glendale." There is no record of the origin of either name. A notice in the Gunnison Daily Review on May 24, 1882, advertised the rates for the toll road through the townsite. That seems to be the last mention of the name "Glendale." Railroad construction crews stopped in the valley in 1881 and 1882, and called their camp "Soap Creek." Railroad section houses were eventually built about a mile east of the Sapinero depot close to a creek of that name. Possibly the section houses were constructed where the original construction camp was located. If so, Soap Creek and Glendale were contemporary communities, a mile distant from each other and each destined to exist for only a few months. The final name for the town was probably chosen by an unnamed official of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. The new station at the head of the Black Canyon was named after a sub-chief of the Ute Indians who was the brother-in-law of the famous Ute chief, Ouray. Scholarly works on the Utes refer to him as "Sapawanero" or "Sapavanero," so it is likely that the railroad chose a spelling that was easier for a white man to pronounce but still close enough to the real name to gain some political or diplomatic advantage. The new railroad was, after all, built through land that had been Ute land only a few years before, and tribes still inhabited much of the land served by the railroad.
One might ask, exactly where was Old Sapinero? A plat map of Sapinero was
recorded in the Gunnison County courthouse in 1888 by K. Montgomery and A.
Ralston but they never owned the land which the plat covered and no property
was ever sold with reference to the plat. If you look at a USGS map of the Blue
Mesa Reservoir you will see that it covers, in part, Sections 32 and 33 ,
Township 49 North, Range 4 West. The buildings in Sapinero were mostly located
on gently sloping land in the west half of Section 33 and the east half of
Section 32. That is a little bit north and east of the present Sapinero and is,
of course, under water. The individuals and families that made up the
community, however, owned or lived on land that could be several miles in any
direction. We're going to tell the stories of those families as best we can but
would love to include contributions from people who have additional information
and who are willing to share it on this website.
Until 1880 the land at Sapinero was part of the Ute Indian Reservation and formal permission to enter the land was not given by the U.S. Government until June of 1882. As was the case in much of the West however, formalities were not all that important to settlers, prospectors and businessmen who wanted to make their fortune in the untamed territory. Railroad construction crews entered the valley in 1881 and were gone by late summer of 1882. As early as February, 1882, the "Gunnison Daily Review" newspaper noted that, a toll road was being built through the area.
By 1883, the Colorado Business Directory, (a kind of early day Yellow Pages) listed a hotel, a saloon and restaurant, a freight forwarding business and the D&RG Railroad station as Sapinero businesses. The directory also noted that there were daily stages to Lake City. The railroad never had to acquire title to the land because of U.S. laws passed to encourage railroad construction but no such laws existed for other kinds of businesses. Nevertheless, it was 1900 before any federal land patent was issued to a private individual in the Sapinero area. The first D&RG passenger train passed through on August 14, 1882 but the reporter made no mention of any buildings other than the remnants of a construction camp called Soap Creek about which he commented "The old town at Soap Creek now has only five buildings, one of them is empty and the other four are saloons." However, the election results of November 1882 show that 88 votes were cast at Sapinero. (Democrats won by a 7 to 1 margin) so there must have been some residential structures somewhere.