The early residents of the Pine River Valley were the Ute Indians. Their descendants are still here, primarily on the Southern Ute Reservation and in the Ignacio area (south end of the valley). The Pine River Valley was settled by Hispanics and others in the mid 1800’s. John Taylor, a former slave and Buffalo soldier turned trapper, arrived in 1871. Anglo settlers brought cattle into the valley in 1875. The area gradually opened up as more ranchers discovered the fertile valley. Much of the land was claimed under federal homestead laws, after it was ceded (not necessarily willingly) by the Utes. A legacy of that is the checkerboard of private and tribal land ownership. Natural gas and casino income have made the Southern Utes a major player in the area economy and politics.
William A Bay, a Missourian, settled where Bayfield itself is situated. His home still stands at 225 Pearl Street (the street being named after Mr. Bay’s daughter). Feeling that the area needed a supply town, Mr. Bay donated acreage and the town was laid out about 1898. The Schiller family also donated land and a coin toss determined whether Mr. Bay or Mr. Schiller would get to name the new town. It would have been called “Schillerville” had Mr. Schiller won. The town was incorporated in 1906.
Bayfield has since served as a supply town and social center for area farmers and ranchers, and more recently as a bedroom community for Durango. It remained a quiet rural town, riding the booms and busts that are typical of Colorado’s economy. Mill Street is the historic downtown. The museum, restaurants, newspaper, offices, and small shops are there now with Town Hall located nearby.