…a special section dedicated to the once and future riders of New Mexico’s wild and woolly Southwest
Wild, dry, rugged country, criss-crossed by ancient trade routes, where buffalo used to run in herds that stretched to the horizon. Comanches and Apaches sped across it like the wind. And the volcanic soil was so rich that tribes came down from the north to breed their horses to stock raised here for stronger war ponies.
Conquistadores crossed the mountains from Taos just south of Cimarron, heading east to find whatever was out there. Their descendants, the caballeros and vaqueros who made the country their own, knew it like their own shoes.
In terms of cattle, the range refers to that area where the herd is pastured, what it ranges across, anything up to 500,000 acres. Big range. And it’s not particularly overrun with population, either. Seeing another human face after days in the saddle or weeks on the ranch is a real treat, so folks around here tend to be welcoming to their neighbors and friendly to strangers. They wave.
There was a time when a man could acquire enough land to make him a king anywhere else. Some ranched, raised beef for market. Others farmed, dug for gold or opened mercantiles. With the birth of the cattle industry came the cowboy life as we know it today with surprisingly few changes. Hard work, solitude, isolation. Or freedom, elbow room, adventure, a new start. Depends on your perspective. A place to lose the past or find a future, make something.
[There has been] enthusiastic response to these old photos from the Kit Carson Museum archives, [based on] the advantage of relatively short history in terms of permanent habitation around here. Everybody knows the people or the places in the pictures, they’ve heard of them, they’re related or they went to high school with their kids, or their folks did. They grew up hearing stories about them.
They wrangle over identification, never mind what’s written on the back. Got one that could have been the Ring Place but Ben says naw, he’s sure it’s the Knights and they were up at Castle Rock on the Vermejo Park Ranch. Or whether it’s Joe’s old saloon or the one right next to it that was smudged during a poker game. (Took the guy a couple of tries, only missed a hand or two.) They know the topography and the players. It’s their range, what they hang out in.
Living here, you might be a member of the Hundred Mile Club which means that anything you need – groceries, doctor, dentist, buddies, the bank, even school is at least 100 miles round trip if not one way. Gobbling huge amounts of distance to get from place to place is just part of your life. Glad it’s not on horseback although it would be more fun that way and you’d be outside. Gives you time to think, admire the scenery, draw a few deep breaths. Nice view. Real freedom. Not for everybody but if it turns out to be your range, you don’t go back.
And even though these images are 100 years old or more, I can pick out faces I just saw in the grocery store. Not the same faces, of course, but alike in the way they’ve been hardened and weathered from life outdoors. Day after day on horseback working cattle, being in the open under the sky, riding the range.
Times have changed, but the range hasn’t. She still has a vastness that can be terrifying or liberating, and a will of her own. Hail that can destroy a season of farming in a heartbeat. Snow so deep cattle suffocate or starve. Riding the range still calls for a willingness to adapt to weather, distance, terrain. There’s nothing so grand as one of those limitless blue days on the prairie; catch her in a mood and she’ll rip your head off.
It’s part of her charm.
– Charlotte Amrine Hollis, Editor