by Craig Massey

Their lifestyle has inspired filmmakers, artists and authors for generations. Their images evoke a nostalgic feeling in the hearts of many Americans.

The cowboys of the desert Southwest are alive and well, although they are a rare breed these days.

The New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces, New Mexico, pays tribute to the cowboy heritage and the ranching traditions of the desert Southwest each year with its Cowboy Days celebration. This year’s event is scheduled for October 18 and 19.

This will be the fifth year for the fast-growing festival. The event blends the mythic, romanticized version of the cowboy who appears in the movies and the real life view of the cowboy who works at more earthy chores such as doctoring cattle and fixing fence.

“This is our largest annual event and it’s a combination of education and entertainment,” said Celina Garcia, the museum’s special events coordinator. “We hope our visitors have as much fun as possible and learn something as well.”

The museum will offer a large schedule of events.

Activities get under way Saturday morning (October 18) with a chuck wagon breakfast from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. The cost will be $5 per plate. A chuck wagon lunch is also scheduled for Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at a cost of $7 per plate.

The museum’s new Round Pen will be the site for many demonstrations such as horsemanship and the Mexican charreada, or rodeo. (Our first Western cowboys learned their trade from the Mexican cowboy, who was called a “vaquero.”) The Round Pen will also be the setting for a new program called the Parade of Breeds, which will be introduced during Cowboy Days. The museum’s six different breeds of beef cattle will be brought into the arena and the history of each breed will be discussed.

Working dogs will be on hand to display their uncanny skills in herding livestock. There also will be horseshoeing and blacksmithing demonstrations, and there will be continuous demonstrations of chuck wagon cooking, roping, dowsing, milking, butter making, soap making, quilting, weaving, sewing, wool spinning, rug making and needlework.

A new feature for this year’s Cowboy Days will be the living history cowboy camp by the Paso del Norte Pistoleros. The group also will perform gunfights throughout both days.

Children’s activities will include bandana making, leather stamping, tinwork, carpentry, braiding fun, plaster paws, roping, stickhorse races, “bubbleology” and the smelliest boot contest.

In addition to the demonstrations, cowboy music and poetry will play a big part in the festival, with top vocalists, musicians and poets from across the Southwest providing the entertainment. They will perform at two venues (indoor and outdoor) throughout both days.

Kip Calahan, of Animas, New Mexico, will be among the featured performers. She was recently named the 2003 Academy of Western Artists Female Vocalist of the Year. A former country singer who performed regularly in Nashville, Calahan began to focus on “Western” music four years ago.

Royal Wade Kimes will make his first appearance at this year’s Cowboy Days. Kimes won the Album of the Year in 2000 from the Academy of Western Artists for his CD, “Hangin’ Around the Moon,” and he has combined with country music artist Garth Brooks on a duet.

Kata Hay, a 16-year-old performer from Skiatook, Oklahoma, is another first-time Cowboy Days performer. She has appeared on Star Search and has won several yodeling championships.

Cowboy Days musicians will include the Desperados of Las Cruces, New Mexico, Dean Foster of Silver City, New Mexico, the Buckarettes of Santa Fe, New Mexico, Allen Wayne Damron of Austin, Texas; Tiffany Jo Allen of Tucson, Arizona, and Washtub and Glenn Moreland of Fort Davis, Texas.

Poets include Chris Buethe of Las Cruces, Ray Owens of Artesia, New Mexico, Andy Hedges of Crosbyton, Texas, and Bud Strom of Hereford, Arizona.

The emcees for the performances are Joe Baker of Ruidoso, New Mexico, and Ann Sochat of Canutillo, Texas. Some of the entertainers will participate in informal jam sessions on Friday and Saturday nights (October 17 and18) at Mesilla Valley Best Western Inn.

Another first-time performer will be Rooster Morris, who reads and performs stories from the “Hank the Cowdog” series.

In a special feature, on October18, Albuquerque author Max Evans will give a 30-minute introduction to a special showing of the classic western film, “The Rounders.” The movie, which stars Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda, was based on Evans’ novel of the same name. The legendary author will sign books during and after the showing of the film. Additionally, the museum will host a panel of cowboy cartoonists. Among the artists expected to participate are Etienne “A-10” Etcheverry and Barry Freeman.

Stagecoach and pony rides also are part of the festivities, as well as a 4-H shooting booth, the New Mexico Tourism Department’s Mobile Visitor Information Center, and the Rolling River Water Trailer.

The hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on October 18 and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on October 19. Admission is $3 for adults, $2 for senior citizens and $1 for children ages 6 to 17. Children 5 and under and museum members get in free.

The New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum opened in 1998 and has welcomed visitors from all over the world. The museum tells the story of 3,000 years of agriculture in the desert Southwest through gallery exhibits and interactive demonstrations. The facilities, set on a 47-acre campus, feature the K-Bob’s Museum Grill, the Stahmann’s Mercantile, as well as an amphitheater, indoor theater, irrigation pond and ditches, crop demonstration plot, gardens and orchards. In addition to the museum’s cattle herd, other ranch and farm animals include mules, burros, sheep, goats and horses.

The museum is located at 4100 Dripping Springs Road on the southeastern edge of Las Cruces. For more information, call (505) 522-4100 or refer to the website at

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