There’s a chuck wagon over in the corner, but before you get there, you’ll walk past a squeeze chute. There are ropes, saddles, branding irons and hats. Campfire music is playing, and there are cowboy images of from all different eras covering the walls. “Cowboys: The Real Deal,” a new exhibit opens with a free, public reception from 6-8 p.m. on June 26. The exhibit will be on display for over a year, through July 5, 2015.
The only things missing in the Legacy and Traditions galleries at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum are the livestock and some dust. But there’s plenty of that outside on the museum’s 47-acre property in Las Cruces.
For almost three centuries, beginning with the arrival of the Spanish in the region, those who could ride and rope were in demand as cowpunchers and drovers on cattle ranges and trails. This exhibition covers the enduring cowboy tradition of New Mexico and the Southwest, beginning with the original trail drive — Juan de Oñate’s trek into the region in 1598, and the first cowboys, or vaqueros.
Visitors to the exhibit can study maps and historical photographs, watch a video of an old-fashioned branding, or listen to cowboy music, poetry or stories on one of several audio stations. The cowboy story begins with the Spanish bringing cattle and horses into the region, and continues with the different eras, including the big ranches, roundups and drives during the 1800s, and the dramatic changes in the 20th century, the modern-day equipment, and the life of the cowboy today.
Many other tools of the trade are featured, and there are sections on cattle drives, the trails through New Mexico, the lifestyle, diversity on the range, and cattle kings such as John Chisum and Thomas B. Catron. There is a brand identification interactive panel in the exhibit, as well as examples and uses of leather and horse hair.
“Cowboys: The Real Deal,” is based on the exhibit, “Cowboys Real and Imagined,” which originated at the New Mexico History Museum and Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe. The Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum added objects to the exhibit from its own collection, including the chute and chuck wagon. The doorway into the gallery had to be widened to move the chuck wagon into place. Special thanks to Guest Curator Dr. B. Byron Price and the New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors staff for the creation of the original exhibition.
The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for senior citizens and $2 for children 5 to 17. For more information, call (575) 522-4100.