Frontier Playing checkers is just as much fun now as it was then.
John Larson | El Defensor Chieftain photos

Magdalena celebrates its unique place in the history and heritage of the Southwest this Saturday, July 1, with the fifth annual Frontier Festival.

Mining first brought people to the area in the 1860s, and by the mid-1880s the village became known as Trail’s End, shipping cattle and sheep by rail from the stockyards on the west end of town.

Magdalena was established as a municipality in 1884 and at its peak around 1919, boasted mercantile, drug, feed and hardware stores.

“There were livery stables, restaurants, blacksmith shops, lumber yards, a church, school, hotel, and four saloons,” organizer Jim Sauer said. “I have been dismayed at the number of ‘old world’ skill sets that people of this day and age have overlooked, and the Frontier Festival is a chance to learn how things were done well over a century ago.”

Visitors to the Frontier Festival will be able to stroll among and interact with locals in period costume and learn how people lived in New Mexico’s pioneer days.

The day kicks off at 9 a.m. with an Independence Day parade down Highway 60, followed by activities and demonstrations continuing through the day in and around the original Santa Fe Railroad Depot and Box Car Museum on North Main Street. The depot, now the village library, dates back to 1915.

The Box Car Museum, once the property of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, showcases artifacts and rare photographs framed and mounted. One end of the boxcar was designed as a faux mine entrance representing the miners’ experience in the Magdalena Mountains.

Sauer said among the demonstrations on pioneer life skills on Saturday will include blacksmithing, Dutch oven cooking, soap making, Native American weaving and jewelry making, old-time kids’ toys and games, wood carving, wool spinning and more.

“This thing has grown to a proportion to where it’ll take on a life of its own,” Sauer said. “When we started this thing in 2018, everything was outside around the library. Now, a lot of the things are taking place inside the Ilfield building, across the street from the library.”

There will also be historical talks and tours and a host of vendors selling their wares. “Everything from Native American jewelry to porcelain birdhouses,” he said,

A highlight for this year’s event will be a talk on the Kelly mining district from Socorro County Historical Society’s Paul Harden. His one-hour Powerpoint presentation at 1 p.m. will be held in Village Hall.

“I gave this talk two years ago for the Frontier Festival and it was well received,” Harden said. “It mostly brings awareness to the many mines at Kelly, not just the Kelly mine. I also led an auto-tour to the Kelly mine that year. Several people caravaned up who wanted to see the Kelly mine but were not quite sure where it was nor wanted to venture up there themselves.”

The Kelly mine is the one most people identify with, but many others, he said, are “somewhat hidden.”

A demonstrator at Frontier Fest talks about the role of firearms in the Old West.

“So, this year, the auto tour will be to the Nitt mine, with permission of the owner, Grace Dobson, who may accompany us to describe the mine,” Harden said. “This will also give views of the Graphic and Waldo mines. All were big producers in their own right, and of course, the mines for which the Graphic Mill was built.”

According to Harden, the Nitt mine is within 1,000 feet of the Graphic mine.

“It was owned by the Tri-Bullion Smelting & Mining Co. and comprised several claims on 115 acres,” he said. “The Nitt mine consists of a shaft 300 feet down with 4,000 feet of drifts and crosscuts over several levels between 200 and 350 feet to reach the ore, two levels connecting to the Graphic-Waldo mine.”

He said the mine was later leased to the Ozark Smelting & Mining Co. from 1914-1923.

“Shortly after the Ozark Smelter closed in 1921, the mine was operated 1923-1930 by J. A. Macdonald of Kelly,” Harden said. “Ore shipped to outside smelters were rated at about 20 percent zinc, two percent copper and two ounces of silver to the ton.”

The auto tour, caravaning up to the mine in one’s own high-clearance vehicle, is an opportunity to see these historic mines and structures, which are typically closed to the public.

Harden said the tour would not be entering the mines or for mineral collection.

“The latter can always be arranged through Grace Dobson at any time,” he said.

There is a $15 per person charge to help cover Frontier Festival expenses and the mine access fees.

The day will be capped off with a dinner and a movie featuring a special presentation of a PBS program on the American cowboy.

“The Cowboy” is a recently produced installment of PBS’s series Iconic America, Our Symbols and Stories, hosted by David Rubenstein. “The cowboy is the quintessential American — fiercely independent, brave and laconic,” he says. The episode examines the myths and realities of this archetype, which remains as potent as ever in the 21st century.

In addition, local special guests include singer-songwriter Randy Houston, rancher Randell Major, and storyteller-journalist Ollie Reed.

Sponsored by New Mexico PBS, the event begins at 3 p.m. at Magdalena Schools’ Fine Arts Center on Duggins Drive. Dinner is provided by Does and Bucks. All costs for “The Cowboy” are covered by NMPBS. Seating is limited to 50 for dinner.

Schedule of events at press time:

9 a.m. Independence Day Parade (Highway 60)

9-930 a.m. Minerals of New Mexico – lapidarist Dean Crane (Library)

10-10:30 a.m. Period Firearms and Uniforms –  P. McKinzie (Library north side)

10 a.m.  Wood Carving Demonstration – Bryan Shillington (Ilfield sales station)

10:30 a.m.  Goat Milking Demonstration – Tierra Soul (Ilfield parking lot)

11 a.m.  Soap Making by Kiane Garcia (Ilfield sales station)

11 a.m.  New Mexico Game & Fish – Jayme King (Ilfield display station)

11:30 a.m. -12:30 p.m.  Smokey Bear – USFS (Main Street, Ilfield, Library)

1 p.m.  Pet Parade – Sign up with Elizabeth Briggs (Library north side)

1-2 p.m. Kelly Area Mines – Paul Harden (Village Hall)

1:30 p.m. Carding and Wool Dyeing – Wini Labrecque (Ilfield)

1:30 p.m. Geology of New Mexico – Cynthia Connolly, NM Bureau of Geology (Ilfield)

2 p.m. Imagine A Horse/Master Trick Trainers – Sue DeLaurentis (Ilfield)

2:30-4:30 p.m. Nitt Mine Tour – Paul Harden (Vehicle lineup at Village Hall)

3 p.m. Goat Milking – Tierra Soul (Ilfield parking lot)

3-6 p.m. PBS Documentary “The Cowboy” (Magdalena Schools Fine Arts Center)

Throughout the day:

Boxcar Museum

Blacksmithing – ZW Farnsworth (South side library)

Model Train Railroads – Jim KcKelvey/Southwest Model Railroad Club (Ilfield building)

Oldtimey Kids Games –  Victoria Davis, Greg and Linda Smiley (Library south side)

Petting Zoo – John Lee and Jane Fassinger (Library )