I was recently watching the 1962 Sam Peckinpah western, Ride the High Country, starring two of the best old movie cowboys, Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea, both of which were getting up in the years. Old-timers, you could say, and it got me thinking about how things have changed over the years in Magdalena.
I don’t know if it’s gone for good, but it saddens me that the event once thought to be impervious to time and the weather seems to have gone the way of other time-honored traditions. I’m talking, of course, about the annual Old Timers Reunion. Although there was a modest parade on the fourth, the Reunion more-or-less came to a halt the year the pandemic hit, and – not unlike a lot of other things – just hasn’t recovered.
Indulge me while I turn my thoughts to those days. It was always on the weekend after Independence Day and featured what I considered the best parade in the country. You also had a street dance, fiddlers contest, a youth rodeo, a seniors’ rodeo, and what have you. And then there were gastronomical delights. All the vendors and all the food that’s bad for you and good for you.
You could almost get a whiff of that frybread sizzling away anywhere in town.
And curiously, food was what Old Timers Reunion was originally about. Well, in part, I guess.
In the very beginning, the Old Timers Reunion was a small event. It was 1971 when Cecil Owsley and his sister Vera decided to do something to celebrate Magdalena’s people and history. Cecil was born in 1908 and went off to rodeo in 1924 during a slump in the cattle business, but always returned to his home base, so to speak. It’s said that throughout those rodeo years he got to ride with the likes of Gene Autry, Rex Allen, Roy Rogers and Slim Pickens, and even earned a spot in the Cowboy Hall of Fame.
Anyway, when he returned for good, Cecil thought it would be a good idea to keep the cowboy ways of Magdalena alive through a reunion – you might say a homecoming – of those who lived through the good times and bad. The first reunion was a genial get-together that comprised a potluck in the yard at his Pueblo Springs ranch, some ropings, and a full day of reminiscing and catching up. Just down-home fun.
But, boy, did the idea ever catch on. I remember talking with Juan Gutierrez, who was Magdalena’s mayor that first year. He told me no one expected it to keep going over the years.
During the first decade of Old Timers, people started adding on side events like a fiddler’s contest, Old Timers Queen, and a parade led by a Grand Marshal down Highway 60, complete with the re-creation of a cattle drive. I’ve been told the street dance took place in front of the Paris Tavern and the crowd filled that whole block of Main Street. The Paris Tavern, by the way, burned down in the winter of 2002, going out the way of most of Magdalena’s once-bustling downtown area.
I imagine there are not much more than a handful of true old-timers that could walk down Main or First streets and point out where all the businesses that have burned down used to be.
Some of the oldest structures still stand, thankfully, like the Bank of Magdalena building, along with the former post office next door. Then there are the two hospitals; the 1920s-era Butterfield Hospital, now the Western Motel, and the Osteopathic Hospital from the 1940s, which was formerly a drug store and undertaker’s establishment. A third hospital, on Second Street, shared its building with the U.S. Forest Service. Somebody lives there now.
But gone are the original Magdalena Hotel, California Hotel, Wilson Hotel, and the Aragon Hotel, which burned along with the Becker-MacTavish Store and the entire block of North Main in 1953. The Hammond Hotel was lost to fire in 1965 and the Aragon movie theater and Knights of Pythias Hall burned in 1968.
Thankfully, the fire department has improved vastly since 2002, much less 1920, when the village got its first true fire engine.
Luckily, other remnants of the village’s heydays still exist; the Santa Fe train depot, Salome’s store building, the Ilfield building, the stockyards, the Ocean-to-Ocean garage, the original jailhouse on Elm Street, and who knows how many houses and structures that date back well before the turn of the twentieth century.
But I digress.
You’ll notice I don’t include myself in that “old-timer” category, even though I’m a little slow when it comes to knowing what’s in and hip, but I do know this:
The Old Timers Reunion used to be “dope, dude.”