Time to get booted and spurred and head for Magdalena this weekend for the return of the Frontier Festival. After skipping last year due to COVID-19 health restrictions, the all-day family-friendly event celebrating the Southwest’s heritage and the history of Magdalena is returning this Saturday.
It’s a full day of activities and demonstrations in and around the original Santa Fe Railroad Depot and Box Car Museum on North Main Street.
It all begins at 9 a.m. and goes on until 5 p.m.
Organizer Jim Sauer is picking up where founder Judyth Shamosh left off.
“Judyth had done a great bit of work in the years she ran it. And she had a great number of points of contact,” Sauer said. “With respect to that, I’ve been emailing and calling people up and seeing who wants to be a part of it again.”
The festival will feature old-time games and activities, demonstrations of pioneer life skills and grub, as well as model trains, antique cars, quilting and weaving. And even a blacksmith working his craft.
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.
There will also be historical talks and tours and a host of vendors selling their wares
“We want to celebrate mining history,” Sauer said. “We want to celebrate our Native American history. We want to celebrate the settlers’ history.”
Magdalena was established as a municipality in 1884 and at its peak around 1919, sported mercantile, drug, feed and hardware stores.
“There were livery stables, restaurants, blacksmith shops, lumber yards, a church, school, hotel and get this … four saloons,” Sauer said.
Ever since relocating here 26 years ago, Sauer has been captivated by the historical pride and culture of Magdalena and Socorro County.
“I like learning about other people’s stories, and trying to document what people tell me,” he said. “One of our citizens told me that as a boy, he would sit across the street with a friend waiting for the Friday fights to erupt and spill into Main Street.”
Sauer loves digging up some of the lesser-known, albeit more interesting, tidbits from the town’s history.
“One story that I heard was somebody who was always late bringing in their cattle and didn’t make the train. Well, what did they do? They moved them right into the bar and they were bidded on right there and then. He said, ‘We bought ’em.’ And he said, you’d be surprised at the amount of damage in that bar. The cow didn’t understand what was going on in there. Heck yeah, it probably had a fit. Sliding all over the floor, you know.”
He said the Magdalena cemetery – in a way – is a chronicle of the community’s story.
“You go to the graveyard and have this impersonal piece of rock that don’t tell no story, but as soon as you poke around you find out that the people that built this area are still here,” Sauer said.
Sauer also haunts the Magdalena Public Library for historical tidbits.
“I did a little bit of research in the library. We have a good number of Magdalena Mountain Mail newspapers from the 1880s,” he said. “I was looking at some of the old Mountain Mails and down in the corner was the gossip column. One of the entries was about a kid who put a donkey on top of the roof of the old stone schoolhouse.
“Some of those stories are kind of endearing,” he said.
In the 1800’s, AT&SF provided rail service from Santa Fe, Albuquerque and El Paso. A spur was built at Socorro in 1885 and headed uphill to Magdalena.
Magdalena became known as “Trails End” for the railroad line which was used to transport the cattle, sheep wool, timber and mineral ore. Cattle and sheep were driven into town (cowboy style) from the surrounding ranches, using the historic Stock Driveway, or as some say, the Hoof Highway. The original stockyards are intact and available to visit.
A second spur to the line on the east side of town departs to the south and serviced the mines and timber yards of Kelly.
The Magdalena Depot was built in 1915 along with a loading dock on the north side. The old train station is now the Magdalena Village Library. Steam Engine 2526, a 2-8-0 Consolidation Steam Locomotive, was engineered for decades by Jack Sellers, who lived in Belen and commuted to Magdalena throughout the week. The engine was converted to diesel in the 1950s. The last run for the “Little Maggie” was November 20, 1974.
It is no secret that ranching played a vital role in Magdalena’s frontier commerce.
“Some ranchers, such as the Chisum’s, out Capitan way, had it a bit easier selling directly to New Mexico’s military forts such as Forts Stanton, Selden, and Union, while others had to drive their livestock substantial distances,” Sauer stated.
While most of the sheep coming to town were to be sold, others were brought to be sheared with the wool product being sold. On North Main Street the old wool warehouse, built in 1913 is now an antique store.
“Paul Pino of Magdalena confided that his father worked as a drover of sheep coming from Quemado to the Magdalena Stockyard,” he said. “Paul remembers as a child, waking up to a view of these hills having turned color, overnight, from tan to white.
“Cathy Peralta-Messerschmitt added that her grandfather, Abran Jiron, used to herd cattle for H.B. Birmingham from around Collins Park in the Gila to Magdalena,” Sauer recounted. “That’s more than a 100-mile trip.”
The Frontier Festival was canceled last June because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Sauer thinks it is a perfect event to get people outside.
“It is coming together,” he said. “The mayor thinks there will be a thousand to fifteen hundred people coming in.”
Sauer suggests that visitors dress up as a frontier person.
“Let the family fun begin,” he said.
The schedule, as of press time:
9-10:30 a.m. Native American flute music by Ed Pias (Library Deck)
10-10:30 a.m. Minerals of Socorro County by Dean Crane (Village Hall)
10-11 a.m. Carding and dyeing wool by Wino Labrecque on the Warehouse loading dock
10:30-11:30 a.m. Story of the Santa Fe Railroad by Prince MacKinzie (Northside Library)
10:45-11:30 a.m. Story Telling by Judy Richardson (Library Deck)
11 a.m.-noon Magdalena Stock Driveway by Brenda Wilkinson (Village Hall)
1-2 p.m. History of Magdalena Township by Paul Harden (Village Hall)
1-2 p.m. Native American flute music from Ed Pias (Library Deck)
1-2 p.m. How to do an Assay (Village Hall)
1-2 p.m. Minerals of Socorro County by Dean Crane (Village Hall)
2-3 p.m. Evolution of the Six-Gun and Winchester by Prince MacKenzie (Northside Library)
3-4 p.m. Antique telescope viewing Venus by astronomer John Briggs (TBD)
3-4 p.m. Mines of the Neighborhood by Paul Harden (Village Hall)
Throughout the Day:
- Boxcar Museum
- Southwest Model Railroad Club exhibit (Charles Ilfield Warehouse)
- Socorro Model Railroad exhibit (Library)
- Antique Model A & Model-T Cars (Main Street)
- Demonstrations of weaving and quilting (Charles Ilfield Warehouse)
- Blacksmithing by ZW (Green Space)
- Kids toys and games (Green Space)
- Smoky Bear (Main Street area)
- Walking Tour of homes, stockyard, old jail (Self Guided)
- Antique printing presses (Village Press Print Studio and Coffee Shop)
- Bataan Death March introduction by Mike Bilbo
- Harvey Girls
- Magdalena Café. South Main Street
- Clara & Sisters Food Stand. One block east on Highway 60
- High Country Restaurant. Two blocks east on Highway 60
- Kelly’s Place in the historic Hall Hotel
- Tumbleweeds Café. West end of town on Highway 60
- Village Press Print Studio (cappuccino/espresso). One block west on Highway 60
- Chuckwagon Association Cooking
- Dutch Oven cooking
- Kiwanis food vendor