The Old West never really left Grant County, but visitors may have to look closely to find it. You will certainly see cows, corrals and stock tanks from the road, but the cowboys themselves are harder to find. Most of their work takes place far from the road in a rugged landscape that seems to swallow up riders in the blink of an eye. Should you be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of horses and riders working cattle, you are seeing a piece of the Old West that has survived long after other iconic figures disappeared.
Ranching became big business in Grant County as homesteaders arrived to make a new life here and businessmen began to see cattle as a good way to turn a profit. By the 1880s there were many small outfits and several very large ranches surrounding Silver City. One of the largest was the famous LC Ranch, which at its peak controlled 1.5 million acres of range. The LC boasted 60,000 head of cattle, 750 riding horses and 400 working horses at that time and employed as many as 75 cowboys during peak times.
The harsh landscape was improved with dams to catch the scarce rainfalls and store it for longer periods and with wells and windmills that pumped groundwater into stock tanks. In some places irrigation canals were dug and various kinds of grasses for hay were grown as well. Railroads hauled away the cattle to distant markets and enterprising ranches shipped cattle to cities all over the U.S. Some of those pioneer ranches are still owned and operated by the same families. Many still work cattle horseback using the traditional methods their parents and grandparents used.
This cowboy culture can be enjoyed by taking in the Silver City Wild West Rodeo in late May and the county fair in September, on a guest ranch anytime, or with some great cowboy entertainment including cowboy poets and singers. Visitors can attend the annual Cowboy Poetry and Music Gathering in Tyrone just south of Silver City. The gathering is one of the fastest-growing festivals of its kind in the southwest and is held in late April.
Silver City also happens to be the home of “New Mexico’s Most Enchanting Cowboy,” Mike Moutoux. Mike specializes in putting visitors as close to being in the saddle as words and music allow. This working cowboy travels right to our visitors’ cabins and RV sites entertaining children and adults alike with hilarious stories and wonderful cowboy songs. Visitors can book an appearance by this enchanting cowboy and enjoy some cowboy culture while they are in the area.
Cowboy culture is alive and well in Grant County. The work is still hard and mostly done far from the road. You may not see a cowboy except when they come to town. Most will change into clean jeans, a nice shirt and “go-to-town” boots so you may not be able to tell a real cowboy from a tourist. If he’s extra polite, wears a long-sleeved shirt all year and takes off his hat indoors, you’re probably seeing the real thing—a living piece of the Old West.