Submitted to the Optic
Author Bill Dunmire will give a free slide talk titled “New Mexico’s Livestock Heritage” at 11 a.m. Saturday at the City of Las Vegas Museum.
Dunmire’s talk will be based upon his book, “New Mexico’s Spanish Livestock Heritage: Four Centuries of Animals, Land, and People” that has recently been released by the University of New Mexico Press. This is the first book ever published on the history of livestock in New Mexico, and the preparation of it required more than three years of intensive academic research on the subject.
The program will present some background on the several species of domestic livestock and then describe how Puebloans and Navajos slowly adopted horses, donkeys, sheep, goats, cattle, pigs, and chickens after their arrival with the Spanish colonists in 1598. It will cover the spread of livestock during colonial times, how quickly the Plains Indians learned to steal and ride horses, and how horses became central to their economy.
The talk will describe how sheep became New Mexico’s most important economic animal, growing to a population of five million animals in the province by the end of the nineteenth century. It will cover the arrival of cattlemen from Texas on the eastern plains, the Goodnight-Loving cattle trail that passed through Roswell, the role of Fort Union, the rising economic importance of cattle in our state, how speculators and politicians became involved in that industry, and how cattle on our eastern plains have replaced the historic herds of bison and have become a vital positive element of grassland perpetuation there today. The effects of introduced livestock upon Native peoples — both the good and the bad — will be included.
The topic of how an explosion of livestock numbers, particularly sheep, caused increasing environmental damage, especially to the state’s extensive grasslands, will lead to how the deterioration of our native grasslands was finally recognized by scientists, eventually resulting in the enactment of laws such as the Taylor Grazing Act, various state regulations, and the adoption of more progressive livestock management practices. The program concludes with a description of interviews made with representatives of four ethnic groups including an Anglo rancher in our state, relating their views of how livestock has affected their own families in the past (nearly all of it positive).
This program will last about 45 minutes and will be followed by a short discussion about local livestock history with the audience.
This program is made possible by the New Mexico Humanities Council.
For more information on the talk, contact Kristin Hsueh at the museum at 426-3204.