Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The Classic Magdalena Cowboy Crew

November 9, 2016
   Here's a photo mystery for you. One of the least appreciated photographers of the Old West is Joseph E. Smith, who photographed around Socorro, New Mexico in the 1880s. He took some amazing photographs that deserve an entire, special issue of True West to deal with. First rodeo? I believe Joseph captured an impromptu one out on the San Augustine Plains in 1882.

   I recently ran across this photo from an old Life magazine feature about the last cattle drive in Magdalena, New Mexico.

These bad boys allegedly trailed the last bunch of cattle to the Magdalena stockyards
in the mid-1950s. They were the cowboy crew from the Double H Ranch.

   This photo is not a Joseph E. Smith photo, but it struck a nerve with me, because I have been driving through Magdalena, New Mexico for years when I motor over for the annual Lincoln Cowboy Symposium and I've often wondered when the cattle drives started and stopped in this sleepy village. Here I am cruising through the main intersection of Magdalena, during morning rush hour:

Magdalena, New Mexico rush hour—8:05 a.m.—October 11, 2013

   So, I knew that Joseph E. Smith took some great photographs around Magdalena in the mid-1880s and I wondered if he, perhaps, got any images of the Magdalena stockyards. Well, I didn't have to look far:

A Joseph E. Smith photograph of the Magdalena stockyards under construction in 1887.

   So, we know that the stockyards were open for business in 1887 and they lasted until the mid-1950s, but what about a photograph of actual 1880s cowboys straddling the railroad tracks?

A Joseph E. Smith photograph of a cowboy cattle drive at the Magdalena stockyards,
 from the New Mexico State University Library Archives.

   I have requested a high res scan of this image, that dates from 1890. Although you can't tell from this low res scan, this is a great photo and the gear on those cowboys will make you drool. Yes, no doubt about it, we need to do major feature on this Unsung Old West photographer.

"I can understand your anger at me, but what could you possibly have against the horse I rode in on?"
—Old Cowboy Saying


  1. Wonderful story and photos. I love your Facebook Page. I live in Colorado and have a great website for our 335 museums but most images are railroads and mining. I have some from our eastern plains but mostly farming. I grew up in the late 40s and 50s loving every old western my grandpa and I could go to. Your images bring back many memories of sharing those times together.

  2. Very nice article. Susan Smith, J.E. Smith's great grand daughter still lives in Socorro, New Mexico and occupies the same house that J.E. Smith lived in and had his photography studio. She inherited a number of J.E. Smith's negative plates. Prints from these can be purchased from Leon Miler (Susan's cousin)at the Alamo Art Galley in Socorro, NM. 575-835-2787

  3. Anonymous3:24 PM

    Do you know who the men on the photo are?


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