Exhibit | New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs

Home on the Range

From Ranches to Rockets

On display through Jul 06, 2022 at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum

“Home on the Range: From Ranches to Rockets” stretches through two galleries. Guests will learn about ranch life in the Tularosa Basin during the early 20th century, and how events taking place halfway around the world brought about changes that for many ranchers were permanent. The area eventually became White Sands Missile Range, drawing some of the world’s greatest minds in science and engineering.

 “We want people to understand what ranch life out there was like and what happened to those folks,” said Leah Tookey, Curator of History. “At first, it was just the ranching story, but we then decided to get into the military and science part of it. There’s a whole section about the science and research that goes on out there.”

While private land being transitioned into U.S. government property wasn’t uncommon during the 1940s, the story this exhibit tells is uniquely New Mexico because of the scope of research and what was at stake.

The story begins with ranchers from Texas settling in the basin in the late 1800s where they found grass tall and plentiful. What they didn’t know was that they had arrived during a particularly wet climactic period and raising cattle would not be as profitable as they once believed, according to Tookey. The challenging, yet rewarding, lifestyle these ranch families chose changed quickly and dramatically in 1942.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor thrust the United States into World War II, an executive order established a military training range in the region. The ranchers were told they needed to immediately move their families and livestock as they would not be allowed back until the end of the war. The families performed their patriotic duties and complied with the orders. Most would never return.

While the basin was used to test rockets, missiles and bombs -- including the atomic bomb in 1945 -- it was also used to launch America’s space program and other scientific programs, some in the private sector.

“For decades, White Sands Missile Range has been referred to as a huge outdoor laboratory, a place where weapons and civilian projects can be tested,” said Jim Eckles, longtime public information officer for the Range, and co-curator of the exhibit with Tookey.

Also on exhibit at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum


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