Cowboy boots, a blazer and a bolo tie are considered appropriate business attire here in the Land of Enchantment. The New Mexico culture and cowboy attitude is rooted in hard work, individualism and a love of the frontier. New Mexico's beautiful blue skies and wide open spaces provide the perfect setting for the Wild West era and the legendary cowboy, whose traditions still exist today.
Today the Wild West isn't quite as unruly as it used to be, at least not when compared to the original Wild West era. In the early- and mid-1800s when the western expansion movement was getting underway, a great deal of the land was in the public domain, open to raising livestock and to homesteading. There was little to no local law enforcement, and the military had a concentrated presence only at specific locations. Buffalo hunters, railroad workers, drifters and soldiers scrapped and fought, leading to shootings where men died "with their boots on."
The pioneer spirit that existed in the 19th century was born in part of a deep hunger to own land. The stories told by explorers and missionaries just back from the west were filled with images of vast, open landscapes, abundant game, pristine rivers and lakes. Undoubtedly, these images fed the pioneers' hunger and provided intense motivation for them as they undertook the laborious journey westward.
By the early 1880s, the railroads arrived in New Mexico, and the New Mexico culture was formed. With the railroad came an increase in both trade and population. Though there were still military forts scattered around the state in a holdover from the battles with Indian tribes, much of the territory still lacked any effective law enforcement. This was a time of frontier justice and tough, iconoclastic characters such as Kit Carson and William "Billy the Kid" Bonney, who is buried in Fort Sumner, New Mexico.
The legendary mystique of the Wild West Era can still be felt in modern-day Albuquerque where many aspects of the cowboy culture are alive and well. The cowboy hats and boots worn by locals are often more than a fashion statement; plenty of local folks work at ranches and farms in the area, some just a stone's throw from downtown. Albuquerque is one of the few cities where you can see horses and chickens right in central neighborhoods.
Albuquerque celebrates its agricultural and cowboy culture at the annual State Fair, the sixth largest state fair in the nation. You'll find bull riding, horse barrel racing, livestock competitions, rodeo action, agricultural exhibits and more at the Fair. You'll also find a vast range of food booths at the Fair, so be sure to bring your appetite.
If you crave more cowboy culture, plan to attend the End of Trail: Wild West Jubilee, held just east of Albuquerque near Moriarty. Mounted shooting competitions, historical re-enactments, cowboy poetry, a gunfighter town, stage coach and buggy rides, a chuck wagon and encampment, and other live entertainment are all part of the experience and of the New Mexico culture.
Also see Centuries of History: Western Legends for additional information.