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Ranching and the Environment

      In the mid-1800s, Grant County was an obscure scattering of small settlements on the borderlands of American, Native American, and Mexican societies. Various Homestead Acts enacted by the US Government allowed potential settlers to claim land in the area under the conditions that they settle and improve the land. Many people took advantage of such opportunities and the first homesteaders arrived in the area during the 1860’s. The dangerous and often unforgiving environment of the southwest provided an unexpected challenge for its early American settlers traveling to the west. “The heat and the wind, the suffering, anxiety, and oftentimes the fright of that dreadful experience can only be imagined by those who have not been through it…One time, we traveled for 60 miles without water” (Anna Bruesh Flury)

This is where I grew up. It’s called God’s Country. -Minnie Bell

      The relationship between humans and the environment is of vital importance in Grant County’s ranching history. The continued struggle against the environment and the continual progress of its effective usage require a delicate balance. The livestock industry has the ability to change the face of nature, nature has the ability to do the same to the livestock industry.

      New Mexico is the fifth largest state in the Union. As a territory it was much bigger, composed of parts of modern day Arizona, Colorado, Utah and Nevada and, of course, New Mexico. Homesteaders arriving to Southwest New Mexico in the mid 1800s met a landscape unlike that of the eastern states. The topography of the state is a mixture of mesas, plateaus, valleys, several mountain ranges and hundreds of canyons and usually dry arroyos. Grant County lies in a zone of transition between the vast and open arid high desert landscapes to the south and east, and the Gila forest and mountainous regions to the north and the west. Our unique topography provided ample and varied resources for homesteaders arriving in the region, but also limited the scope in which they could operate.

      Homesteaders in the 1800s found that large scale agricultural operations were impractical due to the dryness of the state. Since federal homestead laws were written with farming in mind, they had to be adjusted in various ways with the recognition of limited agricultural productivity in much of the region. Throughout the entire west, millions of acres of available land was not homesteaded due to lack of resources for agriculture. Much of the arid land was either too high in altitude or received inadequate water, making it more suitable for livestock grazing.  Realizing that natural factors made Grant County well suited to support ranching, many homesteaders became involved in the livestock industry, setting the stage for a cattle boom in the 1880’s.

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