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Sunday, 29 April 2012

Russell Lee: Bean Day Rodeo (Wagon Mound, New Mexico, September 1939)


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Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film
 
Riding a buffalo, Bean Day, Wagon Mound, New Mexico
 
Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film
 
Paying admission fee at Bean Day rodeo, Wagon Mound, New Mexico
 
Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film
 
Paying admission fee at Bean Day rodeo, Wagon Mound, New Mexico
 
Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film
 
Spanish-American family waiting at the gate at Bean Day rodeo, Wagon Mound, New Mexico
 
Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film
 
Cowboy on horse, Bean Day rodeo, Wagon Mound, New Mexico
 
Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film
 
Cowboy at Bean Day rodeo, Wagon Mound, New Mexico
 
Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film
 
Cowboys talking, Bean Day rodeo, Wagon Mound, New Mexico
 
Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film
 
Cowboys driving cows down rodeo grounds, Bean Day rodeo, Wagon Mound, New Mexico
 
Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film
 
Contestant at Bean Day rodeo examining saddle, Wagon Mound, New Mexico
 
Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film
 
Placing a bar behind bucking bronc to prevent his kicking while in the slot, Bean Day rodeo, Wagon Mound, New Mexico
 
Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Contestant mounting bucking bronc, Bean Day rodeo, Wagon Mound, New Mexico

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Contestant in goat-roping contest, Bean Day rodeo, Wagon Mound, New Mexico

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Cowboy running to tie calf after he had roped him, Bean Day rodeo, Wagon Mound, New Mexico

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film of original neg.

Cowboy riding a steer, Bean Day rodeo, Wagon Mound, New Mexico

Image, Source: b&w film copy neg. of print

Cowboy riding a steer, Bean Day rodeo, Wagon Mound, New Mexico (with original FSA caption card)

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Judges at Bean Day rodeo, Wagon Mound, New Mexico

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Conference of judges, Bean Day rodeo, Wagon Mound, New Mexico

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Spectators at Bean Day rodeo, Wagon Mound, New Mexico

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Spectators at Bean Day rodeo, Wagon Mound, New Mexico

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Spectators at Bean Day rodeo, Wagon Mound, New Mexico

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Spectators at Bean Day rodeo, Wagon Mound, New Mexico

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Spanish-American woman, Bean Day rodeo, Wagon Mound, New Mexico

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film
 
Spanish-American woman, Bean Day, Wagon Mound, New Mexico
 
Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film
 
Girl at Bean Day rodeo, Wagon Mound, New Mexico
 
Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Spectators at Bean Day rodeo, Wagon Mound, New Mexico

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Scene at Bean Day festival, Wagon Mound, New Mexico

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Scene at Bean Day festival, Wagon Mound, New Mexico

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Scene at Bean Day festival, Wagon Mound, New Mexico

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Remains of Bean Day festival, Wagon Mound, New Mexico

Photos by Russell Lee, Wagon Mound, New Mexico, September 1939 (Farm Security Administration Collection, Library of Congress)

19 comments:

TC said...

A native of Mora County, northeast New Mexico, where Wagon Mound is located, J Rupert (aka Alligator Hyde), writes as follows re. the top photo in this present post: "This rodeo event was part of 'Bean Days', an annual festival still celebrated in Wagon Mound, New Mexico... The butte in the background is 'Wagon Mound', a landmark for wagon trains that crossed the country on the Santa Fe Trail. There is also a town of Wagon Mound visible in the background at the base of the hills. My Grandfather settled nearby, at the small community of Levy, in about 1905 and started his family there."

J Rupert's own photo pages offer vintage views of this patch of windswept High Plains landscape captured 34 years before Russ and Jean Lee came to town to take pictures for the FSA:

Levy Homestead, northeast New Mexico, c 1905

Locals from Levy Homestead, northeast New Mexico, c. 1905

Four years after the Lees came through this part of the world, another terrific FSA photographer, John Collier, did some brilliant colour work that renders the sense of just how close this country comes to the endless deep blue sky. His views of Mora County include the eighth-, ninth- and tenth-from bottom photographs in John Collier: Church in the Sky.

And here's a contemporary view of Wagon Mound Butte and NM highway 120, overlooking Wagon Mound Town Cemetery (2010).

STEPHEN RATCLIFFE said...

Tom,

Saddle up! Good to see the Wagon Mound continues to hold its own these days.

4.29

light coming into sky above black plane
of ridge, song sparrow calling in field
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

is known with such accuracy
that, go back to this

continuum in such a way, is
meaning, variation in

silver line of sun reflected in channel,
cloudless blue sky to the left of point

Nin Andrews said...

I love that sky. I feel so exposed to the sun there--with my Scottish-French-English-Irish skin that fries in a heartbeat--but I love it.
Rodeos, on the other hand, are nuts. My doctor worked his early years in rodeo-country and said that he never wants to see another as a result of the injuries he treated . . .
Funny to think--I raised only one bull, all the rest were heifers, and that bull was really sweet. But then we ate it.

TC said...

Cultural history is crazy. I often wish "my people" had never emerged from the peat bogs. In fact when I see animals being used this way, much as we saw people being used yesterday in the carbon black plants, I am sure people are crazy.

I worked at a couple of rodeos as a kid. I can still remember the animal stink of adrenalin and fear and the barely suppressed hysteria. The only spectacles I have ever experienced that came close to that were the slaughterhouse yards to which we were taken on school field trips (OMG)... and too the bullfights I saw at local férias in Spain; the terrible fascination and disgust, there, blood and dust, and one surrealistic time, Salvador Dali descending a rope ladder to be smooched by the señoritas and then to award the ears to the matador.

But in that curious nonjudgmental Russell Lee clarity, in the high, thin air (cleanest air in the world, the locals like to say), reality just seems to stare back and say, this is what it is.

No romance in it.

(About the only kind of violent injury that did NOT figure in the triage agenda at the Trauma Center where my life was saved lately was rodeo trauma. That's the city for you.)

And then too, I think freeways and busy city streets full of furiously speeding hunks of metal are even crazier than rodeos. And even more dangerous. Surely I must be crazy.

TC said...

This was that archaic field trip destination, by the way.

And whenever I fall into this doleful train of rumination, it leads me here.

Which of course is not really a thought destination at all, so much as a sort-of no-contest philosophy.

How does the planet of the humans look from the perspective of the barnyard and the cattle pen??

Hazen said...

The ‘popular,’ as in ‘of the people,’ comes across very strong in these pictures. The festivities seem innocent of any wish for commercial gain . . . just the human impulse to want to get together to eat and talk, and maybe show the spectators piled atop the corral fence how good you were at roping and riding, which you did most other days, anyway. Even then, that way of life was changing.

TC said...

Hazen, thanks very much for holding up the common sense side of the dialogue. It's such a teeter-totter kind of thing. America, reality, the people, cruelty, simple good clean fun.

Yes, I'm sure it's true as you say that, as with San Augustine, the transitional aspect of the cultural set at Wagon Mound was what attracted Russ Lee's very sharp eye.

And I'm pretty certain it's true also that, as you say, nobody was making any money off the Bean Day activity at Wagon Mound. No advertising overhead or signboard pimping. One might figure the admission fee as what, a dime? A quarter? A paper plate of pinto beans probably came with the gate ticket.

And the fence-hangers at the gate seem to have had about as good a view as those who paid the price of admission.

TC said...

For what it's worth, here's a site celebrating 102 years of Bean Days at Wagon Mound.

Seems these days there are not as many pinto beans being grown or consumed, but perhaps in compensation (?), a whole lot of cow flesh being burnt. And of course et.

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

Really enjoyed this--looks like everybody--including the "chaps" were having a good time, back when it meant feeling good without feeling guilty about it, if you know what I mean.

Thanks again, Tom.

Hazen said...

‘ . . . furiously speeding hunks of metal are even crazier than rodeos. And even more dangerous.’

Your observation and our current sojourn in New Mexico bring Edward Abbey to mind. The clash between machine and animal, including the human animal, is the crux of his The Brave Cowboy, and the movie adaptation, Lonely Are The Brave. Both appeared a couple of decades after Lee’s Bean Day pix. In the movie, Kirk Douglas plays the cowpoke. Abbey’s story is a strong indictment of a civilization, mechanized, mindless and relentless, smashing onward, through and over everything.

dalriada9 said...

No rodeos in Scotland Tom but my father was a butcher for most of his working life I had trips to the abattoir with him and the smell of raw meat in his shop would make me feel sick Hence a vegetarian for nigh 40 years

Violence sells ... even if it is movie violence Humans have some need for it in their life or there would be no Greek Tragedy or Shakespeare to name but a few

George Mattingly said...

I worked summers on a cattle ranch in northeastern Nevada between 1964 and 1967 — mostly in the hay fields along Marys River, but one summer riding with the sods (as a steeplejack, not a cowboy: roping and tying cattle is a very special skill which I never got).

The people and landscapes in these photos brings back a rush of memories, because in basin & range country things barely changed between the 30s and the 60s.

And speaking to the comment thread re: rodeos, I can't begin to count the men broken by bulls — most of whom ended up pumping gas, sharpening buck-rake teeth, scraping hides, and of course drinking to dull the pain. Most of them couldn't even drive tractors.

TC said...

Well, it's always hard to think about, watch, face the implications of the physical violence at rodeos. For sure a lot of the human participants end up maimed. But then, their participation can only be described as voluntary, which can hardly be said of the animals. If rodeos are to Western-states chiropractors what Sierra skiing is to California orthopedic surgeons (a great source of business), then it might be said the animal deaths derived from rodeos are a boon for the glue factory. Hard to kid around about this really.

Horse killed at 2009 Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo

Horse killed at 2011 Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo

(By the by, the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo IS a commercial proposition and exists by virtue of corporate sponsorship, from Coca-Cola, Dodge, Bank of the West, Southwest Airlines & c.)

There was a time when one had cause to pay serious attention to cowboys because one lived among them. For a couple of years we lived across a dirt road and a small creek from the grave of Tom Horn, a lonesome-individualist cowboy dispatched from Earth by dirty tricks and a Cheyenne hangman. When we dwelt (for reasons that escape me now, surely they were poor ones) up atop the Divide in an atavistic little outpost named Nederland, we attended the annual rodeo as a family. The family adjudged that to be one of the sadder experiences in a life not otherwise entirely deprived of sadness. I wrote a poem about it, back then but thank gods it has since the way of 99.99% of the other poems I've ever writ, that is to say, into oblivion. (I've just spent a solid hour, by the clock, batting around the cobwebby cavern looking for it, bleeding head and all, and luckily -- no luck.)

Dal, here we've been vegetarians for nearly half a century. My wife's family experienced the Big Third Reich Rodeo. After the flight, she was raised in a strict vegetarian environment. As I've hinted I was raised in the shadow (blood-stink-plume) of the biggest slaughteryards on earth, and the undying stench lives on in my soul (as 'twere). Took me until the age of nearly thirty to put the pieces of this easy puzzle together, as I'm a bit slow. Anyhow I don't eat animals any more.

Hazen, Kirk Douglas later said that his role as that well-meaning, ill-done-by cowboy, bucking the grain of history in Lonely Are the Brave was the only "good, pure" character he had ever played.

George, I fear it may be that we shall always be sods. But indeed as you had the mixed fortune to observe just lately, I am currently holding the dubious honour of being by far the more sodden. If lonely are the brave, then ludicrous are traffic-mutilated.

And yes, Vassilis, it's not to be denied -- just about everybody at the Bean Day Rodeo appears to have been having an innocent enough good time. Though it's difficult from this side of the species-frontier-abyss to speculate on how the animals might have feeling. (It's pretty certain nobody was asking.)

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Big Third Reich Rodeo--wow, Tom. You can really say the things nobody has the words for.

TC said...

Susan,

I figure there probably aren't really any words that would truly express the sensations of panic and foreboding that might have been felt by a human being herded along in line toward the cattle shed full of Zyklon B or might be felt by the animal in the mechanical chute being herded along toward the captive bolt stunner or the dusty killing floor of the Frontier Days celebration. Or the ICU unit Sundown Zone & c. But those were simply the words that came to mind in a relatively (!) less urgent moment. Just talking to oneself to prepare one's lines for the inevitable eventuality I guess.

Robb said...

The thing that always springs to the front of my mind when I see these photos is that probably all of the adults in them are dead. And many of the children. In my mind, it ticks off: "That person is dead, this one dead, her dead, him dead ..."

Dunno why.

TC said...

Robb,

That thought has rarely been far from my mind, either, over the course of looking at (by now) maybe eighty to ninety thousand negatives from these FSA files.

The adults in these photos are obviously all gone now.

But the kids in these photos might perhaps still be among the living, and for that matter not much older than I am at present.

And recent reflections on my own ridiculous life, which over the years has included several close scrapes with mortality (three of those thanks to automobiles, the worse just a month ago, when it was a simple one-sided affair, auto vs flesh, no contest), have impressed on me how much a matter of accident it is, one way or another, whether the finish line comes late or early, in the middle of things, suddenly, or slowly.

But the kids in these FSA photos, which come from a time when I too was also either a mere gleam in the eye or else just new to the world, have no way of knowing what's coming -- any more than you or I would have known, at their age.

And what a good thing it is that they didn't, and we don't, know what's coming. A mercy, really.

But sometimes when I'm working with the photos, it hits me: yes, there are kids here who are still alive; and some of them are probably going to outlive me; and I hope they do.

But either way, the oddest thing: the photos in some impalpable but also very real way are a kind of life-extension.

Everybody in these photos, young or old, has had a kind of extended life, thanks to our attending to them now... as indeed others will attend in the future.

And even odder: I never get that feeling about the animals in the photos. They did not have names, nor what I guess are called "identities" (dubious gift perhaps); and they're just gone.

Period.

None said...

Wow. I can't believe some of the coments. This was life at the time. It was tough and people had to be tough. People didn't have the internet to entertain them. Anyway, these are fantastic glimpses of a past era. Did anyone notice the Doctor Pepper sign on the pickup paying to go in? Oh, and yes a lot of those horses had names. I know the names of the horses in my family going back 100 years.-Sage

TC said...

Thank you, Sage. It is good to be hearing from a living witness!