A new exhibit at the Museum explores the dramatic transformation of life in the Tularosa Basin in the 1940s and beyond.
“Home on the Range: From Ranches to Rockets” stretches through two galleries and will be on display from October 25 through January 15, 2021. The free opening reception is from 5-7 p.m. on Nov. 7. The evening, which will include hors d’oeuvres, also features a talk by Jim Eckles, retired director of the Public Affairs Office at White Sands Missile Range. He is the author of the book, “Pocketful of Rockets.”
In this exhibit, visitors will learn about ranch life in the Tularosa Basin and the surrounding mountains, and how events taking place halfway around the world brought about changes that for many ranchers were permanent.
While ranchland being transitioned into U.S. government property wasn’t uncommon, the story this exhibit tells is uniquely New Mexico because of the scope of the testing 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 arrived during a particularly wet climactic period and that raising cattle would not be as profitable as they once believed, according to the Museum’s History Curator, Leah Tookey. The challenging, and sometimes rewarding, lifestyle these ranch families chose changed 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 remove their 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 the country’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 Eckles, co-curator of the exhibit with Leah Tookey.
The exhibit features everything from replica structures that include a ranch house, tool shed, and a military block house, to items as big as a V-2 rocket engine and a Loki Dart rocket, and as small as toys and kitchen utensils. Interactive activities for children include games, making paper rockets and feeling the texture of mohair.