It may well be that there are as many reasons to avoid talking about the strangeness of New Mexico as there are reasons to talk about it.
As conversational subject matter, New Mexico’s ghost and UFO stories can make a person seem crazy or gullible. Sharing vague rumors and yet-to-be-researched legends can cast a person as ignorant or dreamy, while bringing up serial killers and bizarre fatalities can make almost anyone seem death-obsessed and morbid. And then there are some subjects that just make us look bad, make us feel bad, force us to recognize things about ourselves or our state that we are ashamed of, that we would rather not acknowledge at all.
For instance, in most New Mexico counties today, for only twelve dollars, a person can obtain a permit to hide an unlimited amount of steel traps on public land, on almost any piece of public land, so long as their traps are more than twenty-five yards away from any existing trails or roads. Some of these traps are designed to crush the heads of the animals that stumble into them, others are designed to slam shut on or even break animals’ limbs, and to hold the animals in place for hours, days, weeks, injured and starving.
Hikers, dogs, and children could step into these traps just as easily as foxes or bobcats could, and yet New Mexico’s over seven hundred trappers aren’t required to post a single warning sign or notify any local authorities regarding their placement.
In Alamogordo, in an even more unbelievable example, locals get together every April to round up every rattlesnake they can find, throw them into trashcans and buckets and cardboard boxes, and then kill and skin many of them to cook up and sell to the public. Those snakes that aren’t killed are goaded and harassed into striking at objects for the amusement of onlookers; vendors sell balloons which can be dropped into snake pits for the snakes to attack, and snakes are kicked along the floor or dropped while being used in tricks. On average about two thousand people a year attend this event, the Alamogordo Rattlesnake Roundup—which is combined with a craft exhibit and a gun show—and over half of those collecting snakes admit to taking theirs from public lands. These snake hunters have gathered as many as one thousand snakes every year since 1986, mostly western diamondbacks, and as most of these rattlesnakes are not listed as endangered species, the area’s Game & Fish representatives do nothing to protect them.
A third form of what many consider to be legalized animal abuse has been featured in the news quite a bit lately—cockfighting. New Mexico and Louisiana remain the last two states in America where gamblers and enthusiasts can still legally congregate to watch two roosters fight to the death. These fights are held in circular pits, and the birds involved usually wear metal spurs attached to their legs, to inflict deeper and more serious wounds on their opponents. According to Alan Dundes’s The Cockfight: A Casebook, such fights likely originated somewhere in southeast Asia several thousand years ago. The first chickens to come to New Mexico most likely arrived with the 1598 expedition led by the Spanish colonizer and explorer Don Juan de Oñate, and with those chickens would have been the first New Mexican roosters and perhaps the first New Mexican cockfights. Today, many New Mexico counties have outlawed cockfighting, and the New Mexico Legislature is currently seriously considering enacting a statewide ban on it, despite loud protests from many New Mexicans who consider it a tradition.
Activists continue striving to end the Alamogordo Rattlesnake Roundup as well—with protests against it every year, online petitions, and an upcoming documentary on the subject—and the group Animal Protection of New Mexico actively campaigns against legalized trapping on our public lands. The ends of all of these practices might just make our state a little less strange, but they might also help make it a place we could be just a little prouder of.
The best part of ending these practices, however, would be that they would allow us all to feel as if we’ve contributed to something good and moral without the majority of us having to actually make any changes in our lives. Some people might not have as much fun at their next gun show, a handful of trappers won’t be able to satisfy their penchants for killing, and various rural New Mexicans will suddenly have to worry about their rooster fights being raided and their roosters euthanized—but for most of us, nothing will change but the headlines. These are causes we can get behind, because unlike bills that threaten to drastically reform the typically deplorable living conditions of the chickens that lay our eggs or the cows that provide our beef—these causes won’t, most likely, raise the price of our breakfast foods, force us to reexamine the ways we eat and shop, or affect us personally in any way. These are causes that deserve our lip service, causes we can wholeheartedly support without fear of having to make any changes for ourselves.