By Ryn Gargulinski
For a 125-mile wilderness trek on horseback that reenacted Billy the Kid’s last ride, Fort Sumner fourth-grader Alicia Smith said she would have packed her Game Boy. Several students in Capitan teacher Tanya Hargrave’s class said a portable TV would be their choice.
The real-life riders who actually took the journey were a tad more practical as the students found out Wednesday. The students met up with the modern-day cowboys at Fort Sumner’s National Monument following their eight-day journey from Lincoln to De Baca counties.
In its fifth year, this annual reenactment attracts a dozen or so riders, many of whom don’t make it to the end. Five riders made it all the way this year, and several others accompanied them to the finale event in Fort Sumner.
This year the trail ride also attracted three fourth-grade classes — two from Capitan and one from Fort Sumner — who were part of the pilot school program devised by organizer Peggy Burton. The students took field trips to Lincoln and Fort Sumner, followed a two-week lesson plan, and were able to hear first-hand what the week-long ride entailed for the real-life cowboys and cowgirls.
Bad weather was the worst offender, most of the riders agreed, with cold and wet so penetrating that tarps and extra blankets barely did the trick.
The group of more than 50 children encircled the riders, some students raising their hands so heartily that it caused them to stand.
Hargrave said her class spent weeks studying the Santa Fe trail, reading books on the Wild West, and learning about horses.
All three classes also kept journals on what it would be like to undertake this journey themselves.
Fort Sumner teacher Robin Simmons said his students chose to eat skunk, bear and rattlesnakes. “They thought it would be cool to eat a rattlesnake,” he said.
The real-life riders subsisted on food served from cooks who drove from one overnight campsite to the next with portable showers, latrines, a big breakfast and sack lunches.
The students were eager to know about the wildlife the riders witnessed — porcupines, jack rabbits, “and one unicorn,” joked Rex Buchman, a De Baca county agent who said he took the ride to relive history.
Second-time rider Borish, 70, who was the oldest rider of the bunch, also agreed with the youngest rider, Santa Rosa’s Anna Garliss, 15, as to why they rode Billy’s trail. They did it to test their limits, see just what they could accomplish, and, yes, to even amaze themselves.