AZTEC — Visitors to Saturday's Founder's Day celebration at the Aztec Museum and Pioneer Village experienced a menagerie of local pioneer history and celebrated the city's 122nd birthday.
A variety of exhibits represented pioneer life as it existed at about 1912 - butter churns, bunches of dried herbs, an apple cider press, a printing press, and the sound of fiddles and a guitar brought patrons back to a time when the region was emerging from the wild days of the western frontier.
Each year, the Aztec Museum Association chooses one family with deep roots in the community to be Pioneers of the Year. This year's honor went to Robert Oren “Bob” and Naomi Faye Rickett “Pat” Pawley. Their families helped to build this community. They raised buildings near the banks of the Animas River, farmed and worked the oil field.
“It means so much,” Donna Bird, the Pawleys' daughter, said.
Museum board member Linda Williams traced the Pawley family history in a speech.
Bob Pawley's maternal great-grandparents, John and Tina Randall, moved to Aztec on Christmas Eve 1899. John built a business at 117 S. Main Ave. The Randall Building is on the state and national historic register, and now is occupied by Felix Chavez's plumbing business.
“The Pawley chronicle is one of farming, early death and hardship - moving around looking for opportunity, abandonment, divorce and the early days with El Paso Natural Gas Co.,” Williams said. “Embodied in these two is the living history of our economic transition from agriculture to gas.”
Members of Bob Pawley's family have operated numerous businesses in Aztec, among them Aztec Motors and a laundromat. Other family members farmed the surrounding land or worked as cattlemen.
Bob and Pat met in the 1950s while she was working at a restaurant in Aztec. They were married after a year of courtship and lived at various El Paso Natural Gas Co. camps in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
They settled in a home about a mile outside of Aztec after Bob retired in 1986. They have six children, 21 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
“It's a great honor,” Bob Pawley said. “I think (the festival's) great.”
The Pawley's story, however, was only one of the numerous educational experiences featured on Saturday.
At one station, a group of children watched museum board member Angela Watkins make three types of fresh butter: jalapeno, honey almond and basil.
“The kids really enjoy it,” she said. “They watch it turn from liquid to solid and back to liquid again. It also gets kids to eat fresh herbs.”
Cub Scouts from Pack 325 demonstrated fruit and vegetable preservation techniques: canning bread-and-butter pickles in mason jars and drying apples and cantaloupe.
However, the spirit of Aztec's Founders' Day celebration is truly summed up in the unveiling of the six old soreheads. The six residents raised money throughout the year for Echo Preschool and the Aztec Public Library.
The tradition of Aztec's soreheads began in the 1960s to recognize outstanding residents and volunteers. Each year the community and participates nominate the soreheads in a friendly competition to acquire the most votes. Residents vote by donating cash to each nominee. The six that raise the most are presented with the sorehead title each Founders' Day.
“I was honored to even be nominated,” said sorehead and Superintendent of Aztec Ruins National Monument Larry Turk. “Maybe I've made some positive contribution to the community. Being a sorehead ... I look forward to doing more in the community. This is our home now. I want to make it a better place for all of us.”