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New Mexico
New Mexico
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeNew Mexico - Credit: Perry-Castañeda Library

New Mexico is located in the southwest and western regions of the United States.

With a population density of 16 per square mile, New Mexico is the sixth-most sparsely inhabited U.S. state, and the south of Hidalgo, where the Parhams live, one of the least populated areas within New Mexico.

The territory of New Mexico is mostly covered by mountains, high plains, and desert. The climate is generally semi-arid to arid, although New Mexico also receives winter snow in its higher elevation in the mountains.

While Billy spends a brief period of time in the neighbouring states of Arizona and Texas, most of the novel’s U.S. setting takes place in southern New Mexico.



Abiquiu, New Mexico
Creative Commons AttributionAbiquiu, New Mexico - Credit: Larry1732
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Creative Commons AttributionAlbuquerque, New Mexico - Credit: Mike Tungate
Whiteplace, southern Hidalgo County
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumWhiteplace, southern Hidalgo County - Credit: BAlvarius (




















Ranch Life in Early 1940s New Mexico

Rancher starting out to work stock in a snowstorm, New Mexico (1943)
Public DomainRancher starting out to work stock in a snowstorm, New Mexico (1943) - Credit: Library of Congress

Ranchers would have lived a hard spare life at a time when America was only just beginning to recover from the Depression. It would have been even harder in southern Hidalgo Country, a region not known for nothing as the Big Empty.

New Mexico had been among the poorest states in the Union in the 1920s and it went from bad to worse with the onset of the Depression. American farms and ranches were hit particularly hard with over one million American families losing their farms between 1930 and 1934.

 Southwesterners, though, have always held a reputation for being hardworking and frugal, priding themselves on a history of self reliance. New Mexicans like the Parhams would very much consider themselves heirs to a pioneering tradition.

The Parhams own a cattle ranch and daily duties would involve rounding up cattle, feeding and caring for the livestock and horses, and various other duties. They would work long hours on an often physically demanding job.

Not an easy life, then, but one Billy Parham was born to and clearly loves, making the passing of that way of life in the novel so much more poignant.


Rancher's five-year-old son out on the range with his father
Public DomainRancher's five-year-old son out on the range with his father - Credit: Library of Congress
Winter feeding on cattle ranch
Public DomainWinter feeding on cattle ranch - Credit: Library of Congress
Ranching family at supper
Public DomainRanching family at supper - Credit: Library of Congress