WARNING! This post is about our visit to a taxidermy museum, so if you have a strong aversion to taxidermied animals, please don’t click through!

The Bolack Museum of Fish and Wildlife was strongly recommended to Cory and myself by a local, so we decided to check it out. We honestly had no clue what we were getting ourselves into, and it was a rollercoaster of emotions.

 The man himself

Tom Bolack was a prominent citizen of Farmington, and an oilman, rancher, and politician. At one point he served as Governor of New Mexico for just one month, in a shady political deal. The elected governor at the time resigned, which made Bolack (current Lieutenant Gov.) the interim governor. That original governor? He had just lost his reelection and rather than finishing out his term, resigned to have Bolack appoint him to fill a newly available US Senate seat. Thus, Bolack’s quick run as governor of New Mexico.

Bolack is the idealized version of the self-made Western man. He worked his way into his wealth, starting with next to nothing and ending as a millionaire. He took a correspondence course to learn about geology, taught himself the oil business, and quite literally made something out of nothing. He prided himself on choosing poor land and turning it into profit.

His philanthropy was wide, spreading to the nearby Navajo reservation. He converted his 3,000 acre ranch into a wildlife sanctuary for more than 25,000 waterfowl.

This Sports Illustrated article from 1970 highlights the work Bolack did to spread the growth of the Navajo willow tree – even flying out  to New York himself to plant the first saplings.

Sounds amazing, right?

But one aspect of Bolack’s life doesn’t quite mesh with the rest. Bolack was an avid hunter. And by avid, I mean he shot thousands upon thousands of animals, ranging from the ordinary deer to the extraordinary “big game” animals – elephants, lions, giraffes, zebras, etc. His game spanned continents and climates, shooting rhinos, polar bears, crocodiles, and wolves.

And most of these animals are available for viewing, professionally taxidermied and artfully displayed at the Bolack Museum of Fish and Wildlife, contained in the former home of Tom Bolack, and located on the previously mentioned wildlife sanctuary.

So, you can imagine the range of emotions we felt:

A huge wildlife sanctuary? Great!

Home to over 4,000 taxidermy animals, most of which were shot for sport? Not so great.

Animals displayed regionally, with backdrops demonstrating their climate? Pretty cool, given the context.

As we were taken through the museum, our guide explained how the museum started. Bolack combined his love of sports hunting with his philanthropic ventures – school children were brought in to see wild animals from all over the world, most of which they had never heard of or seen.

I don’t remember ever having a moment of shock, during my childhood, seeing a wild animal in person that I had only read about.

Because, having grown up a stone’s throw from the San Diego Zoo, and spending summers at the Wild Animal Park, I experienced these animals vibrant and living.  I saw zebras and elephants and mountain goats and bears before I even knew what they were.

Taken in that context, it’s hard to judge the museum. Would I prefer these to be living, to be wild and free? Sure. But given the circumstances, it’s a unique way to bring the world’s wildlife to a region that may never experience it.

If you want to take a look at the pictures, click through: 

Note: In the 80s, Bolack suffered a stroke, yet continued his safaris by wheelchair.

The majority of the animals were shot by Bolack himself, while several were sent to the museum to display. A small percentage died of natural (or wild) causes.

Some of my favorites:

 

This baby elephant was not shot by Bolack. Instead, he came across the mother, shot by poachers and discarded after the “important” pieces were taken. This stillborn baby was left inside the belly, and Bolack received permission from the local game wardens to prepare the small elephant for taxidermy. 

Please note the warthog popping out of the wall!

The mythical jackalope!

We were told that the necklaces hanging in this croc’s mouth were found inside his belly – indicating he had eaten eight women!

Honey badger don’t care.

And, just to show there was some sign of actual life, a chicken! Walking!

 

On a lighter note, I’m trying out a new slideshow feature. What do you think? Click on the image to move to the next photo, or you can press play!

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Baby elephant

Baby elephant

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You lookin' at me?

You lookin' at me?

Note the warthog (?) popping out of the wall!

Note the warthog (?) popping out of the wall!

I believe this was an anaconda skin!

I believe this was an anaconda skin!

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Animals ranged from the very large to the very small

Animals ranged from the very large to the very small

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Such luscious locks

Such luscious locks

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IMG_8943IMG_8946Baby elephantIMG_8949IMG_8959IMG_8961IMG_8968IMG_8970You lookin' at me?Note the warthog (?) popping out of the wall!I believe this was an anaconda skin!IMG_8984Animals ranged from the very large to the very smallIMG_8989Such luscious locksIMG_8993IMG_8997IMG_9001IMG_9002IMG_9004IMG_9005IMG_9007IMG_9010IMG_9014IMG_9018IMG_9023IMG_9031IMG_9032

 

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4 Responses to Bolack Museum of Fish and Wildlife – Farmington, NM

  1. Carl Stone says:

    I lived in NM for a long time and the Bolack museum was one of my favorite spots. I know that being a city kid from a much younger generation than my own you will never underestand hunting. I won’t presume to explain it to you either as I thought your post was fairly open minded for one having your world view. Suffice it to say, hunting meshed perfectly with the rest of the man that Tom Bolack was. Big game animals are a renewable resource that provides a reliable income for folks in many parts of the world who otherwise might be involved with blood diamonds or drugs. And that big croc ate more than eight. The necklaces were just from the maidens. It’s doubtful that its diet did not also include older men and women that ventured too near the water, and young boys, too. They just didn’t leave any evidence behind. Shame you didn’t make it down to the Bisti Badlands just south of Farmington, to wander through the hoodoos.

  2. lindsay says:

    Hi Carl! Thanks for your comment. The museum definitely made it clear how respectful Tom Bolack was of the hunting world, and appreciative for all it had to offer.

    I’m glad you found my post to be fair-minded – I hoped to convey the difference in viewpoints and accessibility.

    No matter your take on hunting, the Bolack Museum is extremely impressive!

  3. Karen says:

    Tom was married to my dad’s sister, Alice… so we traveled from Kansas to see them about once a year… They originally had the animals in a small house with a game room added onto it in Farmington… Imagine playing games with my cousins in a room with a stuffed leopard climbing a tree, and other big animals! Then, they made the B-Square ranch…and it had the huge bears and elephants by the big fireplace… My cousins and I used to lay on the bear rugs and sit on the footstools and furniture “throws” made from animals… The scariest to me, was a big hawk that had a rabbit in its talons, mounted on the ceiling above the banquet table, and at the time the “world’s largest” polar bear hovering above me!!
    In the early 50′s, hunting was viewed differently then it was later…and I think Tom had killed a majority of the animals before the 60′s were over… I know he was requested to come hunt some animals that were killing people… There was a “lame” tiger, who preyed on people since it was not able to hunt… and it had evidence that indeed was a “man-eater”… My aunt sat on the stuffed tiger, and my brother took a picture of her on the tiger… when Tom saw the picture, he got angry, because the animals are fragile when stuffed… The last time I visited was in the mid-70′s, and by that time, Tom, and his son, Tommy, had worked on preserving animals and had a menagerie of live animals hanging around. As time had progressed, Tom also was into planting trees and always was growing crops and showing people how to farm… I would love to see the museum, but I have seen pictures!! Thank you for your blog about it!! Thanks, Karen

    • lindsay says:

      Karen,

      Thank you for your wonderful comment! What great memories.

      You should definitely try to make a trip out to the museum. I think you would love the displays, and hearing the stories of each animal again!

      I am glad to hear you enjoyed the post. Whatever your stance on hunting, it is clear that Mr. Bolack had a great respect for the animals, as well as a dedication to help improve his community.

      Thanks,
      Lindsay

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