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Valentine, Texas: Heart Land

Written by Joel Salcido.

Every February, thousands of Valentine cards from more than 20 countries pour into the Chihuahuan Desert town of Valentine. Here, in a small adobe post office, postmaster Maria Carrasco and one helper hand-stamp each card with a special Valentine’s Day postmark. The cancellation features a new design every year. The quiet town of 185 residents appears untouched by this once-a-year buzz around the post office. Maria says that the first part of February is “the best time of the year, despite the stacks of mail.”

Postmaster Maria Carrasco handles mail in the adobe Valentine Post Office. (Photo by Joel Salcido)Perhaps it was also the best time of the year for a certain hardworking Southern Pacific Railroad crew as they toiled to expand the railway eastward. Local legend says that they reached this site on February 14, 1882, and named it Valentine. The town flourished as it became a shipping point for the surrounding cattle ranches, and it soon boasted all the amenities of a western town: saloons, a general store, and a hotel. The population peaked at some 600 residents in the early 1950s.

Many residents who worked for the railroad followed their jobs to big cities like Los Angeles and Houston. Gradually, the town dwindled in population, and now its main employer is the Valentine Independent School District, which stays busy educating a student body of 54.

Every year, students in grades seven through 12 here compete to design the Valentine Post Office cancellation stamp.

This is a good place to be an artist. For example, Valentine native Boyd Elder, who returned to his hometown in 1987, creates spectacular abstract creations using holographic and colored foil, which he sells at galleries internationally. Boyd designed several album covers for the Eagles, whom he befriended as an art student in California, as well as for Jackson Browne and for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

The town’s mayor, Chuy Calderon, who also is a science teacher and a Federal Express delivery man, often thinks about how to keep the town alive. And for now, the annual deluge of Valentine’s love letters helps do just that.

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