Magdalena is located in a mineral-rich area which became a center of silver mining in the 1860s. In 1885, a railroad was built to the smelter in Socorro, and Magdalena became an important railhead for cattle, sheep and ore.

The first non-Indians known to be in the Magdalena area were a small party of Spanish soldiers and a priest. This small group left the Spanish army in 1540 and turned west. They were harrassed by Indians.

Hot by day, cold by night, the group sought shelter and discovered a mountain with a face. The face of a woman looks to the blue skies of New Mexico. It reminded them of their home in Spain and they called the mountain "La Sierra de Maria Magdalena," after Mary Magdalene. Though the area was named, no attempt was made to colonize it during the early Spanish rule.

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