The Marmon Brothers of Laguna

"He never seemed much interested in returning to Ohio.
He had learned to speak Laguna."
Leslie Marmon Silko*

When I dig into heir lives, the practicioners of the surveying profession never cease to amaze me. This was supposed to be an article on Walter G. Marmons survey of Albuquerque of which I first read more than thirty years ago in Eldred Harrington’s "Albuquerque" [in: An Engineer Writes, Calvin Horn, Publ. Albuquerque, 1967]. Dr. Harrington mentions "Colonel Marmon" as the man who established the new townsite of Albuquerque alongside the approaching railroad tracks and in the process named its downtown streets. He erroneously called Marmon a railroad engineer and native of New York, while in my own research I found him to be a lifelong surveyor and prominent resident of Laguna Pueblo.

In her poetry Ms. Silko is speaking of her great-grandfather Robert G. Marmon but the lines would also fit Robert’s older brother Walter. The two brothers were natives of Logan County, Ohio, where Walter was born in 1845 and Robert in 1848. Orphaned at an early age they studied engineering at Northwestern Ohio Normal School in Lebanon (Robert for fifteen months). When the Civil war broke out Walter enlisted as a private and by war’s end was a 1st lieutenant in the 2nd Ohio Heavy Artillery. At that time the seventeen-year-old Robert was already teaching school in Harden County.

Walter Gunn Marmon came to New Mexico in 1869 as a surveyor with Ehud N. Darling. A year earlier Darling had surveyed the 37th parallel boundary of New Mexico and he now had a contract to survey the newly proclaimed [June 1, 1868] Navajo Indian Reservation. In 1870 Marmon and Darling made a preliminary survey for an Atlantic & Pacific Railway route from Albuquerque to the Arizona line and it was then that he became acquainted with Laguna Pueblo and decided to settle there. When in 1871 he became a teacher in Laguna it was in the first government school among any of the pueblos.

His brother Robert Gunn Marmon joined him in 1872. Robert left a record of his adventurous trip to New Mexico, a journey that was financed in part by Fred Harvey of Santa Fe Railroad fame, whom he had met in Leavenworth. In Leavenworth he also became acquainted with George H. Pradt, a U.S. Deputy surveyor who was on his way to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) on a government survey and promised him employment with the General Land Office if he would join him later that year in Santa Fe.

Laguna was by no means love at first sight for Robert who later confessed, that if he had enough money he would have returned to Ohio. Walter lived in a room at the old Baptist mission were his furniture consisted of a bake oven, a frying pan and a few tin plates. There was neither chair nor bed nor anything else. The school where he taught had holes in the wall that served as windows, logs for benches, one book in the entire school and no pencils. The pupils were adult men (there were a few women) who carried babies on their backs. When Walter went on a prospecting trip to Arizona he induced his brother to become a substitute teacher with the laconic comment: Youll get used to it after a while. Robert did, and by next spring was talking Indian better than he [Walter] was.

In Laguna the Marmon brothers opened a trading post and married Laguna women. In 1877 Walter served on the Indian Council where he helped draft the Laguna constitution. Robert contracted for many years with the U.S. General Land Office, at times assisted by Walter in surveying land grants and subdividing townships, often employing Indian crews. Among others, in 1878 Robert surveyed the huge Maxwell Grant (in partnership with John T. Elkins).

The activities of the Marmon brothers in Laguna have not been without their critics. Militant" Presbyterians they established in 1875 a Presbyterian mission in in the Pueblo and succeeded to convert a significant number of the natives. The resulting cultural schism caused many of the tradition minded members of the tribe to leave the pueblo and settle elsewhere. When in 1880 Robert was chosen governor of Laguna he became the first non-Indian to hold that office in any Keresan pueblo. In 1886 Walter was likewise chosen governor.

Having learned to speak Laguna literally and figuratively, the Marmons were able to assist the southwestern ethnologist and historian Adolph Bandelier, who visited the pueblo in July 1882 and who wrote that: "…to my greatest delight…[Walter Marmon] gave me a good deal of valuable information.

Despite the extensive surveying activities by the Marmon brothers, both entered the history books primarily for their military exploits in the New Mexico Militia, especially Walter who became the "Old Man" of the "Marmon Battalion". Beginning in 1880 Indians were permitted to enlist as regular members of territorial militia units, and in 1882 Walter was commissioned "Captain Commanding" of a company consisting of four troops solely composed of Laguna Indians. Promotions came in quick succession and by 1885 he was colonel of the cavalry and became a key figure in the Indian campaign.

Now back to the beginning of the story and the survey of Albuquerque. In March 1880, with the railroad tracks approaching Albuquerque, officers of the AT&SF had formed the New Mexico Town Company, a real estate firm that hired Walter Marmon to "survey, mark, and name streets for the townsite." Beginning at the railroad tracks he numbered the streets from one to sixteen westward. Moving to the east side of the tracks he started with Broadway, which made Dr. Harrington believe he was a New Yorker, when in fact Broadway was intended as a firebreak to protect the brushy desert that bordered it on the east. Next came Arno who was the son of Franz Huning, one of his employers, followed by Edith and Walter, and finally High Street. By now he was so far out in the boondocks that the Town Company told him to quit, they did not believe that Albuquerque would ever grow farther to the east. The east-west streets he named after minerals, perhaps in order to celebrate New Mexicos booming mining industry. Some streets were named for his employers Huning (now Iron Avenue), Stover and Hazeltine. As surveying goes, for a man who had surveyed the remote mesa and canyon homeland of the Navajos, laying out a grid in the fields adjacent to the railroad tracks may not have been very challenging.

Despite their commercial, political and military interests the Marmons never retired from surveying. Walter literally surveyed to the last because he caught pneumonia while working on a GLO contracts and died at Ramah, New Mexico on November 11, 1899. He is buried in a small corral only a few yards from his home in Laguna Pueblo. Robert died in 1933.

While writing this story I attempted to contact Walters grandson Fred Marmon who was a New Mexico registered surveyor (LS 2031) only to learn that Fred had died in Laguna early in July 2001. I gratefully acknowledge the contribution of Lee Marmon, grandson of Robert Marmon and father of celebrated author Leslie Marmon Silko. Lees wife Kathryn published an interesting article in the August 2002 issue of the New Mexico Magazine, detailing the role of the Marmon brothers as leaders of the Laguna scouts.

George H. Pradt mentioned above became also a well known Laguna Pueblo surveyor. Like Walter Marmon he had worked for Darling and his career mirrored that of the Marmons in many respects, as a Civil War Veteran, as G.L.O. surveyor, as a militia officer, as well as a resident, governor and rancher at Laguna. A native of Pennsylvania, Pradt also served some years as Valencia County surveyor.

* From: STORYTELLER: Arcade Publishing – NY, 1981

About the Author

Fred Roeder, LS

Fred Roeder lives in Tularosa, New Mexico. He emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1957 and spent most of his surveying career in the Southwest, working for the U.S. Forest Service. Now retired, he started writing a regular column for the New Mexico Professional Surveyors Newsletter in 1988. In 1994, NMPS produced Antepasados, a book of his columns. Many surveyors are good writers, especially about technical or legal matters. However, it's not often that we find a surveyor/story-teller who can present historical facts in a manner that makes them fun to read. Fred Roeder is such a writer and we are pleased to present more than 80 of his stories here. Bibliography is a list of the books Fred used in his writings, and includes a numbered index of the articles. Index is a list of all the articles Fred has written and when. Editor's pick: The King Who Had No Title
Contact Fred Article List Below