Power, Prestige, and Politics – The Sixteen Surveyors General of New Mexico

The U.S. Land Office was an intensely political one, and the office of surveyor general was so important, that when President Cleveland in May 1885 gave George W. Julian the choice between it and that of governor of New Mexico Territory, Julian chose the former as the more desirable of the two. Following are short biographies of the sixteen men who held the office of Surveyor General of New Mexico from its inception in 1854 until it was abolished in 1925. All of them had interesting careers as surveyors, engineers, lawyers, military officers, a medical doctor, and above all as politicians. Thirteen of them stemmed from east of the Mississippi River and only the last one, Manuel Sanchez, was a native New Mexican (Llewellyn was brought to New Mexico as an infant); but eight are still here, a part of our soil forever. I have made no attempt to describe their tenure; that you can find elsewhere, notably in the books of Victor Westphall and Malcolm Ebright. Instead I have attempted to put a little color on what otherwise might only be black-on-white names and signatures on old land office documents. The tenure dates shown are approximate (in parenthesis after name); there often was a delay of several weeks, sometimes months, between the date of appointment and the date of taking up duties in Santa Fe.

William Pelham (1854-1860) An act of Congress created the office of surveyor general of New Mexico Territory on July 22, 1854 and ten days later William Pelham was appointed to occupy it. His life I have described at length in previous columns (BENCHMARKS: Jan. and Mar. 1999) and will give here only a greatly condensed version.

He was born on April 10, 1803 on a farm on the banks of the Ohio River in Mason County, Kentucky. The eights of eleven children, he started his surveying career in the mid 1820s as chainman for his brother Charles who was a deputy U. S. surveyor in Batesville, Arkansas. In 1831 he married Mary Ann Conway of the politically powerful Conway family (two brothers became governors of Arkansas). Mary Ann also was a niece of William Rector, who since 1816 was surveyor general of Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas. Political connections made it possible for Pelham to obtain choice surveying contracts, occupy various offices in state government, and gained him in 1841 an appointment as surveyor general of Arkansas. He served two four-year terms until 1849.

In 1850 he moved to Travis County, Texas, where he bought a farm and became postmaster at Manchaca Springs. There his wife and children remained while he served as surveyor general in Santa Fe. Frustrated by having his recommendations continuously ignored by his superiors in the General Land Office, he resigned his office on August 29, 1860. He surveyed in New Mexico for another year, but after having been arrested and incarcerated on suspicions of being an agent of the Confederacy, he left Santa Fe in April 1862 to return to his farm near Austin. The remainder of his life he devoted to farming and stock-raising. He died at his home at Manchaca Springs on June 8, 1879 and is buried in historic Oakwood Cemetery in Austin.

Alexander P. Wilbar (1860-1861) was born about 1825 in Alexandria, Virginia, the son of a hatter. He had first come to the Southwest in the fall of 1850 in a select advance party with John Russell Bartlett, the controversial commissioner of the International Boundary Commission, whose job it was to establish the GuadalupeHidalgo treaty line, and whose bungling of the location of the south boundary of New Mexico was only resolved by the Gadsden Purchase three years later. Wilbar was listed as an assistant surveyor and was assigned to the party that surveyed the Rio Grande from Paso del Norte to the Gulf of Mexico, a survey that was entirely under the control of William H. Emory.

When the public land surveys got underway in New Mexico in the spring of 1855, Wilbar went to Santa Fe to work as a chainman for U. S. deputy surveyor John W. Garretson. Later he contracted on his own for surveys of the public land and eventually he became Pelhams chief deputy. Upon the latters resignation he followed him into office. Sympathetic to the cause of the South, his job as surveyor general lasted barely a year, when he was forced out of office on a politically motivated charge of extravagance by the incoming Lincoln administration. On April 7, 1862 he left Santa Fe with the retreating Confederate invaders. Wilbar may have had a wife and children in San Antonio, were he remained for the duration of the war, even though there is some evidence that he joined Bairds Texas cavalry. He died in Los Angeles in early 1876.

John Anderson Clark (1861-1868) was born the son of a physician on February 20, 1814 in Delhi, Delaware County, New York. When he was nine years old his family took him to Monroe, Michigan, where Johns father stopped practicing medicine to become employed with the General Land Office. An elder brother had received an education in especially accurate surveying and worked as a surveyor for GLO. John joined him on GLO contracts in Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois. In October 1838 he married Irish born Anna Jane Kyle and settled in Freeport, Illinois, a frontier town near the Wisconsin state line and seat of newly established Stephenson County. The couple eventually had nine children. During the 1840s he was clerk of the circuit court, served as county recorder and treasurer, and speculated in real estate. Together with a younger brother he began to read law and in 1850 was admitted to the bar. He served two terms as Alderman and practiced Probate and office law. Financially ruined in the Panic of 1857, he served seven years as Surveyor General of New Mexico and following, briefly of Utah. In 1869 he accepted an offer to work as land commissioner for the Missouri River, Fort Scott and Gulf Railroad Co. in Kansas City, Missouri, where he died of cancer on August 5, 1881.

Clarks legacy to New Mexico is some two thousand pages of diaries he kept during his tenure, which his grandson Robert Clark donated in 1966 to the Fray Anglico Chvez History Library in Santa Fe.

Benjamin Clarke Cutler (1868) was a twenty-eight-year-old 1st Lieutenant in General James H. Carltons California Column when he first stepped onto New Mexico soil in early August 1862. Carlton came too late to whip the Texans but stayed to help prevent their return. Almost all members of the California Column were natives of other states who had gone to California during the gold rush.

Cutler was a New Yorker, born in Brooklyn about 1834, the son of the rector of St. Annes Episcopal Church. By 1863 he was captain and assistant adjutant general in Santa Fe, whence he directed the troops in a campaign against the Navajo and Apaches, and also served as Military Secretary of State. Mustered out in 1865 he emulated nearly four hundred of his erstwhile comrades who decided to make New Mexico their home. Since not later than August 1864 he lived in Las Vegas (N.M.), where he had bought a half-interest in the Exchange Hotel, where he turned his attention to the development of the area, helping to establish the first telegraph line between Las Vegas and Santa Fe.

When Clark became surveyor general of Utah, Cutler was appointed to the vacancy. Cutler had been in office only about two months when he died on October 18, 1868 after an illness of only six days. He had been so popular in Santa Fe that for his funeral the plaza was draped in black. Governor Mitchell eulogized him at a public meeting held for that purpose in the Hall of the House of Representatives, mourning one of her [New Mexicos] most useful and honest public officers. He is buried in Santa Fes National Cemetery.

Dr. Thomas Rush Spencer (1869-1872) took charge of the land office on May 15, 1869. Like his predecessor he was destined to die in office and to join him in Santa Fes National Cemetery (both men were originally buried in the Masonic Cemetery).

Rush Spencer was a native of Ontario County, New York where his father was a professor of medicine at Geneva College. Rush was born December 2, 1818, studied medicine and married at an early age. Widowed in 1849 he married again two years later and turned his attention towards land and politics. By 1858 he was receiver in the U. S. Land Office in Bayfield, N.Y. During the Civil War he distinguished himself as medical director and earned praise for saving many lives as a surgeon in the battle of Williamsburg (May 5, 1862).

In New Mexico he was the first of three surveyors general who administered the office for their private benefit. He became a front man for a British conglomerate that purchased the Maxwell grant. Yet he was in ill health much of the time and died on June 19, 1872, leaving behind his second wife Mary and two young daughters.

James Kerr Proudfit (1872-1876) was born the son of a merchant on July 24, 1831 in Argyle, New York. Proudfit went to Madison, Wisconsin and in 1854 was part owner of the paper The Wisconsin Democrat. At the outbreak of the Civil War he joined the 12th Wisconsin Infantry, where he advanced quickly to the rank of colonel. In Grants Army of the Tennessee he became a brevet general, a fact that Grant apparently remembered when he was in the White House and made appointments for government offices. After the war Proudfit was one of Madisons leading citizens, served as senator in the state legislature and was general agent for the Madison Mutual Insurance Co.

After he resigned as surveyor general of New Mexico in 1876 he moved to Wyandotte County, Kansas and became a stockman. Later he lived in Leavenworth and in Kansas City, where he died on May 30, 1917.

Henry Martyn Atkinson (1876-1884) was born on September 9, 1838 in Wheeling, Virginia [since 1863 West Virginia]. While still in his teens he went to Nebraska Territory and became a pioneer settler in Brownville, a town on the Missouri River in the southeastern corner of the state. His first government appointment was that of enumerator for the 1860 U. S. Census in which he described himself as a broker. In 1862 he enlisted in the 2nd Nebraska Cavalry and served with the rank of colonel adjutant until March 1863. In 1867 he became a receiver in the Brownville office of the Nemaha Land District. He was one of the incorporators of the Fort Kearney & Pacific R.R. Co., and when construction started in 1870 he was given the honor of ceremoniously driving the first spike into the first tie. He also was a member of the board of the First National Bank of Brownville. An astute politician, it did his career no harm when in 1865 he married Kate Tipton, the only daughter of Nebraskas first U. S. Senator (1867-1875) Thomas W. Tipton.

Atkinson used the office of surveyor general to engage in land speculations and was a member of several land-and-cattle companies, where he managed to amass a considerable, if not very respectable, fortune. Nevertheless he was one of only two surveyors general who completed two four-year terms (the other: Lucius Dills). Atkinson died shortly after returning to Brownville on October 17, 1886.

Atkinson had come to New Mexico a widower with an eight-year-old daughter and installed in the land office his deceased wifes brother, nineteen-year-old Will M. Tipton. Tipton became the Southwests foremost Spanish-handwriting expert, as well as a translator and compiler of Spanish land law, because of which he was appointed in 1892 as a special agent for the Court of Private Land Claims.

Clarence Edgar Pullen (1884-1885) was born in 1850 in Maines Piscataquis County where his father was sheriff and state senator in Dover. He was educated at Foxcroft Academy and studied engineering at M.I.T. As an engineer he worked in the construction of the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad, and later for the AT&SF RR in Kansas and New Mexico. Appointed by President Garfield in July 1884 Pullen served as surveyor general less than a year, a victim of incoming President Clevelands determination to clean house in Santa Fe. Pullen had liked New Mexico and praised it in a lecture he gave at Cooper Institute in December 1890: New Mexico, Historical and Picturesque, and in two articles in Harpers Weekly: The Pueblo of Acoma and Scenes about Las Vegas. His publicizing of far away and little known New Mexico received favorable attention in the eastern press, and the New York Sun was impressed enough to employ him as an editorial writer. After leaving New Mexico he lived as a journalist, writer and lecturer. A lifelong bachelor he died on October 8, 1902 in Bangor, Maine. Before he died he published a book: In fair Aroostook [Bangor, Maine, B&A RR Co., 1902] in which he expounded the Acadian and Scandinavian cultures of that northernmost county in Maine.

George Washington Julian (1885-1889) was the oldest and perhaps the most controversial surveyor general. He was appointed by President Cleveland to break up the so-called Santa Fe Ring and he worked to erase the negative reputation the office had acquired under his predecessors, primarily during the tenure of Atkinson. Although he was an honest and well-meaning man, he has been accused of having been steeped in prejudice against New Mexico, its people and their property rights [Twitchell].

Julian was born May 5, 1817 in a log cabin in Wayne County, Indiana. His ancestors were also those of President Herbert Hoover. He lost his father at the age of six and as a result had a hardscrabble childhood. He studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1840, and was elected as a Whig in the state legislature. At about the same time he began writing newspaper articles attacking slavery. From 1848-1850 he served his first term in Congress. An ardent abolitionist he was elected again in 1860 and served four terms, during which he was the chairman of the committee on public lands, where he played an important role in the passage of the Homestead Act.

In July 1887 he published an article: Land Stealing in New Mexico in the North American Review, that brought New Mexicos land problem to the attention of a national public, but is considered misguided in its assessment and pernicious in its affect. An avid writer, Julian published numerous speeches, articles, pamphlets and books until his death July 7, 1899 in Irvington, a suburb of Indianapolis.

Edward F. Hobart (1889-1893) was appointed by President Harrison and continued Julians policy of carefully examining all fieldwork and surveying returns. His administration witnessed the creation of the Court of Private Land Claims after a preposterous delay of more than four decades [Westphall].

Hobart was born in March 1835 in Colebrook, New Hampshire and studied engineering at Beloit College in Wisconsin. For a number of years he was principal of two academies and later worked as a surveyor and engineer. At the outbreak of the Civil War he enlisted as a first lieutenant in the 40th Wisconsin Infantry. At wars end and after a short period as a businessman in St. Louis he came to New Mexico where he purchased a ranch near Las Vegas, and was a merchant and postmaster at Hobart (located on the Rio Grande a short distance south of Espanola). At the same time he maintained a residence in Santa Fe, where he died on August 31, 1912. He became the third former surveyor general to be buried in Santa Fes National Cemetery.

Charles F. Easley (1893-1897) was a native of Missouri where he was born in Harrisonville on July 30, 1853. He taught school and practiced engineering, until he came to New Mexico in January 1880 to work as a surveyor for the General Land Office. He resigned his job in 1887 in order to practice land law in Santa Fe. In 1890 was admitted to the bar, and a year later elected to the New Mexico House of Representatives. While he served as surveyor general he was simultaneously mayor of Santa Fe (from 1895 to 1896). Later he became a member of the Territorial Senate and served for many years on the penitentiary commission. Easley was actively involved in many fraternal and civic organizations and was a chairman of the Territorial Democratic Central Committee. He died in Los Angeles on October 8, 1917 but lies buried in Fairview Cemetery in Santa Fe (just across from the State Highway Department).

Quinby Vance (1897-1901) was born in October 1852 in Ohio. As a young man he worked as a miner in the Leadville mining district of Colorado. He came to New Mexico in the early 1880s and was active in the Black Range mining district in and around Chloride, Hermosa and Hillsboro. A lifelong bachelor, he seems to have lived in all of these towns at one time or another, during the boisterous mining boom of the 1880s and 90s, and as late as 1910 he leased and operated mines and owned mineral claims in the area. Prior to his appointment as surveyor general he was receiver in the U. S. Land Office in Las Cruces.

An ardent free silver advocate, he was active in New Mexico politics. Because of a Congressman brother-in-law who represented President Mc Kinleys old district in Ohio he had easy access to the President. Vance visited Mc Kinley on several occasions to oppose the appointment, and later to seek the ouster, of governor Miguel Otero (1897-1906), whose job he coveted. He resigned as surveyor general in 1900 and returned to Chloride and his mining interests in the Black Range. He apparently died in 1915, but I have not been able to verify either the date or place.

Morgan O. Llewellyn (1902-1907) at age twenty-two was the youngest man ever to sit in New Mexicos surveyor generals chair. His main qualification for the job was that he had been a corporal Rough Rider in Captain George Currys troop H in the Spanish American War, even though Currys troop never left Florida. His father William H. H. Llewellyn as captain of troop G had fought under Teddy Roosevelt in the Cuban campaign. Teddy remembered and appointed all three men to important positions in New Mexico.

The older Llewellyn was employed with the Justice Department on the Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation when Morgan was born on October 18, 1879 in Omaha, Nebraska. He was brought to New Mexico as an infant in the spring of 1881 when his father was appointed Indian agent on the Mescalero Apache Reservation. In 1885 the family moved to Las Cruces where the elder Llewellyn practiced law and politics, mostly the latter. Morgan Llewellyn resigned the surveyor generals office effective January 1, 1908 in a brou-ha-ha over his part in corporate land and mineral machinations that also forced his father from his office as U. S. Attorney for New Mexico. Afterwards he practiced law in Las Cruces until two years before his death in the Veterans hospital at Fort Bayard on November 13, 1929.

John Whittier March (1908-1914) was born in Columbus, Ohio in February 1878 and studied engineering at a college in Colorado. He came to New Mexico in about 1901 to work as an engineer for the Santa Fe Central Railway. In Santa Fe he married into the prominent and influential Seligman family, and practiced surveying and engineering. Governor George Curry recommended him for the surveyor general office. He was one of the first land surveyors to become registered under New Mexicos 1917 registration act (certificate #18). March died and was cremated in Cincinnati, Ohio on July 23, 1952. His ashes are buried in Santa Fe.

Lucius Dills (1914-1922) was born July 7, 1858 on a farm in Cynthiana, Kentucky and was educated at the local Harrison and N. F. Smith academies. He studied law at Austin College in Sherman, Texas, was admitted to the bar and practiced before the Texas Supreme Court. Thereafter he was county judge in Oldham County. In 1885 he came to New Mexico to practice law at Lincoln until 1887 when he moved to Roswell to farm and to enter the newspaper business. He was a co-founder of the Roswell Weekly Record, and for a time was editor of the Roswell Morning News. From 1898 until his appointment as surveyor general he practiced surveying and engineering and served as city engineer.

While surveyor general, Dills became registered land surveyor #105 under New Mexicos 1917 registration act. In 1927 he returned to Roswell and at the time of his death on November 29, 1944 the aged jurist was serving his second term as probate judge.

Manuel Antonio Sanchez (1921-1925) was the last surveyor general, and the only native New Mexican to hold that office. Sanchez was born on April 8, 1894 at Rociada in San Miguel County. His family has been identified with the Spanish settlement of New Mexico for many generations; a grandfather served as a captain in the Federal army during the Civil War. Sanchez spend his boyhood in Mora where his father was a merchant and rancher.

After obtaining a public school education, Sanchez attended New Mexico Normal University at Las Vegas. In 1917 he graduated as a civil engineer from the School of Mines at Socorro. He enlisted in the army, but WWI ended while he was still in the officers training school. Following the armistice he worked as hydraulic engineer with the U. S. Geological Survey in Washington D.C. and later became state hydrographer in the New Mexico state engineers office. He also worked as a mining engineer in Chihuahua, Mexico.

While he was surveyor general Sanchez read law and in 1925 was admitted to the bar. That same year the surveyor general office was abolished by Act of March 3, (Stat. 1141). From then until his death on March 6, 1970 Manuel Sanchez practiced as an attorney in Santa Fe, where he was recognized as an authority on real property and mining law. He was registered as a professional surveyor under the act of 1917 (#96) as well as under the 1935 act (PE & LS 84).

After the position of surveyor general was abolished, all equipment and records were transferred to the Field Surveying Service. Since the abolishment of the General Land Office and the creation of the Bureau of Land Management in 1946, public land surveys are conducted by the various cadastral survey branches of BLM. The New Mexico state office also serves Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas, and is located on Rodeo Drive in Santa Fe.

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
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