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One-time Las Vegas mayor documented Native Americans

Harmon Percy Marble, known as H.P. Marble, became the mayor of Las Vegas during one of the weirder periods of Las Vegas politics. It was just one of many careers he had, and it isn’t the main reason he is remembered.

Marble was born in Nebraska in 1870. He began working in the newspaper business at age 14, and in 1897, he founded his own paper, The Humboldt Leader, in Humboldt, Neb.

In 1910, he was appointed by the state’s senators to represent Nebraska in a commission to determine the competency of the Omaha Indians to govern and support themselves. For the two years he investigated the Omaha Indians, his wife, Myrtle, and daughter Zora ran the paper in his absence.

He was then appointed to serve in the Indian Service with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and sold his paper. His family followed him on assignment, living among the Navajo Indians in Arizona, the Menominee in Wisconsin, the Sioux in South Dakota and the Southern Pueblos in New Mexico.

“He became one of the best informed men in the government service on Indian affairs and handled many difficult situations during the years of this assignment,” it stated in his Feb. 3, 1945, Las Vegas Review-Journal obituary.

During this period, which spanned 1910-26, he was an avid photographer, shooting many photos of Native Americans. What his pictures lacked in artistic and technical skill they made up for by capturing the everyday lives of Native Americans.

He was not an outsider, getting them to pose in their most striking outfits for the tourists. He lived and worked among them, and historians can look to his photos for the unvarnished reality of the time. The photos are his greatest claim to fame.

In 1926, he left the Indian Service and moved to Long Beach, Calif., where he and his wife operated a cigar shop. In 1928, they moved to Las Vegas to be near Zora and work with her husband, Archie Grant, in his Ford dealership.

Grant and Marble were involved in several civic and business organizations, and in 1934, Marble was appointed to the Las Vegas Board of City Commissioners to fill an unexpected vacancy. The board was the equivalent of today’s Las Vegas City Council.

In 1935, Leonard Arnett was voted mayor in an election that also included a landslide vote to take municipal ownership of a local power company. Other Las Vegas utilities began several years of legal wrangling to prevent the takeover, fearing they would also be forced to hand over their companies.

Arnett was a leading proponent of municipal takeover until he was granted a 60-day leave of absence from mayoral duties due to “ill health” in February 1938. Several weeks later, it was discovered that he moved to Petaluma, Calif., where he had purchased a large chicken ranch. Years later, when Review-Journal reporter John Cahlan was interviewed about the situation, he noted that there was a persistent rumor that Arnett had been bought off.

“As far as people who knew him knew, he did not have that kind of money,” Cahlan said.

Following an ultimatum from the commissioners, he declined to return to his post, and H.P. Marble succeeded him, becoming the city’s 11th mayor.

The sudden exit of Arnett pushed the issue of municipally owned power plants to the back burner for a while. Marble lost the 1939 election to John L. Russell, who took up the call for municipal takeovers of utilities and led many other sweeping changes.

Infighting between Russell and his city’s four commissioners led to a situation in which the commissioners resigned and were later told by the city attorney that their resignations didn’t meet procedure. After that, they retracted their resignations.

In the meantime, Russell had appointed new commissioners, and for several weeks, two parallel groups of commissioners and two mayors met at opposite ends of the same room.

Marble continued working at his son-in-law’s dealership until his death. Grant became chairman of the Las Vegas Housing Authority when it was created in 1947 and worked on the city’s first low-income family housing development, in the area bounded by Washington Avenue, H Street, McWilliams Avenue and N Street. It was named Marble Manor in honor of his father-in-law, who entered politics without being elected and became mayor the same way.

Contact East Valley View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at ataylor@viewnews.com or 702-380-4532.

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