By Robert Bennett and Dave Lewis

First of a two-part article based on the recollections of Marvin Evan Bennett. 

Late one hot afternoon in 1931 several mule wranglers were relaxing at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, when a “dude” stumbled into their midst.  “Please,” he asked, “may I have a drink of water, I haven’t had a drop since I left the North Rim.”  “But,” asked a wrangler, “the trail crossed Bright Angel Creek 19 times, why didn’t you just drink from the creek?”    “I didn’t have a cup,” he replied.

One of those wranglers was Prescott’s Marvin Bennett.  Marvin was born in 1912 in a house on Carleton Street.  His family -- ranchers, musicians, and occasional hosts to dudes -- lived in Groom Creek.  He went to Groom Creek School, and later rode on horseback to Washington School in town.  With good looks, musical ability, a gentle sense of humor and a gift for telling a  story, Marvin might have gone on to fame and riches . . .  if he had gotten a lucky break or two.  But the breaks never came and he was too busy living a good life to think about what might have been.

When he was seventeen, he went with some friends to see the Grand Canyon.  Riding around in a convertible, laughing and singing, Marvin playing his guitar, they were stopped by an official of the Fred Harvey Company.  Expecting to be scolded, they were surprised when the man said “Grab your guitar and come on in the house.”  Their host fixed them lunch and invited Marvin to come back and stay to entertain tourists.  A couple weeks later, Marvin became the first paid musical entertainer at the canyon.

His first job was to accompany a group of Santa Fe Railway executives down to Phantom Ranch to entertain them for a few days.  Marvin led a team of pack mules down the trail, his guitar on his back.  The cargo included several cases of beer the men would enjoy in the sweltering inner canyon.  It may have been the heat, the change in elevation, or the constant jostling, but by the time they started across the bridge over the Colorado, “BANG!  BOOM!,” the beer bottles began exploding.  By Phantom Ranch, there were only 3 bottles left for the Santa Fe men to fight over, and some wet, smelly mules to be cleaned up — a great start for a career as an entertainer.

There wasn’t full-time work singing and guitar playing; Marvin soon found himself working long hours as a mule wrangler, taking supplies and dudes into the canyon.  When new mules were brought in, he helped “gentle them”; some had never been ridden before and had a tendency to bite, kick and fall down -- behaviors to be discouraged in Grand Canyon mules. 

Wranglers earned $30 a month plus an extra $10 if they could entertain tourists. Wranglers did whatever they could to be entertaining.  Some told stories, recited cowboy poetry, performed rope tricks, played guitar or fiddle, sang, and even danced.  Marvin joined in with several other wranglers to form the Grand Canyon Cowboy Band.

His years at the Grand Canyon (1930 - 1935) were full of interesting people and adventures.  Around 1933, as business was picking up at Phantom Ranch, architect Mary Colter asked him and his pal Shorty to take a commercial-sized cast iron stove down to the canteen at Phantom.  Ms. Colter selected strong cedar poles, and a blacksmith crafted some swivel plates mounted on saddles.  With the poles fastened between two mules and the heavy stove suspended from the poles, Marvin, Shorty and two poor mules wrestled that stove down the trail — the trip took seven days.

Many other things Marvin and Shorty carried into the canyon required creative mule-packing:  jackhammers and an air compressor for Civilian Conservation Corps men building a trail along the river; pronghorn antelope (two bucks, six does) that were meant to start a population in the inner canyon. 

Occasionally they brought important cargo out of the canyon — when a young hiker broke her leg, Marvin and Shorty took down a mule with two huge laundry baskets slung on either side.  They loaded the young lady in one basket and Marvin hopped into the other to balance the weight as they brought her out.

Next week, the Marvin Bennett story continues in Part Two.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com for information.