Born into a wealthy family, she married one of the “Big Four” railroad developers, supporting his efforts to build the railroad and using their wealth to support charitable causes. The town of Deming was named in her honor.
Mary Ann Deming was born on November 26, 1827, the daughter of John Jay Deming, whose sawmill operation in Mishawaka, Illinois, had made him wealthy. Growing up, she attended a private seminary for girls in New York. Around 1850, she met Charles Crocker, who worked for her father’s sawmill. The couple married in November 1852 and moved to California, living first in Sacramento, where Charles opened a general store, and later in San Francisco, where they became prominent citizens. She later joined her husband in his quest to establish the railroad, while using their wealth to support many charitable causes. The town of Deming was named in her honor.
As the railroad stretched across the southwest at the end of the nineteenth century, Charles Crocker and three other co-officials–Mark Hopkins, Collis Potter Huntington, and Leland Stanford–founded what became the Southern Pacific railroad line (originally the Central Pacific Railroad). The four men became known as the “Big Four” for their work in building the railroad, which formed the western portion of the first transcontinental railroad in North America.
Preferring flatter topography, railroads were often laid through the areas of New Mexico where geography allowed and where water could be found. The railroads greatly changed the economies of the state—settlements along the railroad could serve the needs of the railroad and passengers through hotels, restaurants, and other services, while providing access to transportation for shipping goods or cattle. Not surprisingly, communities frequently developed around the railroad or existing communities moved closer to a line. The railroad also established station stops along the way, which often developed into their own communities.
Railroad officials sometimes named communities along their routes. Such is the case with Deming. A small settlement, New Chicago, near present-day Deming already existed when the railroad arrived in late 1880. When the railroad arrived, that settlement moved closer to the line, and Charles Crocker gave the new settlement his wife’s family name, which it retains today–Deming.
An account of the founding of the new city of “Deming” appears in the Deming Graphic of May 6, 1903:
“[The residents of the former tent camp] folded their tents…and…silently stole away and by night of the following day about November 15, 1881, a city of canvas sprang into existence along the line of the SP right of way with this business center about where now stands the office of the El Paso & Southwestern Railway and resembling in any particulars as to architecture and leading citizens the ex town of New Chicago. A new town was born and it was christened Deming in honor of the family of one of the promoters of the great SP system. Within a very short time after the SP had come to, and passed beyond this point, the AT&SF made the junction and although its surveyors and graders kept on across the SP tracks and into the west, all about as to where the big town was to be was set to rest.” (Deming Graphic, May 6, 1903)
On March 8, 1881, officials of the Southern Pacific and the Santa Fe Railroads arrived from Kansas City and pounded a silver spike into the ground in Deming to connect their lines. A short time later, on April 11, 1881, the Deming post office officially opened.
Mary Ann Deming Crocker and the Crocker family became generous benefactors, using their wealth to support many charitable causes. She passed away on October 27, 1889. It is not known for certain whether Mary Ann Deming Crocker ever visited her namesake town of Deming.
Julyan, Robert. The Place Names of New Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998.
Luna County Historical Society. The History of Luna County. Deming, NM: The Luna County Historical Society, Inc., 1978.
Myrick, David F. New Mexico’s Railroads: A Historical Survey. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1990.
White, James W. The History of Luna County Post Offices. n.p., 2004.
Miscellaneous files and clippings:
San Mateo Times. August 12, 1994.
Pioneer histories – Charles Crocker and Mary Ann Deming Crocker (from the files of the Deming Luna County Museum)
Letter, Southern Pacific Company to Mrs. Georgia K. Fields, March 3, 1947 (from the files of the Deming Luna County Museum)