Hubbell Trading Post
Administrative History
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In Tony Hillerman's novel Skinwalkers Navajo policeman Jim Chee drives miles through the rainy boondocks to find a hogan that belongs to the Goldtooth "outfit." Once he found the place, Chee did not pull right up to it, dismount, and knock on the door. Among conservative Navajo, such a sudden approach could be considered impolite. Instead, Chee parked a little away from the house and left his car lights on until the front door opened and a woman appeared there making the traditional welcoming motion to Chee before going back inside and leaving the door slightly ajar for him. It was details like Chee's considerate approach to the hogan that caused Dorothy Hubbell to enjoy Hillerman's novels and approve of them for showing how a Navajo would correctly react to a given situation. Her own copy of Skinwalkers is inscribed "From Tony to Dorothy. "

The Navajo like Hillerman's books because they tend to make the Navajo "look good," although real Navajo policemen maintain that Hillerman makes them look too good. In any case, if one wants to do some light reading about the Navajo, Hillerman's novels are a good place to start. He even mentions a few fictitious traders, and from all accounts he gets them right. Our own Hillerman favorites are The People of Darkness and The Dark Wind.

In mentioning Tony Hillerman, we don't feel that we are bumbling into triviality. One of our history professors at the University of New Mexico always insisted that his students not forget to look into the novels written on their particular field of study. Hillerman writes well about the country, and apparently he writes well about the people who live in the country.

During the writing of this administrative history, we embarked on a reading project that we soon discovered could have been almost endless. Although the good books written about the traders themselves can be counted on one hand, the many studies devoted to the Indians who trade at Hubbell Trading Post are legion. Locked up as they are in the middle of the United States, the Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni have been studied by every anthropologist worth his or her salt and with the bus fare to get them into Indian Country. We won't burden the reader with the titles of all the books we looked into. Instead, we'll discuss only those we feel deserve to be mentioned here. Most of these books have extensive bibliographies should the reader's interest be roused by a particular area of study.

Our own reading started--fortunately, we feel--with Frank McNitt's The Indian Traders. This book, a general history of the development of the Indian trader in the Southwest, is basic, gives the reader a good overview of the subject, and does include an account of the early years at Hubbell Trading Post. While speaking of McNitt's work, we should mention his Richard Wetherill: Anasazi. Since the Wetherills were traders to the Navajo, the book can be included here although its main thrust is the study of the Wetherills as early archeologists in the region. It's good background reading as far as the Anasazi are concerned and like all of McNitt's work is entertaining as well as informative.

At the opposite end of the pole from The Indian Traders is William Y. Adams' Shonto: A Study of the Role of the Trader in a Modern Navajo Community. Where McNitt is general and historical, Adams is modern and specific. McNitt is historian and writer, Adams a trained anthropologist who also worked in the trading post at Shonto as a trader. Adams writes with authority and a sense of humor about life at a trading post. Shonto was his doctoral dissertation. The book deserves to be read by anybody interested in the Navajo and their trading posts; it should be required reading for those who must know about the nitty-gritty of modern trading post life.

Traders to the Navajos: The Story of the Wetherills of Kayenta, by Frances Gillmor and Louisa Wade Wetherill, was informative but did not, as far as we are concerned, live up to its reputation. Written in the 1930s, it may just be starting to show its age. We found that it romanticized the role of the trader in a most irritating way. (Dorothy Hubbell: "They [the Wetherills] were after all just people.")

A valuable work by one of the old-time traders is Navajo Trader, by Gladwell Richardson, which has a forward by Barry Goldwater. Goldwater knew the Richardsons, a well-known trading family in Navajo country. From our point of view, the book seemed to be a good autobiographical look at the early days of trading post life by a literate man who knew how to whip together a good yarn. Ned Danson, who knew Richardson, told us that he found the book "interesting." Dorothy Hubbell admitted to having read Navajo Trader but would not comment beyond that, possibly because Richardson mentions a couple of amusing incidents that do not put the Hubbells in a totally good light. An interesting note on Gladwell Richardson: Starting in the 1930s and continuing up into the 1950s, Richardson wrote dozens of western novels, none of which--as far as we can determine--have survived. Navajo Trader was written late in Richardson's life and published posthumously. The book must have benefited considerably from his many years of practice on innumerable sagebrush sagas.

One well-recommended book that we did not find entirely useful was Joseph Schmedding's Cowboy and Indian Trader. That is, Schmedding was first a cowboy and then became an Indian trader, operating the post at Keams Canyon up into the 1920s. Just a few--but interesting--chapters have any relevancy to trading posts. Schmedding's raging conservatism spoils the book. As far as he is concerned, nothing was ever the same after the advent of "talkies" and ''highheeled pumps." He spends too much time lamenting the passing of the Good Old Days when men were men and women were (allegedly) too demure to notice.

An utterly charming book that we stumbled across is Earle R. Forrest's With a Camera in Old Navaholand. Forrest was a very young man in the early days of the century when he decided to adventure Way Out West and be a cowboy for the summer. He carried an unwieldy camera with him. During that summer, Forrest loaded his camera and plates on his pony and meandered down out of Colorado to a trading post in the northern part of the Navajo Nation. While there, he photographed the trader's customers who drifted in out of the hinterland. The book is a good description of life at a very remote trading post of the era and is loaded with interesting photographs. Forest returned to the Southwest many times in the following years, continuing his photography of the country and the people. The photographs are good and thousands of them were willed to the Museum of Northern Arizona. This must be an extraordinarily valuable and interesting collection.

As far as the trading posts are concerned, books on the subject, good or bad, do not cover a wide space on the shelf. The last one we will mention here is by Elizabeth Campton Hegemann, Navaho Trading Days. This book should be reviewed if for no other reason then to study with never-ending fascination its 380 photographs. The flavor of the era in the remote corners of the Nation is captured here This book does not seem to be well known; it should be.

As we mentioned earlier, books on the Indians themselves are so numerous that we will discuss only those that turned out to be the most useful to us. A few come recommended as standards, others we discovered as we poked around in libraries.

One old standby is The Navaho, by Clyde Kluckhorn and Dorothea Leighton. Originally published in 1946 (later revised), it's dated. But good. The forward, in the 1962 edition, by Stanley A. Freed, declares that The Navaho is "the most useful and authoritative general ethnology on the Navajo." Not being students of the science, we have no way of knowing whether or not that's still true. There are some anachronisms in the book. These days, one doesn't often see Navajo men got up in breechcloths and headbands. On the other hand, some Navajo women are undoubtedly still "shrewish," shrewishness not being exclusively a matter of time--…--or race, for that matter.

Our understanding of the Navajo is that they are a conservative people, although not as conservative as their neighbors, the Hopi. In any case, The Navaho is still considered to be a good general overview of Navajo ways. We feel The Navaho should be read by anybody going to spend some time in the Nation. Having studied the book, we felt more comfortable in the Nation, more like knowledgeable neighbors than ignorant strangers. The authors discuss the history of the Navajo, the land they now occupy, their government, the supernatural, their language, their view of life, and much more. It was the one good general "guidebook" to the Navajo that we came across.

A book that attempts much the same thing as Kluckhorn and Leighton's The Navaho is Ruth M. Underhill's The Navajos. Much of this book may have been (we read elsewhere) derived from Charles A. Amsden's Navajo Weaving. One advantage of Underhill's book is that it is written in a very simple style (Dorothy Hubbell: "She talked that way."). However, the book is informative, easy to read, and still useful.

If indeed Ruth Underhill poked into Amsden's Navajo Weaving for information and inspiration, she picked the right book. Navajo Weaving is a surprise; it's as much about everything else in Navajo life as it is about their weaving. Of all the background reading we did for this project, we can suggest this as another good choice if one doesn't have a lot of time for reading. This is probably the definitive book on Navajo weaving, at least up to 1934 when the book was published; Amsden carries the reader into the "revival" period. Although a little too prejudiced in favor of the earlier periods of Navajo weaving, we feel, Amsden makes many fortunate detours into other areas, basket making, silversmithing--and just about every other facet of Navajo life he was aware of in his day. This is an extremely valuable work. A logical companion book to Navajo Weaving is John Adair's The Navajo and Pueblo Silversmiths. Here is just about everything you could want to know about Navajo and Pueblo silversmithing between the years 1880 and about 1940. The book was first published in 1944, but it has been--deservedly--republished several times since then. Like Navajo Weaving, The Navajo and Pueblo Silversmith is about a lot more than its title would lead a reader to believe. Adair's book is as entertaining as it is informative. Charles Amsden's and John Adair's books are classics of the genre.

An author whose several books one might look at for a sensitive view of Navajo life is Gladys A. Reichard. Reichard died in the 1950s. She was an instructor at Barnard College who liked to spend summers in Navajo country. She passed a lot of time in the Ganado area. Reichard mentions the folks at Hubbell Trading Post where she would go for supplies and to visit. Our own favorite among her works is Spider Woman, a copy of which was given to us by Dorothy Hubbell when we visited with her in Sun City. In Spider Woman Reichard recounts her adventures and misadventures as she undertakes to learn weaving from the Navajo women she's living with. She also takes part in many of the family's other activities, including a four-day sing. Reichard's works are valuable for their pleasing and intimate glimpses into the nitty-gritty of Navajo life before that way of life became exceedingly integrated with the surrounding white culture.

For a look at the more bellicose side of the Navajo experience, the reader can look at The Navajo Wars, by Frank McNitt; The Long Walk, by Lynn R. Bailey; and Navajo Roundup, by Lawrence Kelly.

In our opinion, any book by McNitt is a good choice. The Foreword in the edition of The Navajo Wars we read was written by Robert Utley, retired NPS historian, who did much work at Hubbell Trading Post. We found Lynn Bailey's The Long Walk to be an easy to ready account of the military campaigns against the Navajo and their resulting exile to Bosque Redondo. Navajo Roundup, by Kelly, may be the least valuable of the works but it is an interesting look at the "selected correspondence" of the military involved in the capture and exile of the Navajo in the 1860s, actual correspondence being sometimes more revealing than a historian's interpretation of same.

We won't discuss in detail any of the books we looked at in reference to the Hopi and the Zuni. The reader will have his or her hands full with books about the Navajo, which, as far as Hubbell Trading Post is concerned, is the main issue. However, two of the more interesting books we came across during research were books of photographs of the Hopi. The photographs in these books were taken in the early part of the century. Since then, the Hopi have become more conservative about allowing outsiders to photograph their rites and daily life. Possibly the more interesting of these books is The Hopi Photographs, Kate Cory: 1905-1912. In spite of the bulky equipment she was using, Kate Cory's photographs would compare favorably with photographs taken today--if the Hopi would still allow it, and if some of the practices photographed by Cory had not disappeared from the Hopi way of life. Today, her photographs are of interest to the Hopi themselves.

A bibliographic essay on books about trading posts, Indians, and related subjects could stretch on to an intolerable length. Let this suffice. It will soon become apparent to the interested student that a lifetime could be spent covering all of the reading that can be done in these areas.

Documents, Studies, Correspondence, and Interviews

The many plans and research studies that were used in the preparation of this administrative history are on file at the historic site, most of them in the Curator's office. A few, such as the erosion study, were found at the SWRO library in Santa Fe. Most of the documents, although possibly dated, have information not mentioned here that might be valuable to future administrators. Virtually all of them proved useful in one way or another for this administrative history.

On file on the site's Curator's office is what appears to be most of the pertinent correspondence in reference to legislative history. Copies of the correspondence and documents found at the offices of SPMA, in reference to their initial involvement at Hubbell Trading Post, are now on file in the site's Curator's office.

Interviews Recorded For This Administrative History

Kent Bush
John E. Cook
Charles B. Cooper
Juin Crosse Adams
Edward B. Danson
Luis Edward Gastellum
Bill Gentless
Alan R. Grieve
Dorothy S. Hubbell
Billy Gene Malone
Terry E. Maze
Douglas C. McChristian
Kevin McKibbin
Theresa Nichols
Robert M. Utley
Thomas G. Vaughan
Charles D. Wyatt

The tapes and the transcriptions of those tapes are all on file at Hubbell Trading Post NHS. But many other people were interviewed. Various aspects of the trading post were discussed with SPMA employees at the trading post and during our research trip to Tucson. It would seem that a majority of the NPS employees at the historic site were interviewed, although Charlie Wyatt's conversation is the only one of those interviews that is recorded. People other than NPS and SPMA employees were interviewed while were in Ganado. Trying to get objective points of view in reference to the historic site, we talked to at least a dozen people while were staying in hospital housing and having meals at the Sage Cafe.

But many insights into Hubbell Trading Post came by surprise and from surprising sources. When we told Mary Alice Bowlin, the owner of our favorite bookstore in New Mexico, what we were working on, she revealed that she had stayed at Hubbell Trading Post for quite some time in the 1940s and that she had known many of the people who figured in its history. Her stories were valuable to us. An old friend, Mark MacCurdy, of Albuquerque, told us that he used to drop by Hubbell Trading Post when he was driving across the reservation on business. That would have been in the early 1960s, before the trading post became a historic site. He liked to poke around in what is now the Rug Room, investigating old books and documents there. The post was fascinating, he said, and he would quite forget that he was supposed to be there on business. Dorothy Hubbell would join him when she could, and Mark related that Dorothy "had a story for every happening recorded in the letters and journals."

After a time, encounters with people who had visited the trading post way back when came as less of a surprise to us. We concluded that in spite of what the map might indicate, all roads must eventually lead to Hubbell trading Post.

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Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006