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Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site
Having first opened its doors to traders in the late 1800s, Hubbell Trading Post on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona is one of the oldest operating trading posts in the American Southwest. For almost 90 years, the Hubbell family welcomed traders and notable visitors to trade with the Navajo. Now the trading post is part of the National Park System. Although the Hubbell family eventually sold the post in the 1960s, the Western Parks Association has continued to operate it as a trading business as if it were still under the management of John Lorenzo Hubbell and his family. Today, visitors can learn about the Navajo’s heritage and their material culture, witness traders negotiating deals with American Indians, learn to weave Navajo rugs, and purchase crafts and art from the Indians at any of the trading post’s shops.
Although John Lorenzo Hubbell established the post in 1878, the story of Hubbell Trading Post begins in the early 1860s, when in an effort to find gold in the Navajo territory, General James H. Carleton began forcibly removing the Navajo Indians from their homelands. Leading this gruesome campaign was Colonel Christopher “Kit” Carson, who, under the direction of Carleton, instituted a “scorched earth” policy in the Navajo territory. Under this policy, Carson’s troops were to destroy the Navajo’s livelihood by killing their livestock, and by burning their homes and crops. To terrorize the Indians into leaving their homelands further, Carson and his men massacred several Navajo men, women, and children.
By the winter of 1863, after suffering from starvation and fearing the loss of more people, the Navajo surrendered to Colonel Carson’s troops. The following year, Carson and his troops rounded up the Navajos who survived General Carleton’s vicious campaign, and forced over 8,000 Navajo to walk more than 300 miles from northeast Arizona to Fort Sumner in eastern New Mexico. Known by the Navajo as the Long Walk to the Bosque Redondo, a 40 square mile reservation on the Pecos River, this episode changed the Navajo world and had a significant influence on their material culture and economic pursuits.
While living at the Bosque Redondo reservation, the Navajo attended school, practiced Christianity, and learned to incorporate in their daily lives the products that the mobile trader introduced into their society. They grew highly dependent on these new materials, which the people used to make the crafts that the Navajo exchanged with traders for food and other products that were essential for their way of life. Without the mobile trader, the people would not have survived in the world the white man created, especially after the government allowed the Navajo to return to their homelands in 1868.
Following the return of the Navaho from the Bosque Redondo, traders continued supplying them with the materials they had grown accustomed to using during their four-year exile. Among the traders to establish a successful relationship with the Navajo was John Lorenzo Hubbell. Hubbell not only developed an industry from the Navajo crafts, but also helped the Navajo adapt to their new environment. Known to the Navajo as “Old Mexican” or “Double Glasses,” John Lorenzo Hubbell had become familiar with the Navajo’s language and traditions while traveling around the Southwest as an interpreter for the US military. Hubbell was able to use his knowledge of the Navajo culture and language to establish perhaps the most successful trading empire in the American Southwest. He opened the trading post that is now Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site in 1878, ten years after Navajo returned to their homeland from their Bosque Redondo exile. Hubbell’s trading post not only provided food and merchandise to traders and the Navajo, but was also a place where artists and other travelers, including Theodore Roosevelt, could find shelter.
Hubbell’s trading empire at one point consisted of 30 trading posts, two wholesale stores, a few curio shops, and some bean and apple farms in Gallup and Farmington, New Mexico. His facilities allowed the Navajo to display their art and crafts, while also providing the Indians with food and the material goods they required to make their crafts. Eventually, as his business developed, Hubbell was also able to build freight and mail lines, which he used to transport supplies and to send mail order catalogs that promoted Navajo crafts.
The store at Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site is still in operation. Once inside the masonry post, visitors will find a sales room, a large storage room, and two office rooms that housed all of the trading post’s records from the time of its establishment. Today, these rooms house a unique collection of pioneer artifacts and Navajo art. Behind the trading post stands the Hubbell family home, which also displays a collection of Navajo artwork. Hubbell’s family sold the property to the National Park Service in 1965. The trading post and Hubbell home look much today as they did during Lorenzo Hubbell’s time.At the Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site, visitors may begin their tour at the visitor center and learn from a skilled Navajo artist how to weave an authentic Navajo rug. Visitors can also purchase food and other goods at the bullpen; buy a Navajo rug, jewelry, and baskets; attend the “Sheep is Life” workshop to learn about the Navajo lifestyle; and attend a Native American art auction. Beyond the trading post, visitors may take a guided tour of the Hubbell family home and explore the grounds of the Hubbell family homestead with its barn, bunkhouse, guest hogan, historic farm equipment, horses, chickens, and Navajo Churro sheep. They can also view a private collection of Southwestern and Native American arts and crafts.