Hubbell Trading Post
Administrative History
NPS Logo


The Land

"My wife grew the most gorgeous flowers we've grown anywhere we've lived around that little house. That miserable sand grows the most gorgeous dahlias you've ever seen in your life. We had a marvelous little home there. We had morning glories that climbed all the way up the power pole that was next to the bread oven. They went all the way up to the top." [1]

Hubbell Trading Post once had about 110 acres of arable land under irrigation. John Cook can remember seeing water in every ditch, but the land there has not been farmed since some time in the 1960s. The fruit and nut trees that the Hubbells planted along the irrigation ditches are all dead or dying. Until fairly recently, Friday Kinlicheenie used to plant the garden that was in front of the home. He was paid to plant the area, and he took all of the produce home.

The area probably looked much as it did when the Hubbells lived there. According to Dorothy Hubbell, plenty of vegetables were grown to feed the family and any guests; that was their source of fresh vegetables. In some respects this was an old-fashioned subsistence sort of farm. Friday Kinlicheenie's sons used to help him plant the vegetable plot. Now that Friday is no longer working the garden, nobody is working it.

A request was made of SPMA in 1991 for a grant of $5,000 to hire a gardener to help make the place look more like it used to, that is, help "interpret" the place. The request was denied. Just at the moment the dam at Ganado Lake can't be used. The irrigation ditches are empty. The wind blows, the sand drifts, and the ditches fill with sand and weeds. As the years go by without any activity on the land, the trading post comes to look more and more like a moribund monument rather than the living, evolving entity it's supposed to be. The hard-won terraced fields are eroding, and the native vegetation is invading the land. And of course as the years go by it will become increasingly difficult and expensive to win back what took so much time and money to create.

In reference to the "historic scene" at Hubbell Trading Post, the tone of the December, 1988, Resource Management Plan is critical: "During the past twenty years park…administrators have taken inconsistent approaches to managing the historic scene." But in fact the 1988 plan is inconsistent and inaccurate.

Charles S. Peterson's Homestead and Farm: A History of Farming at the Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site has been available since 1986. Peterson's book can be taken as the definitive study on the farming scene at Hubbell Trading Post. The project was funded by SPMA. It is an extremely interesting and almost overwhelmingly detailed account by an agricultural historian of what farming was all about at Hubbell Trading Post. With Peterson's book in hand, and with a thorough study of photographs, it may be possible to recreate any scene one wants. But which scene will it be?

The 1988 Plan states that: "The landscaping surrounding the home reflected the taste of various family members who resided there from 1902 until 1967. When the NPS acquired the post, one of the intended purposes was to continue operations in the Hubbell tradition. It was not to be 'frozen in time' for any particular historical period, " (page 6). But the trading post was only half trading post. The other half was farm. If the NPS isn't going to freeze in time the trading post operation, why do they feel it's necessary to freeze in time the farming operation? Surely the Hubbells wouldn't have been farming in 1934 with methods left over from 1904. The Hubbells themselves weren't frozen in time. Trying to make the trading post land look like it did in 1934---to pick a time roughly halfway between 1902 and 1967---is probably an unnecessary burden for the administrators of the site, few of whom seem to have known anything about farming.

The 1988 Plan goes on to say that: "Without guidance, management actions will continue to be haphazard and alter the appearance of the Site to a greater or lesser degree," (page 6). Without guidance, then, it may just be safer to do nothing. If we haven't decided on a period in time in which to freeze the site, we just won't tamper with it at all. But surely the general aspect of the site was changing all the time between 1902 and 1967, plants being added or removed every year, plants and trees dying, others coming in as "volunteers," new people at the trading post adding their ideas.

It may be that the original Master Plan (1966) is the original culprit: "The goal is to restore Hubbell Trading Post to the well documented period of the early 1900s." The next sentence: "In doing this we need not, and indeed must not destroy more recent structures or radically alter the older ones." (page 1) Benjamin Levy, in his Hubbell Trading Post: Historic Structures Report, Part II, indicates that the early 1900s might not be as easy to document as the authors of the original Master Plan thought. In any case, it seems likely that what the writers of that Master Plan had in mind was the restoration of the buildings to some point in the early 1900s.

One of the goals of the original Master Plan was: "To restore the atmosphere and historical context of the site, and to display artifacts and historic objects in such a manner to properly recreate the early day reservation trading post." (page 1-A). They would recreate an earlier trading post while at the same time operate a living trading post, which seems like a contradictory mission. One of the goals under General Development Analysis in the Original Master Plan, Resource Management, is to "Re-establish farming operation." Nothing is said about re-establishing the farming operation as (an early-1900s anachronism) some sort of early-century anachronism.

This discussion may seem to be a candidate for inclusion in a chapter on planning issues, and some of these issues will appear there. But it would seem that when the Park Service was given a mandate to operate a "live" trading post they weren't ready to handle the concept. They were prepared to preserve and protect, maybe even to "freeze in time" a lot of things that perhaps needed some "freezing," but they weren't trained to operate an evolving business and operate a farm that didn't necessarily have to be frozen in time.

When Benjamin Levy was at Hubbell Trading Post in the late 1960s doing research for his Historic Structures Report: Part II, he noted that, " Today, corn is grown immediately to the west and north of the Hubbell home. How old a practice this is not known definitely, but available early photographs do not indicate the practice. They do, however, indicate that the ground was channelled for irrigation." (page 29). Friday Kinlicheenie planted the corn near the Hubbell home.

Dorothy Hubbell said the area was used for a flower and vegetable garden when she arrived there. When Mary Alice Bowlin stayed at the Hubbell home in the 1940s with "Aunty Bob" (Barbara Hubbell Goodman), the area was actually rather barren. However, Aunty Bob said the flower garden was so striking in the 1920s that it was featured in a home and garden magazine. [2] By the 1940s, Aunty Bob was too ill to tend the garden.

So the garden can be corn, vegetables, or flowers. Or it could be a combination of corn, vegetables, and flowers. Some organic gardeners will juxtapose certain flowers with their vegetables in the hope that any invading bugs will be offended by the flowers. If one wants to plant flowers that will help create an antique looking trading post, all that is necessary is to select some "old-fashioned" flowers: cosmos, hollyhocks, dahlias, morning glories, petunias, marigolds, poppies, nasturtiums, sweet peas, for example. Roses should work reasonably well in Ganado. Many houses in Santa Fe, New Mexico, have lilacs in their yards, and in planting the gardens for Hubbell Trading Post one might keep Santa Fe in mind; the altitude and climate of Santa Fe and Ganado are similar, so most of the flowers, shrubs, vines, and trees that will flourish there should do well in Ganado. An old gardening book from the 1930s would be a big help, something like the Complete Book of Garden Magic, by Roy E. Biles; or The Wise Garden Encyclopedia, edited by E.L.D. Seymour. Or someone can check the Hubbell library to see if Aunty Bob left behind some gardening books. But whatever is done to brighten up the buildings with growing things, surely it doesn't have to look exactly as though Aunty Bob planned it all herself in May of 1923. (See bibliography for a few books on gardening found at Hubbell Trading Post NHS.)


Although John Cook saw water in all of the ditches in the 1960s, there was apparently little farming going on at the time. It was never easy to farm the Hubbell land; it's a good thing the NPS gave up the image of mule dragging man and plow across the fields. Farming with some relatively modern equipment will be just a whole lot easier. For example, where Roman tried to level the terraces with the aid of a transit, they can now be laser leveled to help get irrigation water into the far corners. But any areas that are hard to irrigate can always be turned into orchards that are watered by drip irrigation, if the land is going to be used. There are plenty of modern solutions available to the future farmers at Hubbell Trading Post, and there are few lawns as beautiful as a field of alfalfa under a blue sky, all across the field pairs of the inevitable butterflies circling each other in what is probably a mating ritual. That should liven up the scenery around the old trading post.

Two approaches to farming at Hubbell Trading Post will be considered: A few acres can be worked as an interpretive device. Or very nearly all of the area formerly farmed will once again be put under cultivation.

The first approach may be possible now but it would require investigation with the state of Arizona and the Navajo to see if enough water for such a project can be pumped. In any case, all of the acreage used by the Hubbells will not be farmed; care will have to be taken that archeological sites in the fields are not damaged. Over than that, if water ever comes through the ditches again, as much as possible of the land will be used. If this plan can be implemented, it is probably the best approach to take. The trading post would then be entirely resurrected to be more or less what it was during its heyday. Farming was, by all accounts, important to the Hubbells, and especially to J.L. Hubbell.

The Alfalfa Farm

The large garden down by the home was used as a kitchen garden. According to Dorothy Hubbell, that is where most of the vegetables they used in the home came from, and they had some fruit trees. But the fields south of the trading post were used mainly for growing alfalfa. It is said that the trading post was known as the "hay ranch," and that farms owned by the Hubbells in other areas were known as the "bean ranches" (Pinon Springs and Vander Wagen) and the "fruit farm" (Farmington). [3] They experimented with other crops at Hubbell Trading Post, but the post was primarily an alfalfa farm.

If more or less the entire 110 acres is to be farmed, alfalfa would, in the authors' opinion, remain a good choice from several points of view. Not only would it be historically correct, it is also a relatively easy crop to care for. Alfalfa came to the New World with the Spanish, but the word---alfalfa---tells us that the crop probably arrived in Spain with the Moors (along with a lot of other things). A field of alfalfa can last about five years before it has to be broken up and replanted. According to Charles S. Peterson's farmland study, a farmer should realize at least three cuttings per season in Ganado's climate. Alfalfa is irrigated again soon after each cutting, and, where the authors live, in New Mexico's Mesilla Valley, about every two weeks. Alfalfa discharges nitrogen; it also revitalizes depleted soil, an added bonus.

It is the authors' experience that there always seems to be a market for alfalfa. Its main problem is that mown hay, caught on the ground by rain, or bales caught in the field by rain, can be ruined. It depends on the amount of rain, but if the hay is not yet baled, it can be turned over and dried. Soaked bales, even if they are not a total loss, will be diminished in value.

Rural Mexicans (and that includes those in the Mesilla Valley) eat alfalfa. Soon after a cutting, when the new shoots are still just a few inches long (and still tender), they will gather the shoots and cook them in much the same manner as one would cook spinach. They might mix the alfalfa with beans, or bits of bacon. It's not such a bad dish, and if you question the Mexicans about the appropriateness of eating cattle feed, they laugh and point out how big and strong their cows and horses are. Vegetarians have known for many years that alfalfa is packed with nutrient wonders.

Although the Hubbells planned most of the farming, they did little of the labor. They managed the farm. The season in Ganado runs from about the end of February to October. The Hubbells used varying numbers of hired people around the post, from one man at the beginning of the season, to large crews during harvest. Modern alfalfa farming requires few people and only intermittent attention. Irrigate as soon in the season as possible. Cut when ready, bale when sufficiently dry, get the bales out of the field and under cover. Irrigate as custom in the area dictates. During the summer rainy season, irrigating may be less of a chore.

The Hubbells farmed intensively until Don Lorenzo died. They sold the hay wherever they could, by the bale at the trading post, or in large lots for shipment to other trading posts of theirs or to other customers. They used the alfalfa for their own cattle at the trading post as well as for the many draft animals they required in their freighting business. In the early days, then, the alfalfa helped fuel the freighting end of their business empire. The hay produced at the trading post was an integral part of the overall Hubbell operation. A reenacted hay farm would be an accurate interpretation.

Don Lorenzo died at about the time transportation was becoming easier on the reservation. Better roads (sort of), as well as more, and more powerful, motor vehicles. The business didn't require as much hay by that time, and it became easy to ship in hay from places where it might be cheaper to produce. But they did continue the hay farming at the trading post until Dorothy, left alone to manage everything, was forced to give it up. Nothing has been grown in the fields since.

Who Will Do The Farming for the NPS?

It hasn't been decided, should it become possible to irrigate the land, who will do the farming. Although an operating farm at the trading post is almost essential for the site to be interpreted correctly, and it is Southwest Parks and Monuments Association's raison d'etre to help the Park Service where it can, SPMA is, so far, noncommittal. When the time comes, they will discuss the matter with those entitled to know their answer. [4]

A local Navajo farmer could work the land on shares. In the authors' neck of the woods, such arrangements are usually split two thirds to the farmer, one-third to the landowner, the farmer providing seed, fertilizer, if any, labor (which includes irrigating on schedule), as well as keeping weeds under control. In other words, he works---and cares for---the fields as if they were his own.

If just a few of the acres across from the Visitor Center are to be cultivated, it is unlikely that a local farmer would be interested. However, some thought has been given to the possibility of the Future Farmers of America Club at the Ganado High School working that small area. Such an arrangement should cost little and it would put the resource to use for a worthwhile purpose. A cooperative agreement would have to be worked out. [5]

But the future of farming at Hubbell Trading Post rests with whether or not water will ever again come through the irrigation ditches. And if alfalfa is to be grown, the NPS should be aware that it is a thirsty crop (requiring about 40% more water than cotton, for example).

Irrigation at Hubbell Trading Post [6]

Legend has it that when President William McKinley was assassinated, the original Hubbell homestead matter was on his desk and when Theodore Roosevelt became president the signing of Hubbell's bill was one of his first acts. [7] What is certain is that as soon as J.L. Hubbell became aware that the land around the trading post was to become his under the Homestead Act, he started making plans to irrigate and farm his land.

In Hubbell's first irrigation effort, water was diverted from the Pueblo Colorado and brought to his land from over two miles away. A flood in 1911 altered the stream bed but by that time the federal government had stepped in and was funding the dam at Ganado Lake and the entire irrigation project. J.L. Hubbell contributed whatever he had built and he became a member of the local water district, which was operated by the Indian Irrigation Service. Local Navajo had about 700 acres under cultivation and the Presbyterian Mission used the irrigation water for their gardens. It was never a large irrigation system and it was always beset by problems. Hubbell himself spent thousands of dollars on ditches and flumes and masonry gates.

The canal entered his land on the east and emptied into a holding pond that was actually just south of his property. From there, water could be diverted to various parts of his land by ditches (six laterals) that are still easily discernible. The irrigation system and the terraced fields are as much monuments to the imagination and determination of J.L. Hubbell as is the trading post. The more one learns about J.L. Hubbell, the more one is impressed by the multiplicity of his interests. The means were on hand at Hubbell Trading Post to make the trader and his family virtually self sufficient, which, because of the remoteness of the post, was certainly a desirable goal. Don Lorenzo rarely missed a chance to take control of anything within his domain.

By the 1960s, the local irrigation system was virtually a dead issue. The dam at Ganado Lake is defective; the reservoir is empty. The canals and ditches and headgates are in disrepair. The Bureau of Reclamation is working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Navajo Nation to determine-what repairs are necessary; but the system is a "historic structure" and so everybody has to work within the limits of the Historic Preservation Act, in spite of the fact that it would probably be more practical to just start over again. Also, it may be that nothing will be done on the repair of the dam at Ganado Lake until issues are adjudicated involving water distribution of the Lower Colorado. Those matters have been in the courts for several years. They may well be there for several more.

As much as one would like to see the fields at the trading post covered with alfalfa, there is just nothing that can be done about it at the present time. If you want to make the desert bloom, you must bring water to it, and water in the Southwest is becoming an increasingly complicated issue. Legend also has it that when J.L. Hubbell was pressing to get some federal help for the irrigation project at Ganado, Teddy Roosevelt stepped in and helped him cut through the red tape. Today, even a Teddy Roosevelt might be daunted by the red tape.

Farmland Research

Homestead And Farm: A History Of Farming At The Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site, by Charles S. Peterson, Utah State University, prepared for Southwest Parks and Monuments Association, March 1, 1986. This is a magnificent book-length study that describes what must be every facet of farming and irrigation at Hubbell Trading Post. SPMA has chosen not to publish the book. Possibly they feel the work is too specific for a general audience. However, almost any NPS employee at the historic site would benefit from reading it; the book contains much information about J.L. Hubbell and his interests apart from farming. A copy is on file at the site.

Vegetation Survey on Hubbell Trading Post Site, by Kancheepuram N. Gandhi, S.M. Tracy Herbarium, Range Science, Texas A & M University. According to his report, Mr. Gandhi roamed about the historic site between the 20th of June and the 12th of July, 1986, surveying its vascular vegetation. The ten-page study lists by Latin classification and its common name all of the vegetation Mr. Gandhi discovered, and it also lists it by area so that, for example, one can know which weeds are growing in the trailer court. [8]

Soil Erosion Study, Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site, by The Earth Technology Corporation, Phoenix, Arizona. Prepared under the Supervision of Kenneth M. Euge, Principal Investigator, September 23, 1983. As the study explains, ever since 1978, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers questioned the safety of the Ganado Dam, water flowing in the Pueblo Colorado Wash which was previously directed to the reservoir is now allowed to continue downstream. Increased erosion along the wash has been the result. This technical 108-page study, complete with photographs and many charts, should satisfy almost anybody's curiosity about erosion at the historic site.

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006