Hubbell Trading Post
Administrative History
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Southerners were opposed to the homestead bill. They contended that its primary purpose was to promote the emigration of free-state settlers into the territories. However, on May 20, 1862, while the Southerners were otherwise hotly engaged, the Homestead Law was passed. The law allowed any person who was the head of a family, or twenty-one years old, whether a citizen of the United States or an alien who had declared his intention of becoming a citizen, to take control of 160 acres (a quarter section) of unappropriated land. After living on the land for five years and "improving" it, the homesteader could receive title to the land for a cost of $1.25 per acre. In other words, the land was virtually free. [1]

And that is why Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site contains 160 acres; the land was originally claimed under the Homestead Law. It was many years, however, before Hubbell gained a clear title to it. The Navajo Reservation surrounded him before he had a chance to officially "prove up."

When J.L. Hubbell bought the Leonard Trading Post in 1878 and filed a claim under the Homestead Law, he was still outside the Navajo Reservation (although there were plenty of Navajo in the area to guarantee customers). The original Navajo treaty land of 1868 was a rectangle of land in the northeast corner of Arizona and the northwest corner of New Mexico, a piece of land almost evenly divided between the territories. The reservation was expanded by executive order on January 6, 1880; Hubbell's acreage became engulfed by Navajo land, and he was in some danger of losing his land and his trading license. [2]

There followed years of effort to gain clear title to the homestead. Hubbell made trips to Phoenix to the United States Land Office, and to Washington, D.C., where hearings on the matter were held. Hubbell finally prevailed. The patent for his land, Homestead Certificate No. 154, Application No. 811, was issued on October 17, 1917. The patent is "Recorded at the request of J.L. Hubbell September 4, 1924 Book 3 Patents page 324, Records of Apache County, Ariz." His claim to 160 acres was "duly established and duly consummated, in conformity to laws, for the south half of the southwest quarter of section twenty-seven, the northeast quarter of the northeast quarter of section thirty-three and the northwest quarter of the northwest quarter of section thirty-four in Township twenty-seven north of range twenty-six east of the Gila and Salt Rivers, Meridian, Arizona...." [3] Take half a quarter section, then add two quarters from the quarters of two other sections, and you wind up with a full quarter section. It makes sense just as long as you understand the rectangular survey system, which is also known as the government survey system, the means by which all of the West, except Texas, was surveyed. [4] A section is one square mile.

Hubbell's Patent Number 603857 was issued in lieu of Patent No. 2655, dated July 14, 1908, which had been cancelled because of an error in the description. The new patent was given under the hand of, among other people, Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States, who presumably took time out from a war to consider the matter. [5]

It is granted in the patent that the land is "subject to any vested and accrued water rights for mining, agriculture, manufacturing, or other purpose, and the rights to ditches and reservoirs used in connection with such water rights, as may be recognized and acknowledged by local customs, laws, and decisions of courts; and there is reserved from the land hereby granted, a right of way thereon for ditches or canals constructed by the authority of the United States." [6]

For many years, then, the Hubbell land was legally Navajo land. That J.L. Hubbell had the determination to eventually get clear title to the land is certainly a clue to at least part of the character of the man. [7]

Hubbell Hill

The land of the historic site is shaped rather like two rectangles, one balanced precariously on top of the other, one end of the top rectangle extended too far to the east. A topographical map of the area shows a hill rising in the northwest corner of the top rectangle, just on the other side of the Pueblo Colorado Wash. And there, at the top of the cone-shaped hill, which is known as Hubbell Hill, and just north and outside of the historic site property, are buried some of the key players in the history of Hubbell Trading Post.

Hubbell's wife, Lina, has a tall monument over her grave. The graves of J.L. Hubbell and his friend Ganado Mucho are there but unmarked. Daughters Barbara and Adela lie in unmarked graves. Roman Hubbell's small headstone looks as though it could have been carved right down at the trading post (it was carved by a local Navajo man), and the most recent headstone up there was placed over the grave of LaCharles Eckel, who died in 1983.

Although the burial site is important to the historic site, the administrators of the historic site have no control over what might happen to that area or to the monuments. When Dorothy Hubbell was still living there, it was noted that a bit of Roman's headstone had been chipped away. A car had been seen parked at the base of the hill. When Dorothy asked the owners of the car if they knew anything about the vandalism, one of them broke down and admitted that because Roman had been a good person to them when he was alive, they thought they would use a piece of his headstone in a ceremony. [8]

According to Dorothy Hubbell, the Hubbells were always under the impression that the top of the hill was included in their land. [9] If indeed this is what they believed, they were wrong. The most recent surveys, on behalf of the National Park Service, are deemed accurate. By means of a possible land trade, the National Park Service hopes to gain control over the top of Hubbell Hill. Negotiations for even so small a trade could be long and tedious. "I would hope that someday we could arrange through either exchange of land use or maybe even some exchange of property to have Hubbell Hill within the Monument." [10] This has been under consideration ever since the National Park Service took over at Hubbell Trading Post.

The National Park Service Moves to Hubbell Trading Post

John Cook, now Regional Director of the Park Service's Southwest Region, was Assistant Superintendent of Canyon de Chelly when one day in the fall of 1965, while having lunch at home, he received a call from Regional Director Dan Beard. Dan Beard offered Cook the superintendency of the new national historic site just an hour's drive down the road, Hubbell Trading Post. As Cook said to his wife after talking to Dan Beard, "He made a mistake, he said it was a promotion, but I'm sure it's a lateral, but I think we'll take it." [11]

He took the promotion (lateral though it was) and went down and visited with Mrs. Hubbell. The Cook family moved to Hubbell Trading Post in 1966 and rented the Manager's Residence from Mrs. Hubbell. (They paid for the rent out of their own pockets.) Cook put a desk and a set of file drawers in what is now the Jewelry Room, over in the corner where postcards are sold, the northeast corner of the trading post. The government rented the space from Mrs. Hubbell. That corner was the first location of the National Park Service office at the trading post. (The office tended to move around during the following years, to the Guest Hogan, the Manager's Residence, into what is now the Curator's office, until it came to rest on the west side of the Visitor Center.)

John Cook wanted to get this historic site off to a good start. He applied for Wescoat Wolfe, who would be the site's first historian; and he hired a seasonal ranger to assist those travelers who were stopping by who had heard that the trading post was a national historic site; the post did not yet belong to the United States, and he didn't want Mrs. Hubbell to be overly burdened by bunches of tourists. In the meantime, appraisals and inventories went forward, all of which were intended for use in the negotiations with the Hubbell family: Dorothy Hubbell, John Hubbell, and LaCharles Eckel, granddaughter of Lorenzo Hubbell.

Those were interesting and exciting days for the Cook family. Mrs. Hubbell invited the Cooks to have dinner with her on the occasion of Kayci Cook's fourth birthday. John and Dani Cook were scared to death at the elegant table with all of that fine china, worrying about what their daughter might-or might not-do. John Cook: I've never seen my daughter behave so well. We did not enjoy the dinner, my wife and I, but Lady [12] , and my daughter Kayci had a marvelous time." [13]

The Cooks began to learn about the area and Mrs. Hubbell passed on some of the history of the post to them. It was during this time that Mrs. Hubbell told John Cook that her late husband, Roman, had promised to a "long-time Navajo compadre and friend," [14] Friday Kinlicheenie, that he would have a job forever. John Cook: "I made a commitment to Mrs. Hubbell that once we acquired [the trading post] that we would in fact see that Friday continued to work. We began with Friday coming back and planting corn in the area in front of the home." [15]

As interesting and exciting as life at the trading post might have been (the Cooks were there for a year before the government came to own it), John Cook also had a job to do. And part of his job was to assist in coming to terms with the Hubbell family on a settlement figure for the trading post. It was during the negotiations that the episode of the silk rug came very close to destroying the deal...after so many years of effort by so many people.

The Case of the Silk Rug

It seems likely that only two silk Navajo rugs were ever made, and those two are just alike. One of them is in the museum at the University of Colorado, Boulder, the other is with Dorothy Hubbell at her home in Sun City. During negotiations for the trading post, a controversy over Dorothy's rug came very close to ending those negotiations forever.

Many years ago, J.L. Hubbell bought some spools of silk. He hired a good weaver to make two identical rugs. He presented one of the rugs to Mrs. C.N. Cotton, the other he gave to his wife. Mrs. Cotton's rug is the one in Boulder; Dorothy has Lina's rug. That silk rug was one of the things that Dorothy wanted to take with her when she left the homestead for good. It was one of the tangible items she felt she needed to help her keep in touch with the past. [16]

John Cook and Bill Fields, who at that time was with the Regional Office of Land Acquisition, were authorized to negotiate with the Hubbells for the sale of the trading post and the land and the thousands of artifacts that filled the house and other buildings. The men had arranged for the appraisals. Along with some other items, the silk rug was not appraised. In other words, the rug was not for sale and had not been considered in the negotiations.

The National Park Service men came within $50,000 of an agreement. At that point, however, they needed further authorization. They called the Regional Director. Unfortunately, the authority was reserved for the Washington Land and Water Rights Division people, who decided to send in a lands expert to wind up negotiations. As John Cook enjoys recalling, the expert would, "by golly, show us whippersnappers how to negotiate." The man indicated to Cook and Fields that if the parties couldn't come to an agreement, why, the old trading post would just have to be condemned. [17] Dorothy Hubbell put the lands expert up in her guest hogan, and she even had a telephone installed so that he could stay in touch with Washington. The crisis was reached one evening in the living room. [18]

John Cook was present, and so were Dorothy Hubbell and LaCharles Eckel. The itinerant lands expert brought up the subject of the silk rug. He thought the rug should be included in the sale. But since the rug hadn't been part of the appraisal, Dorothy said, the government, if they truly needed the rug, would have to pay extra for it. And it was at that point that the lands expert decided to throw his condemnation clincher onto the table for everybody's consideration. Up until then, Dorothy maintains, she was not aware that the lands expert was there to bring negotiations to a conclusion. [19]

Dorothy was stunned by the condemnation threat: "And I said to him, all right, that's it. I went to the door with him.... When he went to the door I said, 'I don't care whether you ever come back again.' I never said that to anybody in all my life. I was really worked up." [20] For once, Dorothy had lost her sense of humor, but anybody who has met her can well imagine that she could get "worked up" over what she perceives as ungentlemanly behavior. She went so far as to suggest that, henceforth, while she still owned the trading post, John Cook would be the only National Park Service person allowed on the land. [21] In any case, with the lands expert heading down the road, she was sure the deal with the Park Service was off. But she didn't care. There was just so much she could stand.

But Dorothy wasn't the only person around the post who was worked up. John Cook called the Regional Director and laid out the mess for his consideration. Negotiations continued.

Dorothy Hubbell: "l liked John [Cook] very much, and his family. I was very pleased with him." [22] And she knew the men who appraised the art and artifacts. They were the same people who had come with Ned Danson when the trading post and its contents were appraised for Congress. She trusted them. She trusted John Cook.

John Cook: "Subsequently, Mrs. Hubbell got not only the difference between what she and Bill and I had kind of come near agreement to, but she got some additional funds because I was so angry I upped the ante and told the Director that it was going to cost him even more than she agreed to." [23]

Anybody who knew anything at all about the contents of the trading post knew that the Hubbells were not paid enough for it. [24] People who were in the business of buying and selling Indian arts and crafts or Southwestern art knew that if the collection had been broken up and sold piece by piece it would have made a lot more money for Dorothy and John Hubbell and LaCharles Eckel. It was only because of Dorothy Hubbell's vision, determination, and patience that the collection came to the American people intact. Future generations of Americans have Dorothy Hubbell to thank for that. The 160 acres are now owned by the federal government in fee simple, the highest form of land ownership. Dorothy Hubbell moved out of the trading post just as soon as she knew when the trading post was going to be dedicated as a national historic site. She went to Scottsdale, where she stayed for two years, and then she moved to Sun City, Arizona, where she lived until her death on April 30, 1993.

The National Park Service didn't get the 160 acres all at once. A few acres-3.07 acres where the Visitor Center is located-had been given to the Navajo Tribal Council in the 1920s for the construction of a day school. The school building was used for years as such by the Navajo, but later it served other functions: the offices of the local chapter, the Boy Scouts, the Navajo Police. The federal government acquired that bit of land, and the Visitor Center and site offices were moved there. The plot is required by the Navajo to be used for educational purposes, hence the Visitor Center. A small frame house and a hogan that were on the school site were removed in the 1980s because they were not considered historically significant. Also, the Hubbells had retained 5.57 acres in the northeast corner of the homestead as a scenic easement. The federal government bought that acreage from them in 1980. Since the early 1980s, then, and except for the road easement (0.836 acres) in the far northeast corner of the land where Arizona 264 cuts across, the federal government has owned all of the 160 acres of the original homestead. So except for the top of Hubbell Hill, the Hubbell burying ground, the question of land ownership at Hubbell Trading Post is settled. [25]

But besides settling with the Hubbells in 1966, it still remained for the National Park Service to figure out just how in the world they were going to run a "live" trading post and not a "dead" museum. In all of its fifty years, the Park Service had never dreamed that one day it would have to manage a trading post. Never mind, John Cook figured he had just the man for the job.

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Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006