Hubbell Trading Post
Administrative History
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The raison d'etre of Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site is the trading post itself: the grocery store (bullpen), the rug room, the trader's office (jewelry room). Everything else there, every employee at Hubbell Trading Post, is on hand to support the trading post. And although the trading post remains seemingly suspended in time, it is not; this is an evolving business operation that will try, as far as trading posts can, to keep pace with the changing times.

The National Park Service manages many old buildings and museums all over the country for the American people, places where the past has been moth-balled for posterity. Indeed, many of the "cultural resources" of Hubbell Trading Post--buildings and their contents---are being preserved, and this includes everything in the trading post (the store) that is not for sale. But this is the only trading post owned by the United States government and it was established by Congress as a national historic site with the understanding that it would remain a bona fide business operation, a live, evolving trading post. This is not the sort of "living history" one might encounter at, say, Appomattox Court House, where the characters in period costume that one met purported to be existing on or about April 9, 1865. No, Hubbell Trading Post is "live" in the true sense of the word; a customer can buy a rug, a silver and turquoise ring, and a can of beans and a loaf of bread.

The business end of Hubbell Trading Post is operated by Southwest Parks and Monuments Association, and for them, too, Hubbell Trading Post is an extraordinary enterprise. [1] The National Park Service maintains the milieu and the aura of the old trading post; SPMA is obligated to run the trading post---as far as is practicable---along the lines of a traditional trading post, helping to interpret the trading post era for the NPS. SPMA has its own employees to handle the job, and all of them are under the direction of the Trader/Manager, Bill Malone, who has presided at Hubbell Trading Post since May of 1981.

But as logical as the present association of the NPS and SPMA may seem at Hubbell Trading Post, there was nothing inevitable about it.

The Rise and Fall of the Trading Post as an Important Institution

The classic Indian trading posts have been compared to the old fashioned country stores of rural American society. Although there are some obvious differences between the two institutions, there is some validity in the comparison; in the days before country people could travel long distances in a short time to do their shopping, one local store---or on the reservation one trading post---would probably be the only commercial outlet available to a group of people in a given vicinity. Like the country stores, the trading posts had their captive customers. The main differences between the two institutions were some of the products that were bought and sold and traded, and the degree to which trading posts and the stores served their customers. The trading posts were, almost universally, much more important to the people they served than were the country stores to rural Anglo customers. The trading posts proved to be significant acculturating institutions; the good Indian traders served their clientele in many extraordinary ways.

Hubbell Trading Post is the oldest trading post still in business in the Navajo Nation and is also the oldest continuously operated business in northern Arizona. The Navajo returned to their land from exile at Bosque Redondo in 1868, a few years after their roundup by Kit Carson's command. [2] A trading post, operated by William Leonard, was opened for business at Hubbell Trading Post's present location in the early 1870s. When Leonard went into business there were just a few other trading posts scattered about the countryside. [3]

Juan Lorenzo Hubbell drifted into the country in the early 1870s from his home at Pajarito (now encompassed by Albuquerque), New Mexico. After adventures in other areas, he bought Leonard's adobe buildings and land in 1878 and became the trader for the Navajo in and around Ganado. He was twenty-five years old. [4]

During the following sixty years trading posts popped up all over the Navajo Nation wherever an entrepreneur thought there were enough citizens to support a business. Sometimes the trading posts prospered, but a lot depended on the trader himself. If the trader was a wise businessman and at the same time considerate of his clientele---as was Lorenzo Hubbell---he might succeed. If not, the place probably had no chance of success. In any case, by 1930 there were about 300 trading posts scattered across the Navajo Nation. However, because of its location, volume of business, and the influence Don Lorenzo had on Navajo arts and crafts, Hubbell Trading Post was always one of the more important and influential of the trading posts. And because of the traders who have worked at Hubbell's for the past twenty-five years, it continues to be an important institution.

World War II is a pivotal point in the history of the Navajo. They learned a lot about the rest of the United States and some other parts of the world. And many of them went to work for wages They started drifting away from their traditional subsistence way of life of raising sheep and cattle and farming on family plots. They bought cars and pickups, and now they could drive right by the local trading post, if they didn't particularly like that trader, and go on to the next trading post---or right on into town---to do their trading and shopping. Money and motor vehicles rendered a virtual revolution in their society, as they had, decades earlier, for the majority of the people in the United States. [5]

Today, there are only a few old-fashioned trading posts left in the Navajo Nation. Many of the old trading posts are now "convenience" stores. The commercial outlets continue to evolve as the Navajo become more integrated with the rest of American society, and convenience stores and supermarkets that would be recognized as such by any American are more commonplace every year on the reservation.

The NPS Looks for an Operator for the Trading Post

In 1967, then, the National Park Service set out to continue the operation of a business that was already becoming an anachronism. Committed to running a "live" trading post, the NPS thrashed about for some way to successfully implement the idea. The prospects for doing so seemed daunting. Good traders were in short supply even in those days on the reservation. It was suggested that the Babbitt Brothers (diversified retailers in Flagstaff with experience in Indian trading) might run the trading post. They weren't interested. The association of Indian traders could get together and agree to run the store for the National Park Service. No, they weren't interested, either. The Director of the National Park Service, George Hartzog, wanted the Fred Harvey Company involved. They were big, they had the money to back up any commitment, and they had been dealing in Indian arts and crafts for decades.

Well, a decision would have to be made soon about the operation of the trading post, because the National Park Service was about to inherit a growing concern that included the sale of groceries and Indian arts and crafts. They would be handling pawn, and they would be housing a laundromat. And Dorothy Hubbell, who had been patiently and bravely "holding the fort" at Hubbell's since 1957, was ready to move to town as soon as an operator could be brought in and introduced to her customers.

Near the end of July, 1966, the head of the Fred Harvey Company's arts and crafts department (this could have been T. Bowman or Joe Ernst) arrived at Ganado to size up the trading post as a possible business venture. Dorothy Hubbell and John Cook were on hand to show him around and answer his questions. [6]

During the man's survey of the trading post, it became clear to Mrs. Hubbell and John Cook just what Fred Harvey had planned for the trading post. Fred Harvey would turn it into an arts and crafts outlet and purchasing point, the more prized pieces to be sent to their Grand Canyon store where they could command higher prices. As the Fred Harvey man disclosed some of their plans, John Cook became increasingly disappointed and thoughtful. The bullpen, the canned peaches and tomatoes, the bottles of soda pop, the wool, the pinon nuts---it would all become a memory. What the Fred Harvey Company had planned for the trading post would kill the atmosphere of a true trading post. [7]

John Cook Asks for Southwest Parks and Monuments Association

Deciding it was time for immediate and direct action, Cook drove to the National Park Service regional office in Santa Fe. With visions in his mind of Hubbell Trading Post filled with tourist trinkets---rubber tomahawks and tom-toms---John Cook tackled Assistant Regional Director George Miller. He told Miller that what the Harvey Company wanted to do would fail. The National Park Service could wind up with a "trading post" little different from the tourist shops along US 66 (SEE LIVE RATTLESNAKES AND BUY REAL MOCCASINS). The place would be an embarrassment, the trading post, as a bona fide trading post, ruined forever." [8]

If Fred Harvey wasn't the solution, did Cook have a better idea? Yes. They could try to get Southwest Parks and Monuments Association [9] to take over the operation of the trading post. SPMA could continue to run the place as a genuine trading post. Cook knew an old-time trader. Maybe he could be talked into managing the store for SPMA.

George Miller considered John Cook's ideas for a moment and then telephoned George Hartzog in Washington. He told Hartzog what Cook had in mind. Then John Cook got on the line. He explained that the Fred Harvey Company, in spite of all their experience, were not going to be good for Hubbell Trading Post. SPMA, with the right man on the premises, could probably do a better job. He had to admit, however, that neither SPMA nor the trader he had in mind were yet aware of his plan.

A naturally audacious man, Hartzog told Cook to take the idea and run with it. And, Hartzog continued, if the arrangement turned out to be a success, John Cook would earn everybody's thanks and congratulations. But if the plan should fail, Cook's career might "fail" at the same time.... [10]

It takes about four hours to drive from Santa Fe to Ganado. John Cook had plenty of time to think about what he would do next.

Enter Southwest Parks and Monuments Association

What Cook did next was call his old friend Dr. Edward B. Danson of the Museum of Northern Arizona. The ubiquitous Ned Danson was not only Director of the Museum and a member of the National Park Service's Advisory Board, he was also on the Board of Directors of Southwest Parks and Monuments Association! Danson was delighted with the scheme and promised to throw his weight behind it.

The problem they faced was one of timing. Matters would have to be arranged so that there would be a simultaneous transfer of the site to the government of the United States and a transfer of the contents of the store to the operator of the trading post. The trader John Cook had in mind for SPMA was a neighbor of his at Canyon de Chelly, Bill Young, who was then managing the Thunderbird Trading Post there.

The Southwest Parks and Monuments Association offices were in Globe, Arizona, in 1966. Founded in 1938 to help the National Park Service interpret monuments, sites and parks, the Association also supports scientific research in the parks by granting money to individuals and institutions. The Association, a nonprofit organization, operates in nine states and serves over forty areas within the National Park System. Most of the books and other items one sees for sale in these forty areas originate with SPMA, and SPMA provides most of the free interpretive material at those sites, parks, and monuments. SPMA aids the National Park Service in ways too numerous to discuss here, projects that cannot be included in the regular budget of the NPS. [11]

In 1966 the Executive Director of SPMA was Earl Jackson, and neither he nor anybody else with the Association knew any more about running a trading post than did the innocent employees of the National Park Service. On August 3, 1966, John Cook followed up a lengthy phone conversation to Earl Jackson with a detailed written explanation of what faced SPMA should they agree to assume the responsibility of operating the trading post. It would be necessary, he wrote for SPMA to take over the store when the NPS assumed responsibility for the care of the land and buildings. It would be important to hire a good Indian trader; an inexperienced concessioner would soon "make a shambles of the operation." The purchase price of the contents of the store would cost SPMA (approximately):

1-Merchandise Inventory:$13,671(at cost)

     Rugs6,456(at cost)

     Pawn:1,800(amount loaned on items)

     Accounts Receivable7,132


2-Trader/Manager's salary$8,000(annually, plus housing)

     Clerks (two)7,000(annually without housing)

3-A good used mobile home for the trader$4,000 - 5,000

It was thought that SPMA would have an initial investment of about $40,000 to acquire the contents of the store and to get the operation off to a running start. Income should quickly start paying the salaries of the employees. In order to insure a smooth transition, the Trader/Manager would have to be on the premises for at least two weeks prior to Dorothy Hubbell's departure.

John Cook also advised Earl Jackson that the gross income for the trading post for 1965 was:

Gasoline:$ 3,982
Rugs, skins, mohair, etc:14,385
Hogan rental:161

Cook went on to explain that it was the intention of the NPS to eliminate the sale of gasoline and to do away with the laundromat (the laundromat was a business operated by others, the space rented or leased from Dorothy Hubbell). And rental of the hogan would cease. Furthermore, and so SPMA could be aware of recent developments, the Navajo Tribe, just that year, had implemented a new cooperative program for the disposal of skins and wool and mohair; the role of the trader for those products would probably be greatly reduced. Cook's educated guess for an estimated gross income at the trading post from merchandise and rugs in the future would be $75,000. Operating expenses (merchandise, rugs, salaries) should be about $66,000. So SPMA could expect an estimated net profit of around $9,000 in its first year as Indian traders. [12]

For SPMA to take over a trading post in the Navajo Nation was in fact a blockbuster proposal. Although SPMA operated all over the Southwest, the risk at any one outlet was negligible. Accustomed to dealing with just hundreds of books and a few hundred dollars, the Association was now being asked to step into an exotic business for which none of their employees or board members had any expertise. Founded "to aid and promote the educational and scientific activities of the National Park Service," operating a trading post for the NPS could seem at first blush to be stretching the point a bit.

With the facts and figures of Cook's proposal occupying his thoughts, Earl Jackson drove up to Ganado on August 12th---at the request of the NPS's George Miller---to sit in on a meeting at Hubbell Trading Post. Present at the meeting were John Cook and Tom Kornelis of the NPS, T. Bowman and Joe Ernst from the Fred Harvey Company, LaCharles Eckel, and Dorothy and John Hubbell. The discussion was generated mainly by questions the Fred Harvey men put to the Hubbells in reference to details about the business. [13]

In order to keep the SPMA board members informed of developments, Jackson sent out a memorandum to them on August 15. He had learned at the August 12 meeting that most of the trading post's clientele were now local Navajo who would, as soon as the NPS discontinued the sale of perishable foods and the operation of the laundromat, go elsewhere for such services and supplies. If he had to judge solely by what he had learned at the meeting, Jackson could not envision how the NPS ever hoped to continue the business operation as a true old-time Navajo trading post.

Continuing with his memorandum, Jackson explained that what he could envision as a possible development at the trading post would be a "so-called" trading post, an outlet for rugs, jewelry, and other arts and crafts. The customers would be the same tourists who were now passing rough Ganado on their way to Canyon de Chelly and the Grand Canyon [roads in the area were being improved]. Such an arts-and-crafts store would operate in a "carefully preserved museum-like background," which should have a "tremendous appeal for a great many visitors. Unfortunately, it seemed likely that only a "sprinkling" of Navajo would continue to visit the store.

Jackson went on to say that by converting some savings and part of a checking account, SPMA should have enough money to buy the store inventory and a trailer house, and there might even be enough left over to provide some operating capital. From his point of view, then, it looked as though SPMA could buy into the operation without having to take out any loans. In any case, he wanted to point out that "Association money is not earned just to 'sit on' so it can draw interest, but is to serve NPS needs. Operation of a 'trading post' style Indian arts-and-crafts store would perfectly fit life-interpretation as we find it in numerous NPS historic areas...." [14]

(In an August 8th memorandum to the board members, which was based on his conversation with John Cook and Cook's written proposal, Earl Jackson had pointed out that SPMA was not organized to operate a trading post and lacked the experience to do so. The venture would be a "terrific" business risk. But he did want to help the NPS if they were asked to do so.) In concluding his August 15th memorandum, Jackson said, "If we are requested to take over the inventory and temporary running of the trading post, I will figure it is because the NPS needs for us to. Looking at it as a contribution to the Service and not as a money-maker, my recommendation to you, on the basis of present knowledge, would be for an affirmative vote." Because the governing board of the Fred Harvey Company would be making a decision on the matter within ten days, Earl Jackson requested that the SPMA board members respond with their decisions within that same period of time.

SPMA Searches for its Role at Hubbell Trading Post

The Board of Directors of SPMA voted in favor of assisting the NPS at Hubbell Trading Post, but precisely what they were going to do there went through some changes during the next few months. In an August 15th letter to Earl Jackson (in response to Jackson's August 8th memorandum to the board members), Ned Danson said that one of the best ways of achieving the potential of Hubbell Trading Post would be to run it as long as possible as a trading post, to "give the tourist the actual atmosphere of a post in operation."

At first, however, the NPS wanted the Fred Harvey Company, under a special use permit, to liquidate the stock at the trading post within four or five months after the government assumed control there. As soon as the store was "as bare inside as the proverbial widow's cupboard," [15] SPMA would take over the post under the direction of its Trader/Manager. SPMA would have the problem of going into business without any stock whatsoever, but on the other hand they would not have to worry about handling gasoline, dealing with laundromat customers, buying and selling groceries, or working with pawn and accounts receivable. They might lose several thousand dollars that first year, but they would then be in a position to insure that the integrity of the old trading post would be retained. Their insistence on quality would help the NPS create a successful operation. At the end of about four years, if the trading post appeared to be running smoothly, the NPS could set about "in the usual way" to find a concessioner to take over. And SPMA would have done its duty. (Just how one assured the "integrity" of a trading post by eliminating the goods and services the Navajo wanted was not explained.) Earl Jackson sent out ballots to the board members for their vote on the plan.

By January 2, 1967, the plan was changed. The NPS had decided that it would be preferable if SPMA would operate the trading post on an indefinite basis. That is, there should be no concessioner in the future. If SPMA agreed to this idea, they could take over the trading post as soon as the Fred Harvey Company had liquidated the stock. They would have to acquire the pawn in order to maintain good relations with the local Navajo but that would not cost over $2,000.

As Jackson told the board members, he preferred this new plan. As he foresaw the matter, after a few "lean" or "in-the-hole" years, SPMA would have a chance to recoup their losses and possibly even make some money for the Association. [16] The Board of Directors of SPMA, Dan Beard, Reg Manning, Emil Haury, Edwin McKee, and Edward Danson (with Danson exercising his proxy to cast Mr. Woodin's vote) voted in favor of taking over the trading post on an indefinite basis.

The Third and Final Plan for SPMA at Hubbell Trading Post

On the 16th of January, 1967, John Cook was back in George Miller's office at the Southwest Regional Office. At about 3:40 p.m., after some discussion between George Miller and Cook, Miller called Mr. Allen, of SPMA. He explained to Mr. Allen that the fate of Hubbell Trading Post was again under discussion. And what the NPS now had in mind was this: the Fred Harvey Company should step out of the picture entirely. SPMA would then negotiate directly with the Hubbell interests for the merchandise inventory. Mrs. Hubbell was going to carry on a partial liquidation of the stock, and she would try to close out the pawn. SPMA would not have to take over the accounts receivable, although they might, as an accommodation to Dorothy Hubbell, act as her collecting agent.

Jackson got off yet another memorandum to the board members. With this most recent idea from the NPS, Jackson wrote, SPMA would not have to start out with those bare shelves he had described earlier. The continuity of the trading post should not suffer. And with any luck at all, they might even be able to break even on the deal, suffer no losses whatsoever on their investment. John Cook would recruit the Trader/Manager for SPMA, and the clerk John Cook proposed was already employed at the trading post (Jackson had met her and was "well impressed"). Finally, Jackson said that although he had at first thought that mainly Indian wares, rugs and jewelry, would be on sale at the post, " sober reflection" was convincing everybody that some canned goods should be stacked on the shelves so that the trading post would look "real." The board members agreed to the arrangement. [17]

On January 30, 1967, John Cook wrote to Dorothy Hubbell to advise her officially that Southwest Parks and Monuments Association was the party approved by the National Park Service to handle the trading post operation. (Fred Whitteborg, Vice President in charge of Western Operations for the Fred Harvey Company, had assured George Miller that as long as SPMA thought they could handle the takeover, they, the Fred Harvey Company, were willing to step aside.) On that same day he wrote to Earl Jackson to advise him of the official approval of SPMA by the National Park Service. An inventory of the salable assets at Hubbell Trading Post was started on January 30 and was completed on the evening of January 31.

In his report of February 1, 1967, to NPS Director George Hartzog, Dan Beard said that the sale of perishable groceries would cease after April and "the sale of canned goods will be continued for a while, but these sales items will be phased out in the near future." The general plan for the trading post, Dan Beard went on to explain, was for the NPS to have "an operating trading post handling high-class Indian artifacts and related items only." (It's interesting to note how few of those becoming associated with Hubbell Trading post were particularly interested in selling groceries. But a trading post without anything in it that the local citizens could use for their own consumption was no more real than the "trading posts" along US 66.)

After approximately 100 sheets of inventory had been gathered and worked through, the final figure for pawn, merchandise, and equipment (pop vendor, safe, gasoline pump, meat cooler case, etc.) added up to $24,985.91. A check for $10,000 was issued on February 10, 1967, to J.L. Hubbell Trading Post, Inc., the balance plus six percent interest to be paid on or before January 31, 1968. With the delivery by John Cook of this check to Dorothy Hubbell, Southwest Parks and Monuments Association was officially in business as traders to the Navajo.

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Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006