During the second half of the 1880s, entrepreneurs set up trading posts on many Indian reservations to supply everything from food staples and tobacco and farming equipment to the local people. Since the Indians usually didn’t have much money, many times the traders accepted animal furs, Indian artwork, and crafts in lieu of cash for payment. Most trading posts also had special tokens made up in various denominations to take the place of cash.
One of the most famous of these trading posts was the one operated by John Lorenzo Hubbell at Ganado, Arizona. Unlike many unscrupulous Indian traders who took advantage of their customers, Hubbell had a very good relationship with the Navajo people and they shared a mutual respect.
Established in 1878, the Hubbell Trading Post was much more than a commercial enterprise to the Navajo, but also a place to socialize, to leave messages for friends and family, and to seek help with the tangled regulations of the Commission of Indian Affairs and the Indian agents who oversaw the reservation on behalf of the federal government. Many times the trader acted as advocate and spokesman for the post’s Indian customers when dealing with government bureaucracy.
Even today, many Navajo have a lot of respect for John Hubbell. In 1886, a smallpox epidemic raged through the reservation, killing many Navajo. Hubbell, who was immune because he had a bout with the disease as a child, worked night and day tending to the sick and dying, using his own home as a hospital.
The Navajo Reservation in northeastern Arizona is a land of wide open spaces, much of it uninhabited, and it was even more so during Hubbell’s time. A trip to the trading post usually involved traveling by horse and wagon, or on foot, over rough trails that were dry and dusty most of the time, but could quickly turn muddy and slippery when it rained. But no matter how hard it was to get there, the Navajo came to sell their colorful hand woven rugs and beautiful turquoise and silver jewelry, or to trade them for food staples, canned goods, tobacco, Pendleton blankets, hardware, and horse tack. Trading was an unhurried process, and dickering could take several hours.
Known to be demanding of excellence in craftsmanship, Hubbell had an enduring influence on Navajo rug weaving and silversmithing that still continues today. There are those who believe that without Hubbell, Navajo crafts would not be as widely known and highly regarded as they are today.
In the 1880s, Hubbell was elected Sheriff of Apache County, just in time to side with the local sheepmen in a violent range war with Texas cattle ranchers who had come into the area. Hubbell later said that he was ambushed at least a dozen times, and his home was turned into a fortress to ward off attack from the cattlemen.
Hubbell became the foremost Navajo trader of his time, building a trading empire that included stage and freight lines, as well as numerous trading posts. Eventually Hubbell and his two sons owned 24 trading posts, a wholesale house in Winslow, and other business and ranch properties.
John Lorenzo Hubbell died on November 12, 1930, and he was buried on Hubbell Hill, overlooking the trading post. Hubbell family members continued to operate the Ganado trading post until it was sold to the National Park Service in 1965. While the property is managed by the Park Service as a National Historic Site, the trading post store is still active, and operated by Western National Parks Association, a non-profit association that continues the trading business of the Hubbell family.
While the store still stocks a few basic grocery items and snacks, today the inventory is made up mostly of Navajo rugs and tapestries, Indian jewelry, and crafts.
But visitors can still walk on the same creaking wooden floors that generations of Indian traders and Navajo once did, and watch modern Native American craftsmen negotiate the sale of their beautiful handmade work.
Besides the trading post itself, and the Hubbell family home, the complex includes a National Park Service Visitor Center that has a small bookstore and a display loom where Navajo women demonstrate their weaving skills.
The Hubbell family home houses the family’s private collection of Southwestern art and Native American arts and crafts. The home is available for guided tours, but it was closed during our visit.
We spent some time poking around in the trading post store, admiring the beautiful Navajo rugs and the silver and turquoise jewelry on display. We didn’t purchase anything, but there were a couple of weavings that Miss Terry sure wanted to take home with her.
I had a good time just taking pictures of all of the neat stuff on display inside the trading post, as well as outside.
Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site is located on U.S. Highway 264, a mile west of its junction with U.S. 191 in Ganado. It is 37 miles from Ganado to Interstate 40. Summer hours at Hubbell Trading Post are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, from April 30th to September 8th. Winter hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily from September 9th through April 29th. However, like many facilities, it is temporarily closed due to COVID-19. But when things get back to normal, make it a point to include it on your next trip to Arizona.
There is no charge to visit trading post, but there is a small fee for the Hubbell home tour.
There is a very short, sharp turn off the highway and it might be difficult for large RVs. For more information on the Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site, call (928) 755-3475.
Thought For The Day – I had my patience tested. I’m negative.