Hubbell Trading Post
Story & Photography by Kathryn R. Burke
Established in the 1870s by John Lorenzo Hubbell, the post today is a National Historic Site. It is the oldest, continually operating trading post on the Navajo Reservation. Trader Bill Malone manages the post for the National Park Service and Southwest Parks and Monuments Association. Part museum, part working post, part national park, Hubble offers an opportunity to see how the old traders lived, watch descendants of their original Native customers demonstrate weaving and shop for quality arts and crafts, some of which date back to the days when Hubbell ran the post himself.
At one time, Don Lorenzo, as he was known to local hispanics—the Navajo called him “Naakaii Sani” (Old Mexican) and “Nak’ee sinili” (Eyeglasses)—and his sons owned 30 trading posts throughout the southwest, one as far away as California. He was revered by his Native American customers. “Out here in this country,” said Hubble, “the Indian trader is everything from merchant to father confessor, justice of the peace, judge, jury, court of appeals, chief medicine man and defacto czar of the domain over which he presides.” Hubbell believed the “first duty of an Indian trader is to look after the material welfare of his neighbors.”
Hubbell set out to make his post in Ganado, Ariz. more than a traditional trading post. It was also a social, cultural and political center as well. Distinguished visitors, including Theodore Roosevelt, along with archaeologists, artists, writers and photographers spent time there. Hubbell, his partners and family ran the post for more than 50 years during which time he established a reputation for warm hospitality for Anglos, Hispanics and Native Americans alike. His tenure spanned the critical years for the Navajo when they struggled to adjust to reservation life after their return from the “Long Walk” to Fort Sumner in New Mexico where they were confined for four arduous years.
The post today is preserved much as it was during its heyday. Inside the compound are a stone bunkhouse, corrals and sheds, barn, chicken coop, bread oven,guest hogan, Hubbell’s home—tours are led by park rangers—and the post itself which is comprised of a warehouse, jewelry room, rug room and the “bullpen,” where the bargaining was done. Here, customers traded (some still do) handicrafts, sheep, wool and pelts for staple items including groceries and tobacco. This room, with its iron stove and shelves of dry goods and groceries (now including dog food and canned soda) looks much the same as it did over a century ago.
Even the eclectic mix of languages are relatively unchanged, as visitors from around the world mingle with locals and the Navajo who frequent the post. Thousands of visitors, many of them foreign, annually visit the facility which is a half mile west of Ganado and 55 miles northwest of Gallup, NM.
A visitor center and bookstore run by the Park service also offers demonstrations of rug weaving. Inside the old post are dazzling displays of Navajo rugs, many of them woven in the Ganado style, baskets, jewelry, carvings, paintings and other hand-crafted items.
Hubbell Trading Post is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. It can be reached by Arizona 264 from the east and west and by U.S. 191 from the north and south. Information, 520 755-3475 or on the web: www.nps.gov/hutr.