The Hubbell trading post, established in 1876 is the oldest trading post in continuous use since it opened. Hubbell died in 1930. His son took over the post. His wife Dorothy Hubbell turned it over to the Park Service in about 1965 with the stipulation that it still be run as a trading post. She removed her clothes and some personal effects and left numberous treasures that remain in the post. The docent told us there was a whole suitcase of silver conchos under one of the beds.
John Hubbell learned to speak Navajo as a young man while employed as a clerk and Spanish interpreter at forts and trading posts. Travelers, area ranchers and Indians depended on the hundreds of Trading Posts throughout the west to trade their goods and sustain their life on homesteads. Posts were the only civilized spots for locals to communicate with each other and find out what was going on in the outside world that affected them. The building was small at first, and added onto over the years. Customers still walk through the old wooden door and this is what greets them:
Goods no longer sold hangs from the ceilings as it did then. The old hardwood floors squeak and bend as you walk through. Hubbell began trading in 1876, a crucial time for the Navajo who were released from their imprisonment at Bosque Redondo. After the Long Walk, which killed about half of the Navajo, they were allowed to return to their lands, only to find their hogans destroyed, horses , herds and crops long gone and a new life on a reservation. The Long Walk ended in 1868, but reservation life came with restrictions, missionaries, Indian agents, and teachers all trying to re- aculturate them. It became a new struggle. Hubbell was merchant and liaison for them. Called Don Lorenzo by the Spanish and Nk’ee Sinili by the Navajo, he didn’t try to change them. He became a father figure to the Navajo, settling quarrels, explaining government policies. He was father confessor, justice of the peace, judge, jury and defacto mayor of the land.
Navajo’s learned blanket and rug making from the Spanish and quickly became accomplished with their own designs and dyes. Then and now, the post has a huge selection of excellent Navajo Blankets and Jewelry.
As in Hubbell’s time, the Navajo get fair treatment. Here their rugs and jewelry earn them the bulk of the money for their work, while the downtown trading posts like Richardsons and Maizels, the bulk of the money goes to the dealer. However, the in-town posts get more traffic. When you buy a rug and/or jewelry at Hubbell’s, you are making an investment. We talked to, and photographed a German woman who paid $1,600 for a bracelet. Jim just shakes his head.
We took the tour of Hubbell’s home. The roof, the thatch, the huge beams, like those in the post made differently than others I’ve seen. The house itself had Navajo rugs on every floor, every bed, over the windows and doors to keep out the cold. Blankets softened hard wooden chairs. We took a lot of pictures but technical difficulties have dictated a shortened blog today.
The oven though broken down a bit, still stands on the grounds along with remnants of the old corn fields, a chicken coop with a big fat turkey in it. Horses in the barns. Old equipment, buggies, saddles, leather goods of all types.
Hay in the corn cribs. In the 1800’s the corn was fenced, the animals ranged free.
Something I’d never seen before in the post kitchen, is a dough riser sitting next to the stove for warmth. You can tell what huge batches of bread they made each day.
The old scarecrow from the 1960’s has a dangling aluminum can to help scare off the ravens.
The guest cottage served as hospitality to President Roosevelt one time. Numerous guests were welcomed here to paint, rehabilitate or just join the family barbecues out back.
Family and guests could spend the evenings outdoors next to the huge barbecue pit, by the light of hand-built lanterns that held a fat candle. I expect it gave a romantic light under the stars.
We took a lot of pictures but had difficulties with our signal where we are parked in Canyon De Chelly. As a travel destination, Hubbell Trading Post is an experience you shouldn’t miss. It really makes you feel you have stepped back in time. It isn’t far from the Canyon and worth going out of your way to find.