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Over-the-Counter RugsToday, trading posts are often thought of as tourist traps, but in the Arizona Territory, places like Hubbell Trading Post served a critical role, especially on the reservations.
By Sally Benford
ganado There weren't any Walmarts or Targets in the Arizona Territory. Or anywhere else in the late 1800s. And so, getting things like flour, produce, cloth and hardware was tough. The situation was even more challenging on the Navajo Reservation. That is, until an entrepreneur named John Lorenzo Hubbell (pictured) moved into the area.
Hubbell, who was known as Don Lorenzo or "Double Glasses," grew up in New Mexico and had traveled the Southwest as a clerk and interpreter for the United States military. He knew that the Navajos were familiar with commerce and eager for goods. He also understood the tribe's time-honored tradition of bartering. With that in mind, he opened his first trading post at Ganado in 1878.
Working with his Navajo neighbors, he took in the wool, maize, hides, woven blankets and handmade rugs they brought him in trade for groceries and hardware. While selling their products, Hubbell also served as an unofficial cultural ambassador for the tribe, helping bridge the gap between the Anglo and Indian cultures. He even influenced the art that they created. Among other things, he encouraged weavers to use the best materials and instructed them about which rug designs were the most popular with collectors. He also brought silversmiths from Mexico to teach them the art of jewelry-making. Perhaps most importantly, Hubbell fulfilled an essential human need. Not only did he supply the Navajos with food, his trading posts also allowed them to hold on to their dignity and traditions.
Over his lifetime, Hubbell built a commercial empire that at one time included more than 30 trading posts, as well as mail and freight lines. He sold or quit most of the ventures, but he continued his Ganado trading post until his death in 1930. Hubbell's sons, John Lorenzo Jr., Roman and Roman's wife, Dorothy, operated that business until 1967, when it was purchased by the National Park Service. Today, Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site still operates in much the same way it did in Don Lorenzo's days.
This month, on September 18, the Friends of Hubbell Trading Post will sponsor its semiannual Native American Arts and Crafts Auction. Proceeds from the sale will provide scholarships for Navajo and Hopi students.
For information, 928-755-3475 or www.friendsofhubbell.org.