Hubbell Trading Post

In August 1958, Ed Ellinger penned this story on the Navajo Nation's Hubbell Trading Post for Arizona Highways. We're reproducing it here in conjunction with our November issue, which features some of the trading posts still operating today.

The Hubbell Trading Post at Ganado

By Ed Ellinger | Don Lorenzo Hubbell, photo courtesy of National Park Service

You wear out your shoes, you buy another pair; 
When the food is all gone, you buy more; 
You gather melons, and more will grow on the vine; 
You grind your corn and make bread, which you eat, 
and next year youl have plenty more corn. 
But my friend Lorenzo is gone, and none to take his place. 

The date was November 12, 1930; the place — Ganado, Arizona. Don Lorenzo Hubbell had passed on to the happy hunting ground. The poem was written by a Navajo who expressed what was in his heart; a feeling of deep regret shared by many; some who had known him for over half a century. He was their friend and he would be missed. 

Don Lorenzo Hubbell, born at Pajarito, New Mexico, in 1853 was a patriarch of the old school. His role was important in the history of New Spain, later known as New Mexico and Arizona. When he died an era came to a close. There was none to take his place. 

Today the old Hubbell Trading Post stands at the crossroads of yesterday, suspended by time; looking much the same as when Teddy Roosevelt spent a week in 1912 visiting the hacienda with his friend, Don Lorenzo, a gracious gentleman, whom he affectionately called "Lorenzo The Magnificent." 

Turn north at Chambers, Arizona, off speed-happy Route 66. Drive half a mile along this dirt road and everything changes. The wash-board surface slows you down to a gentle relaxed pace. You will notice the green rolling country, perhaps for the first time. It is dotted with cedar, juniper and low-growing sage. You will wave at a wagonload of stern-faced Navajos, wrapped in blankets, bound for the trading post at Chambers. Seventeen miles to the north you will pass the trading post at Wide Ruin, known for its picturesque setting and the locale for a delightful book, "Spin A Silver Dollar," about a young Indian artist. A few miles further you will pass the settlement at Klagetoh and finally after another fifteen miles at a reduced speed, you will pull up in front of the lone gas pump which marks the entrance to the Hubbell Trading Post; a long low stone building neither beautiful nor impressive. 

Push open the screen door. You may expect to be totally ignored by the shy Navajos leaning on the counters, drinking endless bottles of pop and talking among themselves in a guttural tongue you won't understand. Navajo men usually wear tall black cowboy hats — no dents, just the way they come out of the box. Their thick black hair is gathered in a long bun, tied with strands of white wool, behind their necks. The women wear colorful satin blouses, brilliant turquoise and silver jewelry and long flowing pleated skirts which all but hide their saddle shoes and bobby sox. The little boys wear blue jeans, cowboy boots and colorful shirts. Their sisters dress in skirts and blouses just like their mothers. 

The store section of the trading post looks like most of the others located on the reservation, replete with a wide variety of groceries, soft goods and hardware. The atmosphere is also about the same, but here the similarity stops. 

To one side of the store are two large rooms from out of the past, now seldom seen by the public. Rooms dominated by large overhead beams decorated with Hopi and Apache baskets. The first, entered from behind the store counter, is the old office. Mrs. Roman Hubbell, Don Lorenzo's daughter-in-law, still uses the old desk. She runs the trading post since her husband's death. Nothing has changed in this high-ceilinged room. The photograph of Teddy Roosevelt hangs from its familiar place on the wall. 

The pawn closet in one corner provides safe-keeping for the Indian jewelry — often deposited as collateral for short-term loans. Pictures, stuffed deer heads and ancient artifacts add atmosphere to this collection from a world which exists only in the memories of those who knew it well. 

The second room is called the "rug room." Several small piles of rugs are on the floor, but nothing compared to its heyday when the room brimmed to capacity. A gun rack hangs to the rear with beat-up firearms, silenced forever, unable to tell the part they played in the winning of the West. The remaining walls are covered with an assortment of buffalo heads, arrow quivers, old saddles, baskets, grinding stones and hundreds of other interesting items no longer useful in our modern day of mechanical gadgets. 

Leading out from the rear of the office, one follows a flagstone path to the living quarters. Here, rooted into the earth from which it sprang, stands the old adobe hacienda just the way Don Lorenzo designed it; an impressive living hall with bedrooms leading off on either side. A door at the far end of the living quarters leads across an open patio into the dining room and kitchen. 

This home, high on the wind-swept plateau of the Navajo Reservation, was a meeting place for the great and near-great; an oasis of learning and open-handed hospitality. 

E. A. Burbank came for a few days to sketch the strong Navajo faces. He stayed for ten months. The largest single collection of his work graces the walls of one of the bedrooms. William R. Leigh and Lon Megargee were often visitors as well as Emery Kopta, violinist turned sculptor. There are several fine examples of this man's work in the living room, the walls of which are crammed with paintings of every description, some Spanish and some Indian. Tucked away in a corner are a pair of tremendous saddlebags which once were carried by one of the many oxen used by Don Lorenzo's father in the freighting business. 

Bookcases burst with a rare and invaluable collection of Americana. 

Unobtrusively hanging in one of the bedrooms is a framed copy of the Ulster Gazette, published on January 4, 1800. It carried an announcement of George Washington's death on December 14, 1799. 

Above the fireplace, in the place of honor, hangs a large portrait of Don Lorenzo by Harold Betts. This picture dominates the room. It is the center of interest for its subject was the center of this vigorous world at Ganado. He brought friendship, help and understanding to the. Navajo; culture and hospitality to those who came to visit. In time a Presbyterian Mission was established at Ganado. Finally, a full-time doctor came to stay. Don Lorenzo provided him with living quarters and a horse and buggy. 

Apparently there is little explanation why certain men attain a greatness apart from their fellow man. Some are to the manor born, some come from humble origin. Don Lorenzo Hubbell's father James L. Hubbell was born in Salisbury, Connecticut, of Danish stock a direct descendant of the Vikings who wrested part of England from Alfred the Great. James Hubbell came West in 1848, a soldier in the Mexican War. When the war ended he decided to remain in the Southwest to establish a freighting business over the Santa Fe Trail from Kansas City, Missouri. He furnished supplies for U. S. Army Forts and at one time had forty-eight wagons—four oxen to each wagon. Size was a necessary protection against Indian raids. The business prospered. He soon married Julianita Gutierrez, a descendant of the Spanish conquistadores. Her mother was a daughter of Chavres de Jobiel of Los Padillas, one of the wealthiest men in Mexico. Here was a blending of a man with a stern Nordic background coming across the American continent and marrying a woman of Spanish charm and grace whose ancestors sailed to the New World shortly after Cortez and Coronado, seeking wealth and adventure. 

Don Lorenzo was destined to know the advantages of wealth and education. He was sent to school in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Deficiencies in a sketchy school system were quickly supplemented by private tutors at home. These were the days "when Albuquerque was the central depot for a growing freighting business. The West was young and supplies were urgent. The population was more Spanish than Anglo and more Indian than Spanish. Young Don Lorenzo was brought up to appreciate the meaning of his position and its broad responsibilities. 

A pioneer at heart, the urban life in Albuquerque soon proved too tame for this young man growing to maturity. He soon pushed further West to Fort Wingate "where he worked as a clerk in the commissary for Roger Stover, who was to become the Governor of New Mexico. 

Years later, Mr. Hubbell told friends that he remembered walking over the flats north of where Wingate Station now stands. Men were scything grass that applied on his father's contract to supply hay for the cavalry horses at the Fort. 

For a time, Don Lorenzo was very friendly with the Hopi Indians who live high above the plains in their fortress-like rock strongholds. He may well have been the first white man to witness a Hopi Snake Dance. But it was among the Navajos that this young man developed life-long unbreakable ties of friendship. Maybe it was an innate love of freedom which drew him close to these nomadic shepherds, whose widely scattered hogans blend into the brown soil of their far-flung domain. He finally mastered their difficult language, homesteaded 160 acres of land which were later patented and decided to build a trading post. It was in 1876 that construction started along the banks of a dribbling stream at a place called Rio Pueblo Colorado, named for a nearby Indian settlement no longer in existence. 

The location was strategic, on the main route from Keams Canyon to Fort Defiance. The settlement's name was later changed to "Ganado" — "the herd." 

It was the first trading post located away from direct military protection. 

Business prospered at the trading post from the start. The Navajos brought in their wool in exchange for food and clothing. During the wool clip season a credit was established for each family at the post. But most Indians didn't know the word "credit"; it wasn't in their vocabulary. So Don Lorenzo issued his own aluminum dollars which could only be spent at the post. This "hard money" supplanted "paper money" which seemed flimsy and didn't have the substance of the kind made of metal. 

Don Lorenzo's trading post became the largest source for Navajo rugs. It was not unusual for the Fred Harvey buyer to place an annual order for $25,000.00 — an enormous sum of money in those days. 

In 1879, with volume growing steadily at the post, Don Lorenzo married Lina Rubie, a Spanish lady from Cebollette, New Mexico. They raised four children; Lorenzo, Jr., Roman, Mrs. Barbara Goodman and Mrs. Adele Parker. Only Mrs. Goodman is still alive. 

These children and in turn their children, grew up at Ganado. The adobe hacienda was their home. In time they all moved away, drawn to the world beyond the reservation. Roman and his wife Dorothy were the only ones to return. 

From 1875 to 1930 is a long span in a man's life. Mr. Hubbell made the most of it. He was a tireless worker, neither smoked nor drank and never acknowledged any physical limitations. In spite of the arduous duties of running the trading post, he was a Territorial Assemblyman and State Senator. He knew and helped nominate every president from Cleveland to Theodore Roosevelt. 

He maintained a generous hostelry of lavish hospitality, certainly unique when time and locality are considered. Shortly after the turn of the century, George Eastman, of Kodak fame, sent out an emissary from Rochester, New York. Mr. Eastman wanted to bring out a party to spend a vacation at the hacienda as a paying guest. Don Lorenzo insisted, as always, there would be no charge. But the emissary was adamant as he had been told to bring back an estimate. In desperation, Don Lorenzo finally said, "All right then, make it $7,000.00," picking a figure from thin air. Two weeks later a check for that amount arrived in the mail. Mr. Eastman and his party arrived soon after. They had a wonderful time driving through the country in horse-drawn buckboards and visited a large part of the Reservation including Canyon de Chelly. Life was good. The Hubbell hospitality was abundant and we can well imagine the jovial companionship and how they must have enjoyed it. 

The Hubbell Trading Post was the hub of an important part of the Navajo Reservation. Life for miles around centered at Ganado. Brigham Young sent a messenger, bearing a summons to the Navajo Chief, Tootso Hosteen. The Indians had been stealing too many Mormon horses. Don Lorenzo explained that the summons must be obeyed. He agreed to accompany the Navajo leader to the conference. At the meeting an agreement was reached in which the Navajos promised not to steal any more horses though they were allowed to keep the horses already in their possession. 

Life however was not always smooth for Don Lorenzo and his growing family. In spite of his close friendship with the majority of the Navajos there were times when near-tragedy stalked his days. On several occasions his life was saved in true movie fashion, with his friends interceding in the nick of time. Once after an argument about loading some wool into a wagon, Don Lorenzo was bound to a tree ready for savage torture. At the precise moment, his friend, "Many Horses" arrived at the scene and saved the trader's life. "Many Horses" was Don Lorenzo's life-long friend and companion. On Hubbell Hill which rises gently behind the adobe hacienda we can find six graves side by side; Don Lorenzo, his wife Lina and "Many Horses" — a friend through thick and thin, Lorenzo, Jr., Mrs. Adele Parker and Roman. 

Theirs was a rewarding life of hardship and self-discipline devoted to making their small spot on the map a better place to live in, for Indian and white man alike. 

In October 1957, Roman Hubbell died, the last male member of the Hubbell dynasty willing and capable of carrying on the tradition of this famous trading post. His able wife now manages the Hubbell post. Also, there is considerable interest in preserving this priceless museum for posterity. Certainly its library and art collection should be kept intact. It would be a shame if anything should happen to the buildings as they represent a bit of America which can never be replaced. Here is a landmark of our frontier days. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: Hubbell Trading Post is now preserved as a national historic site, and trading still occurs there. To learn more, 928-755-3475 or visit www.nps.gov/hutr.