Trading Posts

I love a good old trading post. I grew up with one, the Apache Mercantile in Dulce, N.M. The next nearest store was 90 miles away in Farmington. We thought of that as the “big city,” after all, it had two main streets. The trading post had everything you might need from canned peaches to chaps, 50-lb sacks of flour and beans to saddles.
Apache MerchantileTrading Posts have an interesting history. The government licensed traders to Indians theoretically controlling the trade and keeping it honest. Thus the government established a monopoly for the trader leading to constant accusations that the traders were over-charging. This led to price controls and the ruin of many traders. It also led to a good many gifts to elected officials in order to obtain the license.During the first half of the twentieth century, traders functioned as high risk makers of agricultural loans. Folks like the Navajo and Jicarilla Apache, who raised sheep, were looking at income once or twice a year when wool and mutton was sold. The traders extended credit and in many cases also served as pawn brokers. The best Navajo jewelry is known as “old pawn,” taken out from the trader a couple of times a year for ceremonials and otherwise left as collateral on loans.1962 QuintanaThis is  how things were in Dulce in the 1950s and 60s. He’s driving a horse drawn wagon.Dulce Station 2Our train looked like something out of a movie. It was a working train but unfortunately it’s gone now. It was part of the Denver-Rio Grande-Southern system.

Bent’s Old Fort near La Junta, Colorado, dates back to 1832 when William Bent got the Cheyenne to move down south to the Arkansas River promising that he would build a place to trade with them. Thus he created the Southern Cheyenne. The post was built of adobe and destroyed by Bent when the Army tried to take it over in the 1850s.

Bents fort 074It has been rebuilt by the National Park Service as a national monument. Img_8813 Img_8818 Img_8836This is how things must have looked in the 1830s and 40s. The Indians traded tanned hides, skins and furs for beads, mirrors, traps, guns, blankets, and cloth. They wore more clothing made of cloth than of buckskin. Img_8838

Pipes were the thing until the 1880s when machine rolled cigarettes became available.Img_8839

Guns for trade and yes, it was legal to trade guns to the Indians. Bows and arrows were actually more effective in war than rifles.Img_8847

Bent had shops to repair wagons and a blacksmith.Img_8854 Img_8858 Img_8887Fort Bonneville opened in the 1820s on the Green River and was run by the mysterious Captain Bonneville. Mysterious because he was on leave of absence from the Army and no one seems to have known quite why. Washington Irving wrote up his adventures.

Mountain Man Museum 038 Mountain Man Museum 133 Mountain Man Museum 134Famous mountain man, Jim Bridger, opened Fort Bridger on the banks of Black’s Fork of the Green River in the 1840s. In the 1850s, Mormon forced Bridger out and in 1857 burned the fort during the Mormon War. The site was occupied by the Army and was an active military fort into the 1890s. The Fort Bridger Trading Post has been rebuilt. It seems Bridger was trading with travelers on the California-Oregon Trail as well as Indians.

Fort Bridger 106 Fort Bridger 107 Fort Bridger 110 Fort Bridger 116Genado was a Trading Post on the Navajo Reservation. Today it’s run as a museum. Picture 238 Picture 241 Picture 246 Trading Post Vacation Hubble Trading Post 2A room for old pawn jewelry. Vacation Hubble Trading Post 3Navajo rugs were traded, too.

Cameron is also on the Navajo Reservation on the Little Colorado River on the way to the Grand Canyon of the Colorado. It’s still open as a trading post and is a great place to visit.

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They still sell skeins of wool for weaving george 140 st george 141

Weavers come in to demonstrate their george 142 st george 151

Ever seen a $60,000 Navajo Rug? You have now.

The food is great, too. Try a Navajo Taco, but everything is good.


About dhocking

Doug Hocking is an independent scholar who has completed advanced studies in American history, ethnology and historical archaeology. He grew up on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation and attended school among the Indios and paisanos of the Rio Arriba (Northern New Mexico). He retired from the military as an armored cavalry (scout) officer. His novels immerse the reader in the times, terrain and cultures of 19th century New Mexico. Doug lives near Tombstone with his wife, dogs and a feral cat. He writes both fiction and history and is currently working on a biography of Tom Jeffords and has two historical novels in print: Massacre at Point of Rocks and Mystery of Chaco Canyon. His articles have appeared in True West, Wild West, Buckskin Bulletin and Roundup.
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