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.
Trading 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.This is how things were in Dulce in the 1950s and 60s. He’s driving a horse drawn wagon.Our 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.
It has been rebuilt by the National Park Service as a national monument. This 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.
Bent had shops to repair wagons and a blacksmith. Fort 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.
Famous 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.
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.
Ever seen a $60,000 Navajo Rug? You have now.
The food is great, too. Try a Navajo Taco, but everything is good.