Hubbell Trading Post

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When John Lorenzo Hubbell opened what would become his flagship trading post on the Navajo reservation, it was 1878. Barter had always played an important role in the tribe's economy, and Hubbell's timing couldn't have been more favorable. The Navajos had survived forced exile to Fort Sumner , New Mexico , a decade earlier, and after years of recovery, they were ready for commerce and the many new goods the outside world had to offer. Enterprising businessmen like Hubbell recognized this valuable opportunity, and trading posts became an increasingly important part of reservation life.

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Transcript

Narrator: When John Lorenzo Hubbell opened what would become his flagship trading post on the Navajo reservation, it was 1878. Barter had always played an important role in the tribe's economy, and Hubbell's timing couldn't have been more favorable. The Navajos had survived forced exile to Fort Sumner , New Mexico , a decade earlier, and after years of recovery, they were ready for commerce and the many new goods the outside world had to offer. Enterprising businessmen like Hubbell recognized this valuable opportunity, and trading posts became an increasingly important part of reservation life.

Ed Chamberlin:
The trading post was the place where you would go to buy your groceries, where you would go and buy all of your essential needs:
your commodities, your sugar, your flour. The local people who would weave a rug, for instance, they'd bring that over to the trader, and the trader would then exchange that rug -- hence the word "trade" -- for merchandise. It's really a general store with at least one of everything available to the customer.

Narrator:
Like most trading posts, Hubbell's was more than just a store. It was an ambitious undertaking that included a freighting business that restocked post supplies and also transported the merchandise that had been taken in trade to a growing marketplace off the reservation.

Ed Chamberlin:
They had a farming industry where they grew alfalfa and harvested that and would use that for their sheep and their cows and horses, but they also used it to sell to local customers. They did buy and sell sheep, so the property included a barn, it includes a bunkhouse. They were a whole enterprise.

Narrator:
On remote reservations where people lived miles apart, trading posts were also important as gathering places and sources for local information. Hubbell's was no exception and became a flourishing enterprise, so much so that over the years, Hubbell and his family created a successful franchise that once numbered as many as 23 posts across the Navajo nation. But with the advent of the automobile, the vast distances that once separated tribes like the Navajo from the rest of the world became less of a barrier to commerce, and the age of the trading post began to wane. J.L. Hubbell died in 1930. His son Roman and daughter-in-law Dorothy took over the operation, but by the early 1950s, they were ready to retire. Yet they wanted to preserve the trading post and its valuable legacy.

Ed Chamberlin:
They didn't want it to just disappear and sell off all the items, close the store, and have that be the end of the trading business. So through a number of years and many people involved, it was decided that perhaps the park service would be interested, and in 1965, it became a national historic site.

Narrator:
Today the Hubbell trading post remains open for business, a vital part of the community and the oldest continually operated trading post on the Navajo reservation.

Stephen Pickle:
We still do business here as Hubbell did business 130 years ago. Weavers from all over the reservation come here to Hubbell and bring their weavings. We sometimes trade -- part cash, part beeso, as the Navajo call their currency, part grocery, or maybe an item that would be needed for a ceremony, possibly a wedding basket. We also trade for jewelry. We carry most of the staples that they need here and use regularly on the reservation. This is a rug by one of our local weavers, and she's one of the master weavers. These are woven by some of the grandmas in the community. And we do our best to buy everything that the grandmas bring in, because for many of them, this is their sole income.

Virginia Tracy:
When the weaver comes in, usually they bring in the rug and then they usually have a set price because usually they calculate their time, or how much they spent weaving it. They give us a ballpark of what they want. And so we try to see what we can do for them. We agree on a price, and so we all leave happy. Mr. Hubbell, he was known for his generosity to the local customers. So a lot of the weavers in this area and surrounding areas, they like to come here pretty much because their grandmother had brought their rugs here, and so they continue their tradition. And we have a huge market for it here at the site. We get customers from all over the world.

Narrator:
In addition to a selection of finely crafted goods, visitors to Hubbell are provided with a window on another world and a chance to walk through history that is still very much alive. Since J.L. Hubbell's time, much has changed on the reservation, but much remains the same:
the vastness of the landscape, the spirit of the people, and an enduring example of enterprise that continues to bring two different worlds together.

Ed Chamberlin:
We are preserving a trading post. It's going to continue as a trading post forever. All of the artifacts are on exhibit for visitors to look at and enjoy, but the most important thing about this specific historic site is we are preserving a way of life. It continues today. It's still a functioning trading post; it is live, it's real.