Trading posts found in areas close to Native American reservations may be the real thing or, unfortunately, they may be just another souvenir shop. To enter a genuine trading post that trades with local Native populations is an experience in commerce that has it’s roots in Indian trade before the 1900’s. And, for some trading posts, the families have been trading with locals for generations.
I have been a westerner all my life.
Yet, it took a visit to Gallup, New Mexico for me to really understand and appreciate trading posts. I came away with an appreciation for the authentic goods that are traded there and how important trading posts are to Native American commerce and financial viability.
I visited several trading posts. They were bustling with business, both with Native Americans pawning or selling their goods to the traders and with tourists and collectors buying genuine Native arts and crafts. The atmosphere inside these trading posts reminded me of stories about the old trading days when Navajo families might travel for several hours and spend a day or two in town. They would spend an entire day at the trading post selling wool, trading blankets and jewelry to the trader for food supplies and clothing, exchanging stories with friends or neighbors seen only on these occasions.
The Story of Pawn
For me, the mention of the words pawn shop used to conjure up visions of skid row down-and-outers pawning their watch or guitar for some money to buy a sandwich, or worse, another drink.
But a visit to Perry Null’s Trading Post, formerly Tobe Turpin’s Trading Post, and a personal tour led by Perry, changed that vision.
When you come to think of it, Native Americans on the reservations, have to be self-sufficient. There aren’t many places nearby to provide employment and a steady income.
It is said that over 80% of the Native American jewelry sold today passes from the reservations near Gallup, New Mexico through the Gallup area. There are many home-based businesses doing weaving, pottery and silver work. Native Americans who pawn their family possessions, jewelry, guns and saddles, do so for two reasons. One it is a way to get a loan to see them through a lean season.
And, two, it is a way to store precious possessions. That was an eye opener for me. Perry led us into the back rooms of the Perry Null Trading Post, the vaults, you might call them. We found rooms of beautiful saddles, treasured rifles, ceremonial skins and wedding baskets. And, of course there was beautiful jewelry, much of it vintage turquoise and silver, handed down for generations. What I found out was that the ceremonial skins and baskets were stored there, families paid monthly, and when a ceremonial was planned, they would pay on the item and take it home. The same process took place for rifles, which might be needed only for the hunting season.
At Richardson’s, another well-known trading post in the Gallup area, we were told that over 95% of the items pawned were paid on and were considered “live pawn.” “Dead Pawn” is what you see for sale, only small percentage of what people entrust to the trading posts to be stored.
Trading Posts were developed to meet a need in the Native American communities. In the Gallup area, the Native American culture is a matrilineal culture, meaning that heritage and valuables are passed through the women's families. Many women on the reservations own the sheep and the homes. Valuables are in the form of saddles, jewelry and animals. This was unfamiliar to banks but completely acceptable to the traders who understood the Native American culture.
Buying at a Trading Post
Traders rely on long-established trusting business relationships with the local Native Americans. This trust is often established over generations in the trading business. Traders know the families and value their business. They deal in authentic Indian objects of art, jewelry, rugs and pottery and can provide certificates of authenticity for these items.
They know the origin, meaning they know the families who made them. Dealing with a well-known trader means that you are purchasing a Native American item only one step removed from the person who made the item.
In order to understand the art and craft items and the trading process, it would be helpful to first visit a historic trading post such as The Hubbell Trading Post,which is still active and is part of the National Park Service. Toadlina Trading Post, also near Gallup, has a weaving museum that will help orient you to Native American rugs. Richardson's Tradingm right on Route 66 in Gallup offers tours for groups consisting of 8 - 40 people. The tours are free and take about 2.5 hours. You will learn all about the trading system, about Native American art and jewelry and rugs and see areas of this historic tradng company the public would not normally see. You need to call ahead to make arrangements. 505.722.4762.
“Real” trading posts deal in local jewelry, rugs, pottery and art and are not a place to find souvenirs made in other countries. Ask for certificates of authenticity and inquire if the items are “Indian made,” which family or artisan made the item and where they live. You should be able to get that information from the trader. “Real” trading posts conduct ongoing business with local Native Americans. Beware that many souvenir shops use the term “Trading Post.” There is a real difference between them.
When you shop at trading posts, take your time, learn about the local art, weaving and jewelry making. Research the prices. If you don’t have that much time, ask a lot of questions. Most long-standing trading posts have very knowledgeable staffmembers. On a recent trip to Gallup, my friend, who had studied up on Navajo rugs, began asking to go to the “rug room.” In each case, she was led behind the counter to a special place where hand made Navajo rugs were displayed. A sales person stayed in the room, answering all her questions and offering information on the rugs she liked. We noticed that each rug had a certificate of authenticity listing the name of the weaver and the weaver’s location. Many also included a photograph of the weaver with the actual rug.
My friend ended up buying a rug at Perry Null’s Trading Post. She felt the prices in Gallup were very reasonable, especially when compared with the prices in Santa Fe. Trading Posts also offered 50% and more off the marked prices on the rugs. She is very pleased with the quality of the rug and the information on the rug’s origin.
When You Go
Here are some suggestions for Trading Posts to visit on your next trip to the Gallup, New Mexico area
- Hubbell Trading Post – Ganado, New Mexico
- Friends of Hubbell Trading Post – Website
- Toadlina Trading Post – Between Gallup and Shiprock, New Mexico
- Richardson’s Trading Post – Downtown Gallup, New Mexico Website
- Perry Null Trading Post – Central Gallup, New Mexico Website Or Alternate Website
- Shush Yaz Trading Post – Shush YAZ Trading Company 1304 West Lincoln Avenue, Gallup, NM 87301 (505) 722-0130 and Santa Fe, New Mexico Store Website
- Ellis Tanner Trading Company, 1980 Hwy 602, Gallup, NM 87301