Wednesday, June 20, 2018

John Lawrence Hubbell, Trader and Friend of the Navaho

During the late 1800s trading posts formed a bridge between white and native cultures in the U.S. Southwest. One of the most well known traders was John Lawrence Hubbell. For over 50 years he was known for his friendship, honest dealing and wise counsel to the Native Americans who came to his trading post. Explorers, writers, artists, scientists and even President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Hubbell Trading Post and ranch, enjoying the hospitality of its owner and his family.

John Lawrence "Don Lorenzo" Hubbell; public domain photo

Born in 1853 in Pajarito, New Mexico Territory, to a Euro-American father and a mother of Spanish descent, young John learned the Navajo language while working as a clerk and Spanish interpreter at forts and trading posts. Hubbell, known as Don Lorenzo to local Hispanics and Nak'ee sinili (Eyeglasses) to the Navajo, bought a business in the village of Ganado in Navajo country (northeastern Arizona) and opened his trading post.

This was only a few years after the terrible ordeal of the Long Walk, when more than 9,000 Navajo were forced from their ancestral home in the Four Corners area by Colonel Christopher "Kit" Carson and his troops. They were marched over 300 miles to Hwééldi - Bosque Redondo (Fort Sumner) in New Mexico Territory. Imprisoned for four years on this flat, wind-swept reservation, many of the Diné (the people), as the Navajo prefer to be called, died of starvation and disease.

Navajo on the Long Walk; photo in public domain

Allowed to return home in 1868, the survivors found their hogans, herds and crops destroyed or taken by the Army. Because of this, trading for food and other goods was a necessity. They gathered at Hubbell's post, and he became their friend and liaison to the outside world. He translated and wrote letters, settle quarrels and explained government policies.

Hubbell and weaver outside trading post, 1890s; public domain photo

When a smallpox epidemic swept the reservation in 1886, Hubbell opened his home as a hospital. "Out here in this country," he said, "the Indian trader is everything from merchant to father confessor, justice of the peace, judge, jury, court of appeals, chief medicine man, and de facto czar of the domain over which he presides."

John Hubbell was an astute businessman. He became very successful, eventually founding 30 such trading posts in Arizona, New Mexico and california.He died in 1930 and was buried on the hill overlooking the trading post in Ganado. The post was family-owned until 1967, when Dorothy Hubbell, the widow of John's son Roman, sold it to the National Park Service to be preserved as a national historic site. Native Americans still bring handcrafted rugs, jewelry, pottery and baskets to trade. Locals shop for groceries and share news.

My husband and I stopped at the historic post on our way back from Canyon de Chelly and took a few photos of the exterior.
The barn is quite broken down, but the main building is kept up.
Her are photos of the interior I found on wikipedia.

Navajo rugs on display; public domain photo
Photo by Vivaverdi; Licensed under Creative Commons 3.0

This place is not to be missed if you ever travel through the area.


  1. To have been a fly on the wall during his time. What an amamzing man he sounds to have been. Thank you for sharing his story and the photos. Doris

    1. Wouldn't that have been fun, RW! He was a man with a good soul. I would love to have met him. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. I bought three Navajo dolls for young friends when at the Hubbell Trading Post many years ago...a very special remembrance.

    1. I bet those dolls were beautiful, Arletta. I wish we could have bought a rug there but we spent to much at Canyon de Chelly... on books, artwork, a turquoise necklace and pottery. Maybe next time! Thanks for reading and sharing.

  3. Lyn, your post made me want so much to go back to that area. We love Navajo country and their lore. Thanks for sharing.

  4. The trading post looks so interesting. I would want to buy so many things there and just look at everything. The outside looks so desolate. John Lawrence must have been a compassionate man as well as a businessman. Pretty amazing that he learned to speak Navajo.

    Such an interesting blog, Lyn.


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