Along the Natchez Trace

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hogback and Other Trading Posts

If you've ever traveled in this corner of New Mexico (conveniently called "Four Corners" as about 30 miles from here is the only place where 4 States come together at one point), you're probably familiar with the Trading Posts along the highways.

While many of the trading posts are owned by non-Native Americans, most of the items for sale are Navajo or other Native American made.  One of my favorite places to stop when we're in Farmington is Tom Wheeler's Hogback Trading Company.
The Hogback sign in front of the store...  bales of hay are for sale out of that pickup truck on the left.  The upper right is the entrance to the store, and the lower right is of the Hogback range - there is a sharp ridge along the top, giving them their name.
 The trading posts have a dual purpose.  They not only sell beautiful jewelry, rugs and other art, they are also pawn shops.  
 Pawn shops play a very important role in the Indian culture.  They use the shops like you or I would use a "safe deposit box".  Say some unscrupulous relatives are coming to visit....  you'd bring in your beautiful squash blossom necklace and other prized jewelry and hock it at the pawn shop.  You know, and so does the owner of the shop, that you're only leaving it their for safe keeping.  As long as you keep up the pawn fees, your stuff is safe.  Many years ago we were here and I peaked into the vault.  The WHOLE, walk-in vault, was lined with silver and turquoise jewelry.  None of this would ever end up as "dead" pawn (unclaimed), it was just there for safe keeping until the owners felt they could bring it back in their home.

Tom Wheeler, who owns this trading post told us that now he has a room full of saddles...  again, for safe keeping.  There are rodeos every week on the reservations and it's quite easy to get your saddle stolen.  Saddles are an expensive, but very salable commodity.  He holds 7 saddles from one family...  been holding them for 28 years.  Once a year the family comes in, pays the pawn fee, retrieves their saddles for the annual 3 day festivities up at Shiprock.  After the parades and event is over, Monday morning they bring back the saddles...  pawn them for another year.

Tom has lots of Indian Rugs...

 These are all Pendleton Wool rugs from Oregon.  Not cheap by any means!  The hand loomed rugs are upstairs and that was closed off today.  A handwoven rug costs a fortune...  even a very small one can cost hundreds of dollars.  Many years ago we were visiting Bill's parents and I spotted a dirty, wadded up rug in a barrel in the garage.  Jack, Bill's dad gave it to me... I packed it up and sent it home.  I sent it to the local dry cleaners.  I'm guessing it's maybe 3' X 5'.  Later I found out that it is a Two Grey Hills rug and should never have been commercially cleaned like that.  Also, I should have insured it before shipping it.  I didn't go upstairs to see what Tom had there today...  I'd probably have just drooled all over them.

These pieces are from the Wheeler Estate Collection
 Tom's great-grandfather came to New Mexico from Illinois in the mid 1800's.  He set up a business bringing wagon trains here and getting folks set up as homesteaders.  He had 27 children!  I asked Tom if they all had the same Mama...  he said, no...  there were 2 different wives.    I guess that's one way to get help with all the various businesses he started.

The wool yarns are from another Trading Post, but it's quite common to see hand-dyed skeins of wool for sale here.
 While most is probably used in weaving, I'm sure it makes warm, snug sweaters as well.

Again, from another store...
 Some of the trading posts have a mix of the old and the new.  In fact, you should always ask for the certification papers if you buy a true Native American crafted piece.  

 One time when Bill & I were visiting, we stopped at every Trading Post between Cuba and Cortez.  Then the stores were the old kinds...  now quite a few are convenience stores and gasoline stations with a small shop tucked away in a corner.

 All those "needlepoint" pieces of jewelry are made by the Zuni people.  Navajo is more likely to use the chunk of turquoise "as is" and design the silver that holds it around that shape.  I love both styles.
Tom told us another story about the woman who has pawned her jewelry with him for over 40 years.  She comes in a couple of times a year to "visit" it and pay the pawn ticket.  He says she gets it out, holds it, sometimes gets teary eyed...  then puts it back until the next visit.  Tom has been directed who to give which piece to each of her children when she passes on.  She doesn't want them to have it now...  she still likes to visit it...  and, she doesn't want her kids to sell it for the money.

Another Trading Post....
 The Bob French store specializes in native rugs.  Oh, so beautiful!

As you can tell, we had a great time driving out to Hogback...  visiting with Tom Wheeler...  stopping at a few other posts...  We never know when we'll get back out this way....  it's been 4 years since the last time, so we try to see as much and visit as much as we can crowd in our short time here.

Stopping at the Trading Posts is always a treat!

That's All For Today!


  1. My Mother would have LOVED this place! She passed away in 2001, but she always like Turquoise jewelry, and visiting Pawn Shops and going to yard sales.

  2. I had no idea of the importance of trading posts being used as a place of safe keeping. Very interesting.

  3. That's amazing how the Indians use the trading post as a safe place to keep their prized possessions. I had no idea they did that. Really interesting. And some really beautiful things.

  4. How interesting. instead of having a safety deposit box or a storage unit .... they use Tom. Did he mention what he charges? A once a year visit fee? well? I hope it's enough to keep his place open... obviously it is because it's been there for years.

    Shame that they can't keep their stuff with them to enjoy because of rat bastard thieves. I mean... what? I don't like this. owning jewelery and such but afraid to wear it because of thieves or relatives or... interesting but I don't like it. Bad guys keep good guys from enjoying their stuff. boo hiss

    Saddles once a year? how do they practice or ride other times... practice saddles?

  5. Wow!! What beautiful things they have made for sell!! My wife's cousen lived and worked on that reservation for quite a few years. We got a great tour of it a couple of years ago.

  6. Neat stories...and my kind of browsing!

  7. My kind of store. I could spend hours.

  8. I didn't know the trading posts were used that way. The Four Corners is a great place to visit.

  9. I googled Hogback Trading Post because I was up there last week and took a picture of the original old, ruined Hogback Trading Post building on a back road in Hogback. I didn't see the modern one.