Wednesday, May 28, 2003


The most prevalent topic of conversation at the trading post these days is how dry it is, and what effect this drought will have on us this summer. If a rancher or cattleman walks into the store, we make a sustained effort to steer him away from this very difficult subject. Speaking of cattlemen and misdirection reminds me of the time my sister Cindy and I talked a waitress out of a free plate of stuffed mushrooms. Cindy brings out the devil in me more than any of my other siblings. She is playful and always up for a practical joke. Being the last of five children, she was a tom boy and was spoiled quite rotten.

While we were at a trade show in Denver, Cindy and I decided to have dinner at a steak house near our motel. She was on that all protein diet at the time, and was craving red meat. As we walked into the restaurant and waited to be seated, we noticed a message board which boldly proclaimed, "Try our crab stuffed mushrooms, they are simply the best in the state." Written just under that was another message that said, "If your waitress does not mention the stuffed mushrooms we will give you a plate free." There it was, as bold as brass, a flat out challenge. All it took was one look and we both knew that the gauntlet had been thrown down. As we followed the hostess into the depths of the restaurant, we were mentally warming up to the task.

We were seated and a young waitress breezed up to the table, "Hello! My name is Terry. I will be your waitre....". Before Terry knew what hit her Cindy and I were grilling her about what there was to see and do in her wonderful town, dinner suggestions, favorite beverage, how beautiful her engagement ring was, when she was getting married, and on and on. Between all the questions and answers, we ordered dinner and drinks, flattered poor Terry to death and thanked her for her perfect service. As she turned to walk away, I casually said, "Oh, and Terry... we will take that free plate of stuffed mushrooms while we wait for dinner.. Terry stopped in her tracks, turned to us with an oath, gave us a harsh look and returned to the table. In a hushed, disturbed whisper she said "Da_n you guys! I have not had to give a single plate of those mushrooms away in the last two weeks. You have just messed up my perfect record." Cindy and I looked up innocently and sheepishly grinned. Terry said, "I'll bring you your mushrooms, but don't you tell anyone about this, I don't intend to lose the contest because of you two." Cindy reached over and gave me a high five as Terry steamed away. Those mushrooms sure tasted good, as did the rest of the dinner. As we prepared to depart, Terry slipped us seven dollars to pay for the mushroom. We added the money to her tip, thanked Terry for her fantastic service and smugly departed.

Getting back to how dry it is around here, I believe we are going to be a dust bowl this summer. I know this is the case with many parts of the world, and that I should refrain from complaining about the discomfort, but I can't. The drought is a major concern with the Anglo population. We are worried about our lawns, gardens, flowers and everything else we have planted to brighten up this arid, desert landscape. We fuss and fret about our livestock, the wild animals, trees and vegetation; all with good reason I assure you. There is much to worry about, and so much worrying has a way of rippling through our lives. When the subject is broached with the elderly Navajo people of our area, we hardly get a response. They simply shrug and say, "We live in a desert region. We are bound to get our share of dry years. What do you expect?" It is the belief of the local Navajo people that Mother Earth and Father Sky will look out for their charges. The deities will provide many good times, but they will also test their people with hard times to temper them, and to teach them to look for the good in bad situations. It is believed that the survivors, of all species, will be better prepared to face the future, and that a hardier, more resilient, life form will emerge from the hardship.

We look forward to the challenge in hopes of coming out the other side of this drought as more capable individuals, better business people and improved capacity for acceptance. Hopefully we can take a cue from the Native people and make the best of it. To take what comes as a challenge, prepare for it, and figure out how to bring about a "free"plate of crab stuffed mushrooms from the deal. "Hello! My name is Hot, and Dry I will be your waitre...

Copyright©2003 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Growing up with Rugs, and the Rug Evolution

Navajo rugs have been part of my life as long as I can remember. When I was young, as a result of my father's love of the trading business, we often had rugs layered three deep on the floor of our home in Bluff, Utah. Although I do not specifically remember the patterns, sizes or who wove the rugs, I certainly remember the warmth they brought to the house. The deep reds of the Ganado patterns, and soft earth tones of the Two Grey Hills weavings have stayed in my memory, even though the rugs have long since been sold or traded to new owners. I also remember the Indian traders of that era telling me that Navajo rugs would no longer be made by the time I reached their age. The implication was that Navajo weaving was a dying art. Fortunately, those predictions have proven inaccurate. In spite of some difficult times, Navajo rug weaving is alive and well.

Twin Rocks Trading Post Rug Area
Twin Rocks Trading Post's Rug Area

My father, William W. "Duke" Simpson, had always wanted to open a trading post in Bluff. His dream was realized when Twin Rocks Trading Post opened in the summer of 1989. By that time, I was aware of the history of Navajo weaving, and had visions of influencing a new regional style. The hope was that the new rug pattern would become known as the Twin Rocks style. Of course I had no idea what that pattern might be, but was confident that anything was possible. I knew of early traders such as Lorenzo Hubbell, C.N. Cotton and J.B. Moore, and how they kept Navajo weaving alive and infused it with new vitality in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was their work that led to what we now view as traditional regional patterns.

After working on the project for a few years, I began to worry that the time for trading posts influencing new styles of Navajo weaving had passed. The trading post era had long since ended, and contemporary traders were generally not as closely affiliated with the weavers as the old traders had been. The new mobility resulting from paved roads and readily available transportation had liberated the weavers. No longer were Ganado Reds woven only near Ganado, Arizona or Two Grey Hills weavings created exclusively near Newcomb, New Mexico. It was now possible to find these patterns being made on virtually any part of the Reservation.

As we pursued our ambition of creating a new regional pattern, it became apparent to us that many of the weavers we saw did not want to weave the same patterns over and over again. The creative floodgates had been opened, the weavers had been exposed to a variety of outside influences and they felt free to create their own personal styles. That, of course, did not bode well for our project. We noticed very quickly, however, that many of these new weavings were very creative, and that this new movement was even better than what we had envisioned. These new patterns were frequently stunning, and generated genuine passion in the patrons who came to the trading post. That passion sometimes manifested itself in the form of very strong feelings that the weavers had abandoned their traditions. We felt, however, that the weavers were forcing people to think about what was happening in contemporary Navajo culture. That seemed like real progress to us. It also seemed that the weavers were following the very strong Navajo traidition of quickly adapting to change; the most enduring Navajo characteristic. Based upon this new understanding, our focus changed from attempting to influence a new regional pattern to being a catalyst for innovation. We now encourage and attempt to facilitate this new creativity in every way possible.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s Hubbell, Cotton and Moore were responsible for moving Navajo weaving in new directions; ultimately reviving and reinvigorating the art. It is generally accepted that in doing so these traders saved the craft from extinction. Today, traders such as Bruce Burnham and Mark Winter are following in their footsteps. As a result of their work with, and love of, the Navajo people, the future of Navajo weaving seems secure. We are happy to be part of the process, and hope that the Navajo weaving tradition will outlast our children and grandchildren.

Copyright©2003 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Navajo Baskets, and the Horse Biscuit Affair

The Navajo ancestral homeland is located in what is now northern Arizona, New Mexico, southwestern Colorado, and southeastern Utah. This vast territory is known to its Navajo inhabitants as "Dinehtah," which means, "Homeland of the People." One of the most interesting areas of this homeland is located in southeastern Utah. This rugged, arid, canyon country has provided protection to its inhabitants on many occasions. The twisting depths of its numerous canyons have given seclusion and sanctuary to the Navajo people in times of hardship, and have often sheltered them from incursions by the outside world.

By historical accident, this rugged country became the last bastion of Navajo basket weaving, and the inhabitants of this area are credited with maintaining and revolutionizing the basket weaving tradition. The roots of this revolution are based in the conquest of the Navajo people by Colonel Kit Carson and the United States Government; a very dark period in Navajo history.

Probably the most devastating period of Navajo history was 1864 to 1868. This was a time when the U.S. Government determined that the Navajo had become an insoluble problem. The Navajo were viewed by government officials as a people out of sync with the growth and progress of a new nation. It was the time of "Manifest Destiny," and the government did not have the patience to properly deal with the "Indian Problem."

Since the government was unable to come to terms with the Navajo people as a whole, Colonel Carson was dispatched to tame the Navajo, and to correct their errant ways. Colonel Carson faced a very large task, and he fully appreciated the challenge. He therefore developed what became known as the "Scorched Earth" policy. This policy was based upon the premise that the destruction of Navajo homes, crops and livestock would lead to their speedy conquest .

Colonel Carson was correct, and the once proud people of the high desert were quickly brought to their knees. They were easily rounded up and transported to the depths of the Bosque Redondo, near Albuquerque, New Mexico. This event is now remembered as "The Long Walk." This occurrence not only broke the people, it nearly destroyed their culture.

The Navajo people looked to themselves to discover the reasons for their conquest, and ultimately concluded that they had caused their own downfall. They believed that by ignoring their deities and not maintaining a lifestyle dedicated to their traditional beliefs, they had subjected themselves to this horrible destruction and the loss of their homeland They took full responsibility for the devastation, and also took it upon themselves to find a solution.

A review was in order, and, after evaluating their situation, the people vowed to re-establish a connection to their traditional beliefs, and to live their lives accordingly. A re-emergence began, and when they were released from the Bosque, they began to flourish. Returning to their traditional homeland renewed their faith in the traditional system and gave them renewed strength. Progress has been slow, but much ground has been gained since that very dark time. Their resilience and ability to adapt under extremely difficult circumstances is a testament to Navajo strength and courage.

After returning to their homeland, the Navajo people became concerned that, among other things, the deities had been offended by their lack of respect for traditional healing ceremonies and the baskets used in these rituals. Since these baskets connect the real and spirit worlds, the weavers became concerned that their basket weaving had in some way upset the delicate balance. The people were so worried about disturbing the spirits that they became afraid to weave baskets altogether.

Having recently frustrated those beings, and having lived through the consequences, they elected not to produce any baskets. Luckily there were those who were unconcerned with such things, and were able to fill the gap created by this situation. Paiute and Ute weavers picked up the ball, and began weaving baskets with the design necessary for medicinal use. I can hear my old Ute friend, Susan Whyte, saying, "You crazy white man, it was the Ute people who came up with that design." That does not appear historically accurate.

Stepping back a bit, when Kit Carson began making his way to what is now the Monument Valley area of the Reservation, he was stretching his supply lines to their limits. Also whenever he got close to this region, the Navajos simply disappeared into the back country; having received advance notice that the cavalry was on its way. Taking their livestock with them into the depths of those mean canyons and leaving only temporary dwellings behind them did not leave much for our hero to scorch. And when the army entered the labyrinth in search of the people, the soldiers were pelted with horse biscuits from the tops of the towering cliff walls. Kit Carson finally decided that he had gathered enough Navajos, and that he was tired of combing horse dung from his hair. Off he and his troops went, never to return.

This left the Navajos to go on with their lives, and, due to their perceived victory, their attitude of insolence became much more advanced. An interesting note is that those same Navajos were weaving very nice ceremonial baskets. Decendents of these survivalists are alive and well, still living in the country that provided their ancestors sanctuary. These are families with the name of Black, Rock, Johnson and Bitsinnie, among others. Not only have they continued the art of basketry, they have progressed a great deal. Uninhibited by the fears of their brothers and sisters of the Bosque, their basket designs have evolved over the years, and now portray traditional Navajo beliefs and customs; preserved forever in story board fashion. Basket weaving has survived because the ancestors of these modern day weavers were courageous enough to stand up to Colonel Carson.


Since we are confident that the historical correctness of this piece may be questioned, we freely admit that we are not historians or anthropologists. Although we have reviewed accounts of the relevant events, and have been provided input by the local Navajo people, we do not claim to be experts. Oral histories were carefully scrutinized, and the horse biscuit affair was verified by numerous sources of the highest integrity. At any rate this is our story and we're sticking to it.

Copyright©2003 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Wednesday, May 7, 2003

Bernie, and the Credit Card

What makes a person appealingly odd or curious; an original character? Whatever it is, however inexplicable, this immeasurable combination of complex carbohydrates and proteins resides in the persona of one Bernett Todacheeny. Known as "Bernie" to those of us lucky enough to be aware of, and appreciate him, this unique individual strolls across the local landscape with a style all his own. Bernie expresses his individual personality through his philosophy, his humor, and his art. A sculptor, Bernie has the uncanny ability to, "Remove everything that doesn't look good" from a piece of wood.

Navajo Folk Artist Bernie Todacheeny at Twin Rocks Trading Post
Navajo Folk Artist Bernie Todacheeny

Bernie scours the country side, looking for that odd root, trunk, or branch that speaks to his artistic sense. It is not unusual for him to be found on a wind swept, sand blasted, sun baked mesa top, dragging a gnarled and twisted snag toward his latest mode of transportation. I say this because Bernie changes vehicles almost as fast as other folks change their shoes. A slight exaggeration no doubt, but we have seen him drive up in a Jeep, a Toyota pickup, and a Harley Davidson motorcycle in the last few months alone. Whatever it takes to appropriate his precious carving stock, Bernie will do. Nothing stops him. Mailmen cannot hold a candle to Bernie's determination.

Not long ago Steve and I were busily going about our trading post duties when over the phone intercom comes the message "Steve or Barry, Bernie is on the line." At the same time both of us said, "You take it." It's not that we don't like to talk to Bernie; you just have to gear up for a conversation with the guy. Steve was standing closest to the phone so he drew the short straw. He braced himself and picked up the phone. I could tell that Steve was intrigued with the conversation. Bernie had his interest; trouble was looming on the horizon. I began flagging Steve off, mouthing, "Don't do it, hang up the phone, and danger Will Robinson." No use, Steve had bought into whatever Bernie was selling.

Steve was reaching for his wallet, removing his credit card. Doom, despair, and agony on me; the end was near. After Steve gave away the top secret information and hung up the phone I said, " You have got to be out of your mind. What was that all about ?" “Bernie is in Albuquerque,” he said. “At a rare wood store, he found a piece of Honduran Mahogany that he feels would make a nice carving.”
"I'll bet," I said. "How much was it ?"
"It was only $150.00" said Steve. “I figured that Bernie needed a break. He was very excited about that piece of wood, and it was worth it seeing you perform the dance of the sugar plum fairy trying to get my attention."
After a few choice phrases referring to his origin and upbringing, I walked away. My parting shot was, "My bet is that you will live to regret it."

A few weeks later, after all had not been forgotten, Bernie came screaming in on his "Hawg" with a carving strapped to the back. Generally there would be a lady perched there, as Bernie has a major weakness for the female gender. Bernie hopped off his Harley Davidson motorcycle, unstrapped the bundle and came bounding up the stairs in the most jovial of moods. In his most theatrical David Copperfield manner, he unveiled a gorgeous wooden woman, carved of, you guessed it, Honduran Mahogany. The sculpture truly was magnificent. I was going to have to eat crow on this one. Oh well, better to take it like a man and move on, Steve had a look of gloating in his eye. I knew that I was in for some needling.

Negotiations were long and arduous, as they always are with Bernie. The man is articulate, intelligent, and just plain funny. He was proud of his accomplishment and figured he should be well compensated for the undertaking. I let Steve do the deal. I sat in the corner and nursed my bruised ego. After the transaction had been accomplished, which included Bernie paying back the $150.00 for the wood, Steve asked for the credit card receipt. Bernie got this sly smile on his face, fished in his wallet and handed over the slip of paper. Becoming suspicious, Steve opened the receipt and gasped, "$600.00! How did you ? What the....? You're a dead man!”
Bernie simply laughed as he departed, saying, "They had lots of great wood there. You know I'll pay you back."
As Bernie zoomed away, my eyes locked with Steve's. "Don't say a word," he said.

Copyright©2003 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Saturday, May 3, 2003

John Holiday, Medicine Man and Friend

Doing business on the northern edge of the Navajo reservation (often referred to as the "Rez"), is an experience few can claim. It is an education in a diverse culture; one that is ever changing and always interesting. Our daily interaction with the Navajo people provides an opportunity to witness the Navajo humor, motivation and unique perspective on an on going basis. To be successful here one must adapt to the Navajo way of thinking. The most important measure of success, to us, is the personal relationships we have developed through the years. These relationships are many and varied, and we treasure them greatly.

John Holiday in front of Twin Rocks Trading Post
John Holiday at Twin Rocks Trading Post

One of our most treasured associations is with John Holiday, a local, highly respected, medicine man. We first met John in the late 1970s. That was back in the days when we accepted pawn. Pawn involves loaning cash on a short term basis in exchange for collateral; usually jewelry, saddles, Pendleton blankets or guns.

John loves to play cards, the old Navajo way. In these games slight of hand is not only allowed, it is admired, especially if you aren't caught. This form of gambling brings John great pleasure, and, from what we hear, he was quite talented. John would bring in his jewelry, borrow $500.00 or $1,000.00, and head to the nearest game. His laughing, joking nature is infectious, and it is always a pleasant experience dealing with him. We always looked forward to seeing him when he was pawning or redeeming his items.

When we closed our pawn business, we had many concerns. Not that we missed that aspect of our business, but because we missed the people. Not to worry with John, he simply ignored the fact that we were no longer pawning, and adapted his methods. From that day forward he simply borrowed money without offering collateral, or interest. John has never
failed to pay back a loan. When he gives his word, it is as good as gold. His attitude is always fun loving and easy going; his pride and personal honor remain untarnished.

These days John has slowed down a bit. He recently turned ninety-one years old. He still practices the Beauty Way, but his mobility is greatly hampered. His vision is not adequate to keep track of the cards, or the craftiness of his adversaries, so his games are limited to family members who are much less aggressive and more likely to ignore his declining skills. We are lucky enough to see him on a regular basis. He generally has his driver pull the truck up right in front of the trading post and honk the horn. When we hear the horn we know to come outside. We are always treated to a friendly, laughing smile and good conversation. John sells us the ceremonial baskets that he receives as payment for providing healing ceremonies. We always enjoy his visits, because he leaves us with a feeling of unrestrained friendship and happiness. We are proud to know John, and appreciate his presence in our world.

Copyright©2003 Twin Rocks Trading Post