Monday, January 21, 2013


Lately I have been reading a great deal about trading posts in general and Indian traders specifically. This investigation has led me to question, “What exactly is a trading post and what is it that makes one an Indian trader?”
Dino Simpsons

When it comes to these twin issues, you cannot even get out of the chute without finding yourself in hot water. “Indian trader”, in and of itself, is a racially charged term. Shall we call ourselves American Indian traders, Native American art dealers or any one of a number of other terms that ebb and flow with the politics of the day? And just what, may I ask, is being traded? Does it count as “trading” if you don’t deal in groceries, tack, pots, pans, livestock or wool; if you only sell arts and crafts; and if you always pay cash for what you buy?

As I worked through these questions, evaluating them in the context of Twin Rocks Trading Post, I was surprised to discover that many anthropologists and experts in the field agree there have been no traditional trading posts since the 1970s. Taken to its logical conclusion, this means there have also been no traders for approximately 40 years, i.e., no trading posts, no traders.

What this surely means is that Barry and I may have been extinct before starting this project and we didn’t even know it. Since 1989, when Twin Rocks Trading Post was established, if asked what I do for a living, I have universally answered, “Indian trader”, “trading post operator”, or “trading post lawyer”. Depending on the circumstances, most people simply nodded their heads in affirmation and the conversation continued from that point.

As my concern deepened, I mentioned this dilemma to our friend Carole. One cannot be expected to deal with such weighty issues without support. Carole’s response heartened me. Having carefully considered the facts, and after weighing both sides of the argument, Carole responded, “Oh, you care about the artists and work to make things better for them. That makes you an Indian trader.”

I could not, or maybe did not wish to, argue Carole’s point. If there is one conclusion the reading I have done unanimously supports, it is that an essential trait of a successful trader is the desire to improve the lot of his patrons. This was true of Don Lorenzo Hubbell of Ganado Trading Post, J.B. Moore of Crystal, Thomas Varker Keam of Keams Canyon and all the other Indian traders whose names survive to be discussed in contemporary society. I cannot, however, help thinking, “Is that enough? Social workers and therapists have that same characteristic, but they are not Indian traders.

Barry and Priscilla have been brought into the conversation, but questions about barter, sheep, pawn and geography, persist. “Maybe we are not extinct,” Barry suggested, “maybe we have just evolved.” I think he was trying to be optimistic. After all, if it turns out we really are extinct, there is nothing left to discuss.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry, Priscilla and Danny; The Team

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