Shonto Trading Post

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Shonto Trading Post

6 miles east of State 96, Shonto, AZ
Current Owner: Margaret Grieve
Trader: Al Grieve


Margaret Grieve at Shonto Trading Post

Margaret Grieve at Shonto Trading Post


The Shonto Trading Post was founded, on the site which it still occupies, in 1915, by John Wetherill and Joe Lee ( Van Valkenburgh , 1941, p. 145).

Lee later traded at McElmo Creek and appears occasionally in the narrative of ("Old Mexican"-- Dyk, 1947). Supplies were brought in by wagon from Kayenta and were sold out of a tent.
Water was obtained from the wash and from Shonto Spring, a couple of miles upstream from the store. The enterprise was originally called Shonto Springs Store, a name which still appears on some maps.

Al Grieve and Margaret Grieve at Hubble Trading Post rug auction

Al Grieve and Margaret Grieve at 2012 Hubble Trading Post rug auction.

Shonto Springs Store continued as a tent operation and an outpost of Kayenta until shortly after World War I, when it was sold to Messrs. Sid Richardson and Tobe Turpen. The new owners built the first permanent building on the site, consisting of the present store, warehouse, and most of the family living quarters.
. They also developed a well and pump house at the store site, and put up an overnight hogan for transient Navahos.

Tobe Turpen Jr. was born in Flagstaff, Arizona, in 1920. His father, Tobe Turpen, started working at Shonto Trading Post in the early 1900s. Tobe joined the MacAdams Company in Gallup, where he began contracting with numerous silversmiths and marketing jewelry on a large scale. Tobe Turpen Jr. entered the business in 1946, running a Gallup trading post owned by his father. Around 1956, Tobe Jr. bought the business and transformed it from a trading post to an arts and crafts store. He has been at his current location outside of Gallup for 52 years.

"My father [Tobe Turpen Sr.] got into the business. His sister married C. D. Richardson. They had all lived down in a little town in Texas outside of Fort Worth, named Alvarado. His older sister married Mr. Richardson, and Mr. Richardson had been out in this country and had been an Indian trader. Everybody in Texas was having a hard time making a living. They were kinda starving down on those little farms, so she brought her brother, my father, Tobe, out to teach him to trade.
He tells some rather interesting stories about his arrival. He came into Flagstaff and they put him on a wagon, and there was an Indian driver, a Navajo driver, and it took 'em a week to go from Flagstaff to Shonto. The Indian couldn't speak any English. So for a week as a boy about fourteen years old, he was in the wagon for a week getting there. When he got there, he was there a few days, and the trader--I'm not sure who the trader was, I suppose one of the Richardsons--said, "Tobe, I need to go to Flagstaff, so I want you to run the store." He said, "I can't run this store. I have just arrived and I don't know how to trade, I can't speak Navajo." "Well," he said, "this Indian helper we have here, he knows the prices, and he'll do the talking. All you have to do is just don't let everybody carry everything off. Just watch everything." So he said, "They left me there and they didn't come back for six months." He said, "That's how I learned the business. When they got back, I could speak fluent Navajo, and I just went from there."

Tobe Turpen Jr, Cline Library Oral History Interviews July 15, 1999

Shonto Hogon

Many years later the name was changed briefly to Betatakin Trading Post, also seen on some maps today, and finally to Shonto Trading Post. The name Shonto, which translates roughly as "spring in the sunshine," In rather common on the reservation. At least two other trading posts go by the same designation in Navaho, though both of these go by the English name of Sunshine Trading Post.

Popular accounts of trading post life and times during this period may be found in Coolidge, 1925; Faunce, 1934; Gillmor and Wetherill, 1934; and Schmedding, 1951. All of these are written by or about traders and give a good general impression of the physical conditions under which they worked.

The new owners made many changes in the trading post, and brought the physical plant more or less to its present state of development. Like many other traders at that time they anticipated a heavy influx of tourist travel following the construction of new roads in the early 1930's and hoped to set up a guest lodge in emulation of the success of the Wetherills at Kayenta. For this purpose a row of concrete-floored hogans was built to serve as tourist cabins. Later a pair of connected stone cabins was added.

Rorick put in Shonto's first electric system, generated by a small gasoline plant. He also put in the first indoor plumbing and bathroom. A line of sheds was built (J, K, L) to house blacksmith and carpenter shops, and the premises were fenced. Finally, in deference to growing automobile travel, a gasoline tank and hand pump (R) were installed.


Shonto Trading Post

Modern Shonto Trading Post occupies a 2 ½-acre leasehold on its original site on the floor of Shonto Canyon . The score is licensed to operate annually by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and is subject to the terms of its 25-year lease from the Navaho tribe.

Business is still conducted in the original store building erected shortly after World War I. In its physical layout Shonto remains a typical trading post of an earlier day: a long, low, stone building with a single door and a few small, heavily barred windows, and capped by a slightly pitched roof. Like many neighboring trading posts it gives the initial impression of a large shed. The building is constructed entirely of local red sandstone laid up with adobe mortar and is quite obviously the work of untrained local builders. Woodwork inside and out is unfinished, and some of it is rough-hewn.

Shonto Trading Post


Shonto Trading Post

Rueben Heflin bought Shonto from Mr. Rorick
The Navajos from the area called him
Bilagaana Tso (Fat Whiteman).
Reuben Heflin was born and raised at Farmington, New Mexico. As a school teacher in December of 1937, he married another school teacher

Mildred Heflin, Cline Library Oral History Interviews July 15, 1999

"Mildred Heflin was born in Farmington, New Mexico, in 1913. Her parents, O.J. Carson and Jessie Smith Carson, started out ranching but soon took up trading, buying a trading post 30 miles from Farmington at a place now called Carsons. Mildred was educated at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, and taught on the reservation for a year and a half before she married Rueben Heflin. The Heflins bought Oljato Trading Post and then Shonto Trading Post, where they lived for 10 years. They bought Kayenta Trading Post from John Wetherill and lived there for 15 years.
Later on, when we moved over to Shonto, which is another trading post, we got most of our supplies out of Flagstaff, because it was so much closer, and the roads were so much better. But we didn't have a great deal. As I said, we had coffee, syrup, flour, and sugar, and saddles and bridles. Sometimes we sold harnesses and sometimes wagons. And of course we always had canned tomatoes, canned peaches, and what else did we have in the way of fruit? Oh, chiles! We always had little chiles. The Indians liked those chiles. And let's see....

We bought Shonto from Mr. Rorick, who was married to a very wealthy lady, and I can't imagine how come. I guess she thought it'd be a big adventure to come out and live at a trading post. So she came out and lived there about a year, I think, and then she got up, she left. (chuckles) She wouldn't stay there any longer. So then he decided to sell the trading post. He didn't want to stay there either. He was an older man, and he wanted to get out of it, so he sold us Shonto Trading Post, which is down in a deep little canyon. It's very pretty down there. I think I mentioned this before, we could have a lawn down there. And that was a great thing, we enjoyed that very much. And we lived there for about ten years.

A lot of our trade came in from Navajo Mountain, which was a very isolated place. It was even more isolated than Shonto. They'd bring the wool in on burros. They'd bag it up and pack it on these burros and carry it in that way. There weren't any wagon roads--they didn't have any wagons. So they'd bring the wool in, in the spring, that way. Then my husband always had it re-sacked, because there might be rocks in the bags of wool, you never could tell. And it was full of sand, so you had to shake it all, clean it, and then re-sack it again."

The weavers at Oljato weren't very good weavers. When we moved over to Shonto, there were many women over there who did very fine weaving. I think they had learned some of that from Tuba City people. I don't know whether the government had sent out somebody to help them weave better rugs or what, but anyway they did a better type of weaving, so we got better rugs over at Shonto than we did at Oljato. The rugs at Oljato were very poor quality--at that time. I think they've improved lately. Well, they're not doing that much weaving anymore--people don't have to weave. They can go out and get jobs, or they get welfare, and they don't have to weave. Weaving is hard work when you have to wash the wool, dye it, spin it. That's not easy. And then put up your looms, because you have to have a permanent place to put your loom. You can't take it down every few days and move.


Les Wilson, Cline Library Oral History Interviews with Brad Cole July 15, 1999

Cole: When did you go to Shonto?
Wilson: I think I went to work out there at the end of 1972.
Cole: And what are your memories of that?
Wilson: Well, I think that was sort of the tail end of the "good ol' days" of trading, because it was a very, very busy store. Ray was the manager, working for his parents. I was the assistant manager, and we had anywhere from three to four to even five clerks workin' every day. This was before people up there could get to Page, to a supermarket, or before the supermarkets had been built in Tuba City, Kayenta. So we were pretty much it for a large area, and it was one busy place.
Cole: Was that a bullpen operation?
Wilson: No, it'd been converted to self-service, oh, at least ten years before--probably early sixties. There are pictures of it when it still had the bullpen. Have you been to Shonto yet? No? You will, though.
Cole: Yeah. And then what was that like for you? Was it a pretty big shock, going out there?
Wilson: Well, it was, yeah, but I needed a job so I just.... I was there about a week or so and Ray said, "Take over, run the place, 'cause I'm goin' into Farmington." He stayed three or four days, and it was kind of the "off the deep end" method of learning how to run a trading post. There was good help there that told me what to do, so I could....
Cole: And then what were the living conditions like at that time for you?
Wilson: I lived out in a stone cabin that had been built in the back of the store. I didn't live there at first, I lived in the living quarters in the store. Ray and I were both sort of bachelors then, and we lived like bachelors--we never washed the dishes. We got frozen steak out of the store and fried it up every night, and lived on steak, and corn flakes in the morning. It was primitive. (chuckles)
Cole: And at that time was Shonto pretty much a cash business? Or was there still some barter that went on?
Wilson: No, it was at least three-quarters credit, I think. Yeah, maybe more than three-quarters, and it had always been a credit store, like all of them. That's one reason we were so busy, I guess, 'cause it was liberal with its credit. Have you seen Bill Adams' book on Shonto?

Cole: Unt-uh.
Wilson: The Smithsonian. It was his Ph.D. dissertation.
Cole: Was he out there when you were?
Wilson: He had been there in the fifties. It's the green Smithsonian book right there.
Cole: Oh, okay, yeah.
Wilson: You must have a copy of it at NAU.
Cole: I've seen the outside of it, but haven't really looked at it.
Wilson: You need to dig into that. Adams came back in, I think it was 1974, while I was there. He came back in his 1946 Dodge pickup with a homemade camper on the back, with his wife and two sons. He stayed about a week or so. I understand that some of the things he had to say in that book on Shonto were not well-received by the Carson family, so he was kind of persona non grata. But while he stayed at Shonto in 1974, Ray and his family were on vacation or something, so I was there, and I was glad to meet him, he's a real interesting fellow. He's had a career in archaeology. But he had been the bachelor assistant trader there in the late forties, I think it was.
Cole: And at Shonto was there still a lot of weaving going on?
Wilson: Yeah. What they specialized there were saddle blankets, and large, thick rugs, rough rugs--nothing like the fine Two Grey Hills here. Oh, they were heavy rugs, and they were all still mostly handspun and died at home with aniline dyes.
Cole: Something you don't see much of here?
Wilson: I think the western side of the reservation, they're still making handspun rugs, rough ones. But the rest of the reservation, except for here, handspun has mostly died out. It's all commercial yarns now.
But, see, the reason there were so many saddle blankets up there, as you probably know, is due to Stokey's [phonetic spelling, last name Carson] influence, 'cause he kind of specialized in those, and he shipped 'em out all over the country--the Navajo saddle blanket.


Excerpt from:
"Trip Memories" by Clarence White
circa 1934
By the last golden after-glow of the set sun we plunged down a steep canyon side; and there across the living water, nestled against the glowing red cliffs, was Shonto, "Sun on the Water"; two large spreading trees, green grass, stone store with a blue roof, shed , guest house, and four well-built hogans, the only fit lodging for desert romanticists. Here was the trader, Harry Rorick, his wife, her mother, and a hospitality to warm the heart and linger. Here was our longest stay; the evenings passed in good talk, ranging from the Navajos in all directions and back again.

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