- Hubbell Trading Post: Trade, Tourism, and the Navajo Southwest by Erica Cottam
Adapted from a National Park Service report about Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site, Erica Cottam’s book puts the storied trading post within the context of national and international developments that affected the Southwest at the turn of the twentieth century. Cottam explores the Hubbell family’s personal, political, and economic history, showing how their efforts to develop trade with the Navajo people of the Southwest affected the Native population and brought American tourists and attention to the region. The book is short (only 234 pages of text with extensive notes and bibliography) but it provides a comprehensive overview of the history of the post from its inception in 1878 through its designation as a national historic site in 1960. The book is roughly chronological from chapters one through five, detouring in chapters six and seven for more in-depth explorations of the Hubbells’ role in the development of the Native American curio trade and of the illustrious visitors to the post, including J. L. Hubbell’s most prized guest, former [End Page 521] president Theodore Roosevelt, in 1913. Cottam deeply explores family patriarch J. L. Hubbell’s failed bids for political office as Arizona moved from territory to statehood, focusing particularly on how those political aspirations affected the family trading business. However, other seemingly important details about the Hubbells’ connections to Navajo society and culture remain in the background. For example, Cottam does not significantly explore how family patriarch J. L. Hubbell’s known sexual relationships with Navajo women likely influenced the post’s success or the Navajo people’s perceptions of the post.
In the end, the Hubbells’ actual role in the economic development of the Southwest and particularly the Navajo trade remains somewhat unclear. For example, Cottam writes that J. L. Hubbell “figured more prominently in the commercialization of Indian arts and crafts” than any other southwestern trader (123), in part because he gained the trust of local Navajos and learned how “to balance generosity with a reasonable profit margin” (54). However, at the same time, Cottam also emphasizes how Hubbell sometimes simply benefited from a “confluence of forces” that ultimately led to significant changes throughout the Southwest. Indeed, there were long periods of time when Hubbell had very little to do with the running of the post. And when he was involved, she describes his business acumen as questionable. In Cottam’s narrative, it seems that Hubbell succeeded in part because he simply stuck it out longer than other traders who came to the region only briefly before moving on to other get-rich-quick schemes.
The book will be of interest to historians of the Southwest and Texas who are looking for specific examples of how economic development occurred in the region at the beginning of the twentieth century and the importance of individual relationships to the changes in Native American trading practices at the beginning of the twentieth century.