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  • Both Sides of the Bullpen: Navajo Trade and Posts by Robert S. McPherson
  • Erica Cottam
Both Sides of the Bullpen: Navajo Trade and Posts. By Robert S. McPherson. ( Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2017. Pp. 376. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.)

Robert McPherson's Both Sides of the Bullpen uses ethnohistory to thoroughly illuminate how trade between Navajos and Anglos in the Four Corners region of the American Southwest between 1880 and 1940 was not simply an economic exchange, but an expression of the cultural values of both groups. McPherson demonstrates that Navajos and traders adapted to one another in a process of cultural exchange and cooperative relationship building that was not merely unidirectional. Supplementing the existing published literature, both primary and secondary, with archival research and extensive oral history interviews, many of which he conducted, McPherson brings the voices of both Navajos and traders to the fore.

The book is divided into three thematic sections. In chapters 1 through 4, McPherson presents a thorough exploration of how Navajo beliefs and values shaped the trading experience. These chapters explore varied topics ranging from how Navajo creation stories illuminate cultural values regarding property and the importance of relationships to how the architecture and spatial organization of trading posts reflect Navajo culture.

The second section of the book, chapters 5 through 8, further explores [End Page 229] the trade relationship from both Navajo and Anglo perspectives, showing how traders adapted to Navajo cultural values in order to foster trade. Here, readers versed in Navajo trading will encounter many familiar topics and historical figures: credit, pawn, trade tokens, livestock, freighting, weaving, and silverwork. Chapter 8, covering social life at the trading posts, offers particularly interesting sections on the lives of women at the typically male-dominated trading posts and how traders assisted Navajos in times of illness and death.

The remaining four chapters focus on trade in the upper Four Corners region, using examples from trading posts in Utah and Colorado. Much of McPherson's contribution to the existing literature lies here. These trading posts are in general far less known than those in Arizona and New Mexico and were shaped by different influences, as McPherson shows. For example, trading posts in the upper Four Corners dealt not only with Navajos, but also with Utes and Paiutes, whose cultures and economies, McPherson argues, shaped trade differently, as they lacked the Navajos' vast sheep and goat herds and easily marketable arts and crafts. Other key cultural influences McPherson explores in these chapters include the Mormons, whose cohesive nature and extensive support networks lent them economic stability other traders often lacked, and the pot-hunting craze, which led to the destruction of many ancient sites in the upper Four Corners region. These chapters are arranged chronologically, in contrast to the earlier, more thematic chapters, giving the reader a sense of how trading posts changed over time in response to historical conditions, including the decline of the practice in the twentieth century.

Ultimately, McPherson's book successfully offers readers a fairly comprehensive introduction to trading from both Navajo and Anglo perspectives, is well stocked with oral histories, and covers the key topics and influences explored in other studies, such as Frank McNitt's Indian Traders (University of Oklahoma Press, 1962), Willow Powers's Navajo Trading (University of New Mexico Press, 2001), and Teresa Wilkins's Patterns of Exchange (University of Oklahoma Press, 2008). It distinguishes itself among the extensive existing literature on Navajo trading posts with its focus on the lesser known traders, trading posts, and cultural influences shaping trade in the upper Four Corners region.

Erica Cottam
Phoenix, Arizona


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pp. 229-230
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