Page 92


Utah Historical Quarterly

Navajo Trader. By GLADWELL RICHARDSON. Edited by PHILIP R E E D University of Arizona Press, 1986. xviii + 217 pp. $19.95.) Personal accounts of traders and trading posts on the Navajo Reservation during the late nineteenth to midtwentieth century are common fare for readers of southwestern history. Narratives by Louisa Wetherill, Hilda Faunce, Elizabeth Hegemann, and others follow much the same scenario, moving the main characters through stages of " g r e e n h o r n " to appreciation for Native Americans. Gladwell Richardson, a fourth-generation trader, skipped many of the initial struggles of a beginner when he started running his first post in 1918. By 1961 he had worked as a trader at many of the main posts that dot the pinyon deserts and sandstone canyons of northern Arizona— including sites at Navajo Mountain, T u b a City, Shonto, Inscription House, Kaibito, and Cameron. Because of his varied experience, this book has a more balanced, authoritative tone than is usually found in other accounts. While Navajo Trader focuses on the life of Gladwell " T o n e y " Richardson and his family, one theme that courses throughout is the friction between traders competing for Navajo customers. Incident after incident illustrates the author's contention that "old traders were unwholesomely tricky. Even best friends, if competitors, took business away from each other. Sometimes they pulled fast tricks just for kicks, and to amuse the remote countryside" (p. 76). The reader soon loses any romantic notions about Indian traders, finding that "every trader in this cutthroat business had his own schemes and methods for holding and pulling in more barter t r a d e " (p. 94). Economics ruled the counters and presided in the " b u l l p e n " of successful trading posts.



Yet appreciation and friendship were also there. Richardson weaves an interesting tapestry from the respect and camaraderie that he felt for the Navajo. Many experiences illustrate an unwritten, social covenant that existed between traders and patron families, a bond that spanned the h u m a n experience from birth to death. This simpatico relationship was expressed in many forms—from feeding the hungry to working against witchcraft, from burying the dead to building roads, and from providing Christmas gifts to directing weaving projects. Until paved highways, pickup trucks, and wage labor changed the Navajo lifestyle, the trading post was the hub of a region's economic and social life. Readers interested in Utah history will find a number of old controversies unburied once again. Richardson discusses the issue of who first discovered Rainbow Bridge, citing sixteen names and dates carved on or near the arch between 1880 and 1896 — some thirteen years before the Byron Cummings and J o h n Wetherill expedition of 1909. Different answers as to the disappearance of Everett Ruess are reviewed, the author suggesting that the missing artist was living under an assumed identity in Florida during the 1930s. Finally, the purported Spanish writing at Inscription House is definitely believed to have read 1661, adding to the controversy that archaeologists have battled over ever since the markings weathered away. In evaluating Navajo Trader, the reader cannot avoid the ever-present Richardson point of view. Because the book is biographical, this is not offensive, though one will want to balance this account with other readings. There are some slight historical in-

Profile for Utah State History

Utah Historical Quarterly, Volume 55, Number 3, 1987