Carolyn Blair

Carolyn Blair

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Listen to Carolyn Blair

Well, the trading post [Red Mesa, 1946] had two bedrooms and it was real comfortable.  I had a wood stove for cooking, and a wood stove in the living room for heat.  We didn't have electricity right at the beginning.  We had a wind charger and a battery.  There was one light in the living room and one light in the store.  And then otherwise we used kerosene or some other light.  Our water, we had a windmill and it was piped, oh, I don't know how far away.  But we depended on the wind, you know, in order to have water.  [We] had a kerosene refrigerator, and a gasoline motor for the washing machine.  We had an outhouse (chuckles), but we were comfortable.  And the store and the house were built of red sandstone--thick, thick walls.

...The store was a typical old-time trading post with the high counters, and things hanging from the roof, like saddles or, you know, the reins for the bridles and what not, pots and pans.  We had a place for the potatoes and the onions.  And then under the counter was a place for the oats and the corn for the feed for the horses that the Navajos rode in.  We had dry goods, we had the satin, we had the velvet, we had the calico.  We had the old-fashioned shoes down there.  (laughs)  They called them Diné be Ké, the high-topped shoes...  The women usually wore those.  Then we had the work shoes for the men.  But Roscoe and some of his partners got a shoe manufacturer to make the shoes, and the label on them was Diné be Ké, "Navajo shoes."

And we would have fresh mutton that was butchered out in the corral.  We had a counter that had medicines, oh, like aspirin and Ben-Gay.  We weren't allowed to carry alcohol because that was in the traders' regulations.  We did sell cigarettes and Skoal and things like that.  I haven't thought about that in a long time.


I worked in the store, and I guess the extra fifty that Brad got when he got married was supposed to be for me, but I never received a check or anything like that.  And it wasn't until we were at Kayenta, and we had a new accountant, and he couldn't understand why the women, if they worked, didn't receive a wage--or even our kids.  Our kids always worked, and we always called it slave labor.  (laughter)  But it wasn't until the sixties or seventies that we were paid.  But I did work in the store and cooked meals for the hired help, or anybody visiting, like the salesmen or anyone that came out.

During the first years there--and this was after 1945--we just had busy times during the wool season or the lamb season.  And then about 1949, the oil exploration started out there, the Aneth oil field, and we had surveyors, geologists, seismograph crews.  And that went on until the sixties, and we really were busy.  We had all these outside people coming in, besides the Navajos.

Underhill:  How about tourists?

Like my son will say, if there was a tourist, they were lost.


Brad was called "black hair," bitsii,l zhinii.  And usually a trader's wife was always called "the angry woman," ´asdzani ´aháchi.  (laughter)...  she'd have a meal ready, and something would come up in the store, and it couldn't be closed, you know, at noon, so she'd come in and say, "Why aren't you eating?"  Or, "Why don't you come in and eat?  The food's warm."  Or somebody would be at the back door on a Sunday, and they'd need something.  So the woman was always sort of prickly.  (laughs)  Her schedule was interrupted.


Outside, near our corral, we always had a hogan--we called it "the hotel."  And a lot of our customers came, you know, twenty miles in the wagons.  And so there was a place for them to stay.  And we always had a box in the store, and it had a coffee pot, a frying pan, and probably a big pot, and they could borrow those and use them.  And they came by horseback.  Like I said, we had oats and corn under the counter, and we'd fill nosebags.  They'd go out and feed their horses while they traded.

Then another item we had in the store were these seamless bags.  They were large, looked like a pillowcase, but it was heavy material.  And the Navajos would fill those up and put them on the back of their saddles and get the weights right, and that's how they would carry their stuff home, if they weren't in the wagon.

We always had a pencil or a pen, and we always had accounts--everything was on credit.  In fact, when we took inventory January first, that's about the only time we counted our money, because there wasn't much cash, it was mostly credit.  That was in the early days.


Cole:  If you were to describe Brad as a trader, how would you describe him?

Oh, Brad and his brothers were Kentucky hillbillies, but they came out and adjusted.  They were independent, but they came from a poor background, and they knew that the Navajos were poor, and they took that into consideration in trading with them, and helping to educate them, helping them get jobs.

Cole:  Did Brad ever have any political aspirations?

Oh, yes.  He was a Libertarian.  (chuckles)  Brad's commanding officer in the Marine Corps was George P. Schultz, and he was secretary of state for the Reagan administration.  He also was secretary of labor for Eisenhower, and he had a lot of writings about free enterprise.  And then Brad got to reading Ayn Rand and he joined the Libertarian Party, and he also ran for mining inspector for the State of Arizona.  He didn't win, but he got 33,000 votes....  His platform was that he would eliminate the office of mining inspector.  (laughter)


Cole:  What are some of your favorite memories in the trading business?

We would have Christmas dinners for the whole group of people--especially Red Mesa.  And we'd cook outside, and everybody was real congenial, and thanked us for having a Christmas dinner.  [We gave] out candy to the kids.

Let's see, in 1995 or 1996, my kids arranged for a reunion out at Red Mesa at the Senior Citizen [Center].  It's right next to the Chapter House at Red Mesa.  And we went out there and met several of the people who were our customers, and then two of the fellows who had worked for us.  And that was a real happy time for the kids and for me.  It was like a fifty-year reunion.  They were all interested in where the kids were living, what we were doing.  I can go out to Wal-Mart on the first of the month and have a reunion.  Everybody comes to town to shop.  (laughter)