We always had a radio [at Mexican Water Trading Post in the late 1940’s],
which at least we had news from that, and we had magazines that we got
regularly, and we had people coming through. There were always salesmen
and people who hauled the merchandise out. Occasionally, you know,
even on those terribly bad roads, there would be tourists driving through,
adventurous people. And there were people to talk to. Also,
it was only about fifteen miles, I think, from Red Mesa, where Elijah's
brother and sister-in-law operated a trading post. And Sundays we
could get together. Then a little later on, the people that operated
the pumping station at Boundary Butte, a couple from Arkansas that became
very close friends, very dear to us, they would come down and have dinner
with us, or we'd go up and have dinner with them in the evenings, and
play canasta, and had quite a good time with them. It was just really
fun times. There was a missionary couple also [who] came later.
They didn't approve of our playing canasta. (chuckles) But
they were people that you could talk to, and we got out, actually went
to town maybe once a month.
I did the same thing Elijah did. I traded with the Indians. They'd come in and start.... We had these little account books, and first they might buy some cinnamon rolls and a can of pop. But you just left it. You put their name at the top of the page, and they indicated they would be back later. Somebody else would come in, you'd start a new one. And you may have several in the same account pad, going at the same time. You'd leave a little space so you could keep adding to it. They would keep coming in and buy a few things at a time and go back out and say they'd be back later. Eventually then, when they'd get ready to go home, they would finish, and you would add up their account and tear off the carbon and give it to them.
Underhill: And both men and women had credit at the trading
No, usually it was just in one name. Even though it was a matriarchal
system, most of the time it was in the man's name, even though the women
may say they own the sheep, they did the weaving and whatsoever.
And occasionally a weaver would come in and she'd say, well, she wanted
what they called an "a’a’ sah-di" [phonetic spelling] or separate account,
and you might make her a separate account on the rug, and she would trade
toward the price of the rug. And then when she came in, you would
settle up. If there was more left, then you would pay her whatever
Underhill: And what were the popular items you carried for men
and for women?
Well, of course the most popular was all the food items, which they bought.
You know, flour and shortening and coffee and sugar and these things,
in huge quantities, and all the other food items that they’d buy.
But then we also carried what they loved, the Pendleton shawls and robes,
whenever they could afford it. Just like their sheep, this was a
prestigious thing with them, their shawls and robes meant a lot, and it
was a way of high standing and recognition to them.
There were many times when the Indians, some of them, were sick or had an accident or somethin', they'd come to us for advice and for help, which we nearly always gave. And if they had somebody in the hospital, then they would want to call and get information. Well, as you know, hospitals don't usually give out information to anybody other than family members and one old fellow at Aneth came in one time, and the store was quite busy, so Elijah had asked me to go back and make the call to the Shiprock Hospital for him, to inquire about his family member, and they said, "Are you a member of the family?" and I said, "No, I'm not." "Well, is there a member of the family that we can talk to?" And I asked them if they spoke Navajo, and it was somebody that could speak Navajo, I guess. Or they got somebody that could. So I handed the phone to Old Sagney Tso, and I said, "Here, you talk." And he looked at me kinda funny [as if to say] "What do I do?" So I put it up to his ear, and I said, "Say ya’ ‘ a’t ’ e’e’h." And he very reluctantly did it. (slowly, quietly) "ya’ ‘ a’t ’ e’e’h?" You know, like, "What am I supposed to hear from this?" you know. And then they started rattlin' off in Navajo, and he said, "Sho! Yo Dine’ deet zah!" [phonetic spelling] Which means, "Boy, it really can speak Navajo!" Not they, but it can really speak Navajo! (laughter) It was just like he didn't know there was a live person on the other end. He was just shocked that he could hear Navajo on the telephone.
Underhill: How would you say that trading has changed over
time, from your perspective, in the last fifty years?
Well, of course as the trading post evolved to what it is today, many
of the people moving off the reservation, the children not taking an interest
in the livestock that meant so much to their parents and grandparents.
The livestock has decreased so dynamically, that they can't be self-sufficient
as much as they used to be. Of course today, everything in most
places is cash and carry. Most of it is convenience stores.
There's a few that still--very few--but there's a few that still issue
a little credit and buy whatever they have to sell.
I think [Anglos] need to realize that [the Navajo] are a different culture, and they have a right to a different culture. I feel that we need to respect that culture, and not really try to change it, unless they want to change, unless they want help. If they ask for help in a certain area, fine, but I don't think it should be forced or imposed on them. I believe all of us, if we turn the situation around and think of people coming in and trying to change our culture, our religion, our ways of living, we'd resent it. And I'm sure they resented it, too. I think we need to respect all people for what they are. You don't have to become one of them, but you need to respect them and give them the right to their way of living.