I was born in Fruitland, New Mexico, November 26, 1924.
My parents were Elmer Foutz and Ethel Brimhall [phonetic spelling] Foutz. They were the original settlers in Tuba City, and when the government bought 'em out so they could give that part of the country to the Navajos and Hopis, why, they moved to Fruitland. My grandfather Foutz and Grandmother Foutz settled in Kirtland. And the Brimhalls, they moved from Salt River Canyon and Snowflake and down in that area, and they settled in Fruitland. So my father was raised in Kirtland, and my mother was raised in Fruitland.
My mother's folks were in the sheep business and ranching business. And my father, he was in the trucking business. And my first recollection of this life is in Ganado--that was where we were living when I was about three years old. My father was in the trucking business and we were living at Ganado, Arizona, at that time. Ganado was two stores and a Presbyterian mission--that was it.
There were two Foutz families and one Lee family and one Spanish family....
They were just building a Presbyterian mission at that time. And
my father was hauling coal from Steamboat to Gallup, and then he was back-hauling
freight for the Presbyterian mission.
When I graduated from high school, I was seventeen.... I went to California
and spent about three months with my uncle, Ernest Brimhall, in California,
looking for a job, but I couldn't find a job, so I came back. My
brother-in-law was working for the BIA irrigation, so he got me a job
at the motor pool at Shiprock. Anyway, I worked there for maybe
two weeks. And then Kenneth Washburn, he was running Teec Nos Pos
at that time, so he stopped by and asked me if I'd come work at Teec Nos
Pos--so I did.
I was working at Teec Nos Pos when I went into the Navy in 1943. Then when I was separated from the Navy in 1945, why, I worked there at Fruitland with my dad in the store there, and I got a chance to go to work in an oil field, so I worked in the oil field for a couple of years. And then I got married to my wife, Marie Marshall Foutz, and after we were married we moved to Gallup and worked for Tanner's Incorporated there in Gallup. He was running a bean warehouse there. And my brother-in-law was the bookkeeper there. His name was Skeet Woods, and my sister was Ardith Woods....
[Later] Russell asked me if I would come out and run Beclabito for him....
So we moved out to Beclabito.... And then I ran Beclabito for about
two years, probably. And then Russell was wanting to move to town,
so he moved me over to Teec Nos Pos to work with Loyd, my brother-in-law.
So he turned Teec Nos Pos over to Loyd and I, and him and Helen moved
to town. And we hired a kid by the name of George Baker to run Beclabito.
But it was strictly primitive at that time. I mean, there weren't
any roads--just a wagon trail from Shiprock to Teec Nos Pos. Took
an hour, just exactly an hour, to drive from Shiprock to Teec Nos Pos.
Underhill: What was the post like then, around 1954?
There was no money of any kind. I mean, it was strictly trade. We got paid twice a year: in the spring was wool and mohair, and in the fall was lambs and cattle. And that was it, that's the only two times you ever handled any money. The rest of the time it was all just the barter system. They'd bring a basket in or a rug in or whatever. And if they needed something, they pawned a little something for it. You never saw any money. I mean, you might operate for a whole month and handle thirty dollars, you know--which was a lot of money in those days.
And then later, when they started hiring a few of the Indians to work on the railroad, why, then that's when a little money became available. That's when a little money started circulating, because they'd go off to work on the railroad in the summertime, and then they'd come back home in the wintertime. And then they'd sign railroad unemployments, which at that time was fifteen dollars every two weeks.
We were the post office and everything there. We had to pick the
mail up in Shiprock and haul it ourselves and everything. And I
was a railroad representative that took the claims and everything and
mailed 'em in and all. And really, that was the beginning of any
cash flow of any kind in this part of the country, anyway. There
might have been cash flow other places, but that was the only cash flow
we had. And then after a while, they raised the unemployment benefits
from fifteen to thirty dollars every two weeks, which was exceptionally
good at that time. And then later they raised it to.... Well,
the last year or so that we signed for railroad unemployment benefits,
I think the checks were $120 every two weeks. But basically that
was all the cash flow there was until the uranium started, you know.
And then the uranium industry hired a good many of 'em, and they paid
'em every two weeks, which.... Well, that was quite nice, you might
say. We were rollin' in dough, you might say. (laughter)
I mean, really, because it'd been such a trade and barter system so long
that it was good to start really handling a few checks and handling a
Underhill: And how have things changed, in your mind, here
over the fifty years almost?
Well, the change is indescribable, really, because it was strictly primitive
when I came out here. There was no electricity, there was nothing--no
highways, no roads of any kind, or anything--and now it's more or less
a modern civilization, you might say. Like I said, it took a full
hour to drive from Shiprock to Teec Nos Pos--maybe longer. And you
never made a trip to town that you didn't break a tire on a rock or something,
you know. The roads were terrible. There were no bridges,
you had to cross the washes. When they were runnin', you couldn't
cross 'em. Now, it's just a zip. Itís like going from the
horse-and-wagon days to the space age, you might say--it's that drastic,
Underhill: What do you think it takes to be a good trader?
You mentioned that you were fair with your customers.
You have to let 'em know that you like 'em, that you enjoy tradin' with
'em. And you gotta let 'em know that you're their friend.
When they have a problem, you're the first person they come to, and you
try to help 'em through that crisis. I mean, sometimes it's a burden
for you maybe to help 'em, 'cause you have no idea how or when they're
gonna be able to bring it back to you, you know. But basically,
they come because they prit' near always know, if it's serious enough,
they're gonna get it. And that is just building trust. And
we feel like if we've got that type of relationship, I mean, eventually,
no matter what, they're gonna step in and put their arm around you and
hand you the fifty dollars you loaned 'em, or the hundred dollars you
loaned 'em. It may take a lot longer than you intended, or they
intended. We've had people step in here that's owed us a bill for
three years, and plopped $300 down and say, "I'm sorry, but I've been
up in Salt Lake, and here it is." So I mean, the trust was there
when they left, and they want it to continue to be that way.
We're the only full-service store left on the reservation, that I know of. We deal in everything: livestock and rugs and jewelry, baskets, buckskins. Anything they need, they can come here and ask for it and we can probably find it for 'em. I mean, basically. That's it. It's completely different than a convenience store. It don't even compare to a convenience store. We still do credit, and we do a lot of things that we've done ever since 1949 or 1951. I mean, it hasn't changed that much as far as we're concerned. And that's basically what I'm sayin' to you, that we were a full-service trading post. We were then, and we are now. If they need advice, they come and ask us for it. If they need help, they come and ask us for it. Maybe we can't help all the time, but a lot of times, we can. That's about it. If I hadn't have liked it, I wouldn't still be here.