My dad was a railroader. My mom worked as a waitress in different cafés in town. I'm going to say about 1950 we moved to Texas. My dad got transferred to Texas, or else had to quit the railroad--so we moved to Texas. From Texas it was there for a while. Then Durango, Colorado. I finished school in Durango, went to college there about one year, and then joined the Army. Got out of the Army in 1961, and came back to Gallup, New Mexico, and got a job with a trader named Al Frick at Lupton, Arizona. At that time, my mom had remarried, and had married a trader by the name of Hugh Lee, who actually was a trader here in Ganado at one time, at Lee's Trading Post across town. I worked for Al Frick for about a year, and then quit that job, worked construction for about six months and then went to Keams Canyon for a short time, not even three or four months, and then went to Piñon for about eighteen years and worked for the McGee family--that'd be Bill and Cliff McGee.
In 1981, I came here to Hubbell's Trading Post. And it was like
walking out of the back door of Piñon and walking in the front
door here. There wasn't any hard change to me, except maybe you
see more tourists here, because it is a national historic site.
Here at Hubbell's I work for Southwest Parks and Monuments, which is a
nonprofit cooperating association, and I kind of work under the thumb
of the Park Service, so to speak. It's been a great time here.
I've really enjoyed my stay. I hope I have another five or ten years
in me, I don't know. I've enjoyed being a trader here at Hubbell's
and also at Piñon.
Cole: What attracted you to the trading business?
I had a background in electronics, microwave technology, when I got out of the Army. I tried to get some kind of related jobs when I got to Gallup when I got out of the service, and I couldn't even get a job changing radio tubes in radios for Santa Fe Railroad, because there was an older guy like me behind the counter, and he said, "Sonny, you need fifteen years experience before you can get this job." So....
I got asked to work at the trading post, and I just kind of stepped into that and stuck with it. Along the way, I met a Navajo girl at Lupton, by the name of Minnie Goodluck, and I always use the pun that I took her good luck away. We've had five children, fourteen grandkids. We've just really enjoyed it. Most of my kids are married to Navajos. You might say they're gonna wash me out by remarrying a Navajo and thinning out the white blood, so to speak.
It's been enjoyable, and I have some great grandkids, a nice family,
I really enjoy it. My wife, along with being a postmaster at Piñon--she
might have been one of the first Navajo postmasters on the reservation...
Our only boy is a Navajo policeman in Chinle. Our first daughter
is a teacher in Gallup. Second daughter is a postal worker in Gallup.
Third daughter is married to a well-known silversmith by the name of Perry
Shorty, and they live in Tuba City. My fourth daughter is married
to a Navajo from Sanders, and they live in Salt Lake City.
Cole: And how did you end up then moving on from Lupton?
My stepdad, Hugh Lee, was workin' for the McGees at Keams Canyon, and
he called and asked if I wanted a job at the gas station. Since
I was unemployed, I said, "Sure, why not?" So I moved up there and
worked probably three or four months at the gas station, and then Cliff
wanted to know if I'd go to Piñon. So we packed all our belongings
on the back of a stake-bodied truck--we didn't even have a car then that
ran--and drove over to the hill, from Polacca to Piñon, and the
first thing my wife said was, "I don't like it, there's no trees here."
Eighteen years later when we were leaving, she was crying. I was
too, in a sense. You know, I hated to leave, it was sad to leave,
'cause we really enjoyed Piñon. There were a lot of great
Navajo people up there. It was a really nice place.
Cole: Describe Piñon for us, when you first arrived,
if you could.
Well, there was a tall structure and a metal barn. Across the street
was a boarding school, and a few hogans and what scattered around, but
there was not much else there. About two or three churches.
And that was about it at Piñon. I kept waiting, they kept
saying, "Next year we're gonna have a school. Next year we're gonna
pave the road." Well, after we left, they built a school, they've
got a big shopping center there. They just got a couple other nice
new things there. They've got a big housing project. So a
lot of things happened after we left there. But it takes time for
things to happen out here.
Cole: So do you have a Navajo nickname?
Gosh, I don't know if I've ever had a Navajo nickname or not. Not
that I know of. They just call me Billy. My real name is Billy
Malone--not William Malone, but Billy Malone. A lot of 'em call
me Billy. I don't know what they call Bruce, but when I lived at
Piñon and he was just down the road, I used to hear about Brucie.
I think he used to hear about Billy, but we never put any context to who
each other was. I had gone down to the post once where he worked,
and he wasn't there. Lij Blair wasn't there, and I don't know, I
don't think Lij knows this yet, but there was a young trader I bought
four or five old rifles from, and I heard later on from Bruce, he said,
"You're the son of a gun!" in terms something like that. He said,
"You're the son of a gun! They fired that kid for selling those
guns." (laughter) But I wasn't doing anything wrong.
I asked if they were for sale, and he said yes, and I bought 'em.
Probably Lij's collection. I gave 'em away to some friends and kids
and what not. I might have one of 'em left. Lij will probably
come lookin' for it. (laughter)
Cole: Tell us about some of your favorite memories of different
customers that you might have had. Were there any that really stand
Oh, there's quite a few I could think of. I remember an old man
named Tapaha Legai [phonetic spelling]. He was probably known as
one of the richest men around Piñon. He always carried like
two wallets on him. They said he had his money buried out behind
his hogan in a can somewhere. I never went looking for that, but
I know a lot of people were always after him for it. But I can remember
when he would come in to cash his check. After he cashed his check,
he would take out a wallet out of his back pocket and he must have had
twenty rubber bands on that wallet, and take all those rubber bands off
and look in there, look at his money, count his money twice before he
put it in there with it. Then he put all the rubber bands on it
and put her back in his back pocket. He was a really colorful gent.
He had a lot of cattle. He'd come in with his wife, and his wife's
name was Big Mary, and his daughter's name was Little Mary. They'd
always come in with their cattle and sort 'em out. They'd bring
in the whole herd and they're only gonna sell six or eight or nine, and
they'd bring forty of 'em in so they could get the nine in that they wanted
to get rid of, and run 'em into the back of the trading post, put 'em
in the pens and sort 'em out, and kick the others loose and make the sale
and go home. But he was a very colorful gent. In fact, he's
been painted a lot--mostly off of the photographs that Ray Manley
took out at Piñon. He did a series he called "The Vanishing
Indian." He took some great shots of a lot of really old people
that were at Piñon at that time.
Cole: What other types of services did you provide as a
Oh, I guess I've done all the things that traders did in that time--make their phone calls, write letters, go to funerals. I've even shot horses at funerals when asked by the family to do so. I had a hard time shooting a horse, too, sometimes, because it's kind of hard just to shoot a horse, but it's part of their belief in doin' the funeral. It's kind of an honor to be asked to do something like that, and I've done that....
Other than that, I guess I did just the usual things: went to squaw
dances and fire dances and yé’ii bicheiis and things like that--which
is fun. The healing ceremonies they have are very powerful...
Cole: Was the Piñon Trading Post, when you started,
primarily a cash business, or was there still a lot of credit?
No, it was primarily credit. In those days, I can remember welfare checks were like thirty dollars, and of course we're talking 1962, 1963. But can you imagine getting along on thirty dollars a month?! I mean, that'd be pretty tough. Of course, I think pop was probably fifteen cents then, but that still doesn't relate to what you can live on. I think in today's margin of the thirty-dollar check, it's probably built itself up to around five hundred dollars. I think people in control of those kind of things, personally--I've always been kind of a Democrat person all my life. When I went to Piñon, I was signed up as a Republican, but there were no Republicans out there. I got tired of not seeing anybody on the ballot, so I signed up Democrat, but I still vote however I feel or [for] whoever I want to. But I think every congressman or every senator or something, they should give 'em five hundred bucks a month, kick 'em out in the middle of a reservation somewhere, and let 'em see if they can live on that five hundred a month, see how tough it is. They might learn a lesson.
Most of the traders I know probably claim to be a Republican. I
even used to tell my boss--he would complain about welfare this, welfare
that--and I said, "That's how we make our living. Why are you complaining?"
At Hubbell's, we're not really tuned-into making our living off of welfare--it's
off of the crafts.
Cole: Do you have any favorite memories associated with
buying or trading rugs?
I think one of my most favorite memories about rugs was when I was leaving Piñon, a grandma by the name of Helen Bly wove me a chief wedding blanket style rug and gave it to me as a going away gift. And that was very dear to me. I mean, it still is. I still have the rug, it's stored away.
But I don't know too many traders that when they left town, somebody gave 'em a $1,500-$2,000 rug and said, "Here's a gift, take this with you as you leave." And I bought a lot of rugs from her even after I came here. She died a while back of cancer, and it was very sad. But that's one of my most favorite times of buying a rug. And I buy a lot of rugs. I buy rugs from weavers here.... You buy rugs, and then you buy rugs that are, "Oh, gosh, this is really nice. This is something I'd like to own." But you can't own all the nice rugs that you see comin' down the trail, because you'd have to be a millionaire to do it. So you could just say, "That's mine, that's mine." But I do buy a lot of nice rugs that really make me feel good inside when I buy 'em. And I hope I make the weaver feel good too, when she sells 'em.