The demise of J. B. Moore is really turning into an interesting topic. Jill Tripp, a friend from Durango brought by the book “Posts and Rugs: The Story of the Navajo Weaving and The Role of The Indian Trader” by H.L James, which was a classic published in 1976. It was reprinted in 2005 with footnotes. Jill had that edition and in the notes is had a couple of references to J.B. Moore’s departure from the Crystal Trading Post.
The first said his departure from Crystal was related to a local welfare scandal regarding heating oil which he was not personally involved in, but which was “embarrassing to the point of causing his departure.”
The second was interesting because it stated that, unlike what I had believed, Moore did not disappear, and his wife did not die in Texas. Don Jensen, who owned the trading post from 1944 until 1981, was visited by Moore’s daughter. She recounted that her mother and J.B. Moore had experimented with synthetic dyes at the post, trying to improve the quality of the color. She claimed that both of her parents had lead poisoning from prolonged exposure to dye bath fumes from galvanized pails. She claimed they both died in Kansas in 1923.
Some of that could be true. At a “Traders Rendezvous” about ten years ago, Erica Cottam, who wrote the definitive book on the Hubbell Trading Post and its owner, Don Lorenzo Hubbell, said that her research had uncovered the story that Moore’s wife had used her wood cook stove to heat water and dye wool for the Navajo weavers that worked for Moore. Using the wood stove, she had better control of the dying process and improved the colors used in the Crystal rugs of the time. Cottam claimed that Moore’s wife had died at a young age from exposure to these toxic dyes. She claimed that Moore “had disappeared.”
Bill Postler reminded me that in a facsimile copy of a letter from Gil Maxwell to Frank McNitt that was included in Mark Winter’s book, “The Master Weavers,” Maxwell seemed to verify the story that Moore’s wife was involved in a scam to collect donations which she then kept for their own use. Of course, that letter was written in 1958, about 35 years after Moore left Crystal.
Finally, in the January/February issue of the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine there is a story about J.B. Moore and the Crystal Trading Post. It fails to note that he was married and claims that he worked with a young Navajo boy to run the store. It the story, two postal inspectors show up to shut the store down because of Moore’s illegal activities. In the story, Moore had already fled, leaving the young Navajo boy to run the store and, ultimately, convince the inspectors to keep the store open. Actually, Moore sold the store before he left, so it stretches the bounds of truth, but it makes a good tale.
The story, “Fair Trade” by David Hagerty is interesting mostly because it draws on the mysterious disappearance of Moore, which in the scope of the world, is commonly contemplated!
Anyway, the bottom line is that nobody seems to know exactly where J.B. Moore went, or why he left Crystal, but one thing is for sure. He was one of the people who was responsible for the fact that Navajo weaving survived and became an important part of the Navajo culture in the 20th century.
It is hard for me to believe that anyone who worked as hard as he did to promote quality weaving and to market the work of these people to the world was a crook. But, believe me, I’ve been wrong before!
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