Last year we had the opportunity to accept a group of Navajo weavings from a family in Oregon. They had been passed down from a grandfather who had driven a truck in the 1920s on the Navajo Reservation delivering goods to trading posts.
The design on one of the pieces was particularly interesting. It had a hooked border design that worked with and complemented the center diamond pattern.
I shared my appreciation of it with Tom, the grandson, and he said, “There’s a story about that one.”
“It came from Curley’s Trading Post and when my grandfather stopped at the post, they told him it was the winner of their best rug of the year award, so he bought it.”
I’d never heard of Curley’s Trading Post and other than Tom saying it was near Flagstaff, I had no real idea where it could have been. Then I remember that a nice guy named Richard Begay from the Navajo Tribe had stopped in one day to sell me a book the tribe had printed that was an encyclopedia of all the trading posts that had served the Navajo. For some reason they only printed 100 of them and I was happy to have it. I found the book and started looking thought it.
No post by the name of Curley’s. It seemed like it was probably one of those stories that becomes a legend without much fact. But I kept the story in the back of my mind. A couple of weeks ago, while driving to California, I started thinking about it again. After you leave Kayenta, Arizona, the next community on the Reservation is Tuba City, then Cameron, which is small, then Flagstaff. I knew that there was a trading post in Tuba City that had been owned by the Babbitt Brothers called Tuba Trading Post. It was late in the afternoon, but I drove through the town looking to see if there were any other old buildings that looked like old trading posts. I didn’t see any.
When I got home last week, I decided to call the Tuba City Public Library and ask the Librarian if they knew anything about a Curley’s Trading Post. A nice woman answered the phone and when I asked her the question, she asked, “What was that name again,” and I repeated and then spelled it. C-U-R-L-E-Y-S.
She laughed and said, “There was one, but you spelled it wrong. It was Kerley!” She then spelled the name.
“Do you know where the trading post was,” I asked, not believing how lucky I was.
“It was here,” she said.
“But I meant where was the building?” I replied
.“That’s what I said,” she answered. “It was in this building where the library is. It was called the Kernz-Kerley Trading Post.”
Talk about lucky! She didn’t know much else about it, so I got my Encyclopedia of Trading Posts out, went to “Tuba City” and there it was, the Krenz-Kerley Trading Post!
It turns out Fred Krenz had started the post in 1915 and Kerley worked for him. In 1918, the Babbitts discovered that the store was on homestead land they had purchased and took the store over.
They then moved their business from the Tuba Trading Post to the Krenz building, with Kerley as the manager. Krenz moved to Phoenix.
In 1924, Kerley sold his share as managing partner in the Tuba Trading Post and started Kerley’s Trading Post where Van’s Trading Post stood until last September, when it burned down. And, while there is no way to be certain, it seems darned likely that the post where Tom’s grandfather bought this rug, the best rug of that year, was in Tuba City.
You can’t make this stuff up!
And if you look at it and remember that the Navajo floor rug was just emerging as an important economic factor on the reservation, this weaving was as good as the best pieces coming out of Crystal, Ganado or Two Grey Hills. In fact, if it had been woven today, it would be considered an exceptional weaving. It is made of hand spun wool with just a touch of red aniline dyes.
Thank you for letting me share that story. It is not very often that you can chase down the actual origin of a 100-year-old weaving!
Now if we only knew who the weaver was!