Along Navajo Trails: Recollections of a Trader, 1898-1948

Along Navajo Trails: Recollections of a Trader, 1898-1948

Along Navajo Trails: Recollections of a Trader, 1898-1948

Along Navajo Trails: Recollections of a Trader, 1898-1948

Synopsis

Will Evan's writings should find a special niche in the small but significant body of literature from and about traders to the Navajos. Evans was the proprietor of the Shiprock Trading Company. Probably more than most of his fellow traders, he had a strong interest in Navajo culture. The effort he made to record and share what he learned certainly was unusual. He published in the Farmington, New Mexico, newspaper and other periodicals and compiled many of his pieces into a book manuscript. His subjects were Navajos he knew and traded with, their stories of historic events such as the Long Walk, and descriptions of their culture as he, an outsider without academic training, understood it. Evans's writings were colored by his fondness for, uncommon access to, and friendships with Navajos, and by who he was: a trader, folk artist, and Mormon. He accurately portrayed the operations of a trading post and knew both the material and artistic value of Navajo crafts. His art was mainly inspired by Navajo sandpainting. He appropriated and, no doubt, sometimes misappropriated that sacred art to paint surfaces and objects of all kinds. As a Mormon, he had particular views of who the Navajos were and what they believed and was representative of a large class of often-overlooked traders. Much of the Navajo trade in the Four Corners region and farther west was operated by Mormons. They had a significant historical role as intermediaries, or brokers, between Native and European American peoples in this part of the West. Well connected at the center of that world, Evans was a good spokesperson. Will Evans did not publish his book in his lifetime, but his granddaughter Susan Evans Woods reached that goalwith the assistance of historian Robert McPherson, who has authored numerous books on Navajo and Four Corners history. Their edition is illustrated with an equally significant, rare selection of photos from the collections of Evans and his colleagues. New Release In Native American Studies.

Excerpt

In 1948 Will Evans closed his trading post at Shiprock, New Mexico, for the last time. in leaving its “bull pen” trading room, he walked away from a half century as a Navajo trader, from a fraternity of businessmen who lived more intimately than perhaps any other European Americans with the Navajos, during one of that remarkable people’s most challenging and successful periods. Like others of the trader fraternity, Evans was confident he knew “his Indians”—the families and clans that traded at his post. Moreover, he almost certainly shared the opinion commonly held among traders that anything important in the way his patrons felt, or in what they were doing, surfaced sooner or later in the bull pen and, from that vantage point of the white man’s world, made its way around the larger trading community.

In this book, Evans’s response to the Navajos, ably illuminated by editors Susan Woods and Robert McPherson, adds a welcome and enlightening chapter to the story of Indian trade in the Four Corners region. Written initially while Evans was on the job, his narrative focuses on the cultural exchange that took place between him and the Navajo men and women who lived within accessible distance of the Shiprock Trading Post, which to Evans was the heartland of the Navajo world. Masters of survival’s give and take, the Navajos of the Evans era had been back for three decades from the terrors of their own “Babylonian Captivity,” at Fort Sumner in eastern New Mexico. in the first half of the twentieth century they were fully engaged in an astonishing period of population growth and selective adaptation that ultimately served their cultural survival so well.

In reading Along Navajo Trails, it is well to note that Evans was a Mormon—part of a group which was also proving to be a surviving people. He had emigrated from Wales with his parents and, following the promise of a coal mining job, ended up at Fruitland, New Mexico. Corresponding closely in time to the Navajo return from Fort Sumner, the Mormons had colonized a vast, disjointed Four Corners Indian country, which included the Navajo and Hopi Reservations as well as Paiute, Ute, Apache, and . . .

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