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  • January 2009
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The Traders in Gallup

The Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni Reservations surround Gallup, a nineteenth century railroad town. Traditionally, Gallup traders took American Indian arts–jewelry, rugs, and pots–in trade for groceries, hardware, and dry goods.

They located their stores on the north side of the railroad tracks that cut down the north side of Gallup’s Railroad Avenue. When Route 66 came along, they moved their stores to the south side of the tracks and the north side of Railroad Avenue and began taking cash for American Indian jewelry and rugs from tourists coming though town on Route 66. 


LeRoy Atkinson's Trading Post, Box Canyon, Arizona

Leroy Atkinson's Trading Post, Box Canyon, Arizona

Leroy Akinson started in the trading business in Gallup, where the competition for the tourist dollar was very stiff. He worked in a traditional trading post that took Navajo crafts for food and dry goods. His boss opened a store on Route 66 in Gallup to dispose of their Indian goods to tourists. It was their only source of cash money.

Just after the beginning of World War II, Leroy opened his own shop in Box Canyon on the Arizona border.

To attract tourists he housed his shop in a pair of Navajo hogans, kept huge statues of pre-historic characters, and a herd of buffalo. 

After the U.S. established gas rationing for the duration of the war, Leroy looked out on Route 66, where he saw one truck coming down the road. He said, “What are we going to do now.”

The war ended, gas rationing ended, Americans took to the road, and Leroy’s business boomed. 

His business evolved into a very fancy shop in Gallup and three others and a wholesale jewelry operation that employed Navajo jewelers adjacent to the shop in Gallup.


The Traders–Laguna to Grants

Wallace Gunn said people came to his Villa de Cubero because it was in a place they wanted to be. It was. 

It was the place where the research Susan Croce Kelly and I were doing came alive, where people passed us from one good interview to another. It started at the Cubero trading post, built in 1910, where the Gottlieb family had traded with the Lagunas since the 1860s.

We began to learn how trading posts change with the advent of automobiles and Route 66.

Sidney Gottlieb gave his customers credit for their livestock, which they used to by groceries and supplies and gasoline, when automobiles came along.


Cubero Trading Post

Cubero Trading Post



When Route 66 came past his door, he took cash for gas. When 66 moved south of the trading post, he and Wallace Gunn built La Villa de Cubera, a general store and motel and across the road a cafe. Gunn ran the Villa and eventually bought Gottlieb out.

Gottlieb passed us on to Wallace Gunn. Gunn passed  us on to Bud Gunderson, whose father C.K. Gunderson started as a trader with the Laguna, then a trader with the carrot farmers around Grants, and ended as the Standard Oil distributor for western New Mexico with outlets on the I-40 interchanges.

Gunderson went into  gasoline business to service his farmers. He went in the tire business when tourist bumped across the rail spur in front of his trading post and blew out their tires.

Bud Gunderson past us on to Marvel Prestridge, who told us about the growth of Grants.