Recently we received this beautiful pair of vintage hair combs in an estate lot that were made by a Navajo silversmith at Woodard’s Indian Shop
[Marion (M.L.) Woodard worked for the United Indian Traders Association (UITA) in the 1930s and also operated shops in Tucson, Scottsdale, Santa Fe and Gallup. Some of the noted artists that worked for Woodard’s include Navajo silversmiths Kee Joe Benally, Wilson Tsosie, Joe D. Yazzie, and Willie Yazzie Sr. – from Native American and Southwestern Silver Hallmarks by Bille Hougart:]
Probably from the 1950s. I found a very interesting oral history that I thought you might like to read. It was posted on http://library.nau.edu/
This is Karen Underhill with Northern Arizona University. It is Monday, December 14, 1998, and we're here with Tom Woodard for an interview about his life and association with Indian traders over the years. Also in the room are Brad Cole and Lew Steiger.
|Woodard: I was born in Gallup in 1936.
Underhill: And who were your parents?
Woodard: M. L. Woodard and Ann Woodard. My dad, I guess, got to Gallup about in the mid to late twenties. When he first was over there, he had a newspaper called Southwest Tourist News. And then, I think, in the early thirties, 1930 on, he went to work for the Chamber of Commerce and the Ceremonial Association and the United Indian Traders Association and the Highway 66 Association. He was in those jobs, I believe, until–I think some of them he left about 1948. And then I think he resigned as director of the Traders in 1950. I have a copy of his resignation for the dates. I know they tried to get him to stay on, but he had opened a store there in Gallup at the same time, so he was just too busy to handle all of it.
Underhill: What sort of store did he open?
Woodard: Indian arts and crafts. Of course he had worked along with the traders for many, many years, but was never actually in the trading business himself, until he opened that store in the late forties. He did run the–during the war the Indian Traders Association got silver released to the Navajo people, because the older Navajos were of no use to the military in any way, because of their language barrier…. So in order for them to make a living, the traders got the silver released, and it was the only precious metal released during wartime for jewelry production. And it really created a boom period for many of the silversmiths who were left here in the area, and older people. That was a period when some of the–I heard that Marshall Fields came out, sent a buyer out from Chicago, had a check for $50,000, and he just wanted sterling silver. And this was the only place that anyone could get it. Of course that was a lot of money in those days–not that it’s not today, but it was a lot more then. It really did not help the quality of the craft in that they wanted something made out of a precious metal, they did not care what it looked like. Most of the traders were used to an entirely different type of jewelry–there was more work went into it, and a sense of design and creativity and that was very important, where at that point in time it really wasn’t.
My dad actually ran that place, and then he had a fellah that helped him. After the war, the traders did not see any reason to continue in the silver business, because so many other people could get in it, and they sold the silver business that they had. And at that time, I think my dad had ’em put the money they got from that, in AT&T stock. And that’s why we’re all sitting here today! (laughter)
Underhill: Well, if we could back up just a little: why and when was the United Indian Traders Association founded? Your dad went to work as executive director.
Woodard: Before I was here! (laughs) It was founded in the early thirties, and it is my understanding, and of course I probably ran over most of these early traders with my tricycle or something like that. I got to know a number of them before I was really thoroughly interested in the Indian field. I mean, I just grew up in Gallup and had a lot of very good Indian friends, but as far as the trading business, I didn’t really even think a whole lot about it.
But it is my understanding that the reason for the Traders Association had a lot to do with government controls and government interference. In the earlier days you had the BIA–Bureau of Indian Affairs–and some of these various Washington people that needed a Southwest vacation, I guess, and they came out to “save the Indians” and the traders were takin’ advantage of ’em–which is not a true story at all. Time after time, they [the traders] had to prove that they were really taking care of these people….
In that article I gave you that Tom Kirk did, just a minute ago, he discusses one situation there where the traders would pay fifty cents an ounce for silver, and they would pay the Indian fifty cents an ounce to make it up. Then they would sell it for a dollar an ounce. Well, where’s their profit? Well, they decided that their profit was in their trade, because the Indians traded the fifty cents labor deal there for groceries and things of that nature, or maybe interest on pawn or something like that. The profit was built in elsewhere.
Now today, you make profit on each one of ’em. (chuckles) The whole accounting system was considerably different in those days.
Underhill: And if you had to generalize, what characteristics do traders have in common?
Woodard: Well, when you go to, like, Harry and Mike Goulding, up in Monument Valley, which is really very remote and away from everything–not so much today as it was then–but it was I think at least a week-long trip from anywhere where there was any other type of civilization, and they would go out there by wagon. They would have to freight in everything that they traded with the Indians. And of course they moved out there as a young married couple, and they died out there. And no way would they leave. They had sold, or I believe they gave the property to a church back east, which the church sold to some individuals later, and Mrs.Goulding moved back out there and finally passed away there. But most of them have pretty much gotten to really like that life, and you’re with people of an entirely different culture, and a very interesting people. Their values are so much different than you see with a lot of other people. But most of these early people just loved what they were doing, and they wouldn’t leave it for anything, and many of them just died there where they had worked. And many of them, who, say, worked for traders, people who worked as employees for the people who owned the post, they would go from post to post and work as they would change hands and so forth, would go to different places.
But what does a shoe salesman talk about when he gets home from work? I can tell you that we all talk about trading, even after we get off work. And we’ve done it many a time ’til the wee hours of the morning. Just some of the stories, it’s really different, it’s a frontier-type life. I think that you have to say that many of these earlier traders were really pioneers of the West, more than they get credit for.
It’s not a story–well, this would be a true story. I appraised Mrs. Goulding’s estate, and I was like a kid in a candy store, because she had kept guest books for many of the years that they were out there. There were quite a number of movies, and here a few years back, there wasn’t one of those peaks at Monument Valley that didn’t have a brand new car on it. Now there’s no way you could get the car on. A little trick photography there. But the people who have been in that remote area–which is still not on any beaten path–but the names of the people who have been there, the artists, the movie stars, the politicians–like Teddy Roosevelt was very well-known by a number of the traders out in this area. When you get into some of the history there, you get into a lot more of those stories.
I met a fellah who was quite well-known, years ago at a funeral. I have thought very highly of the individual and have had contact with him since that date. His name was Johnny Cash. He appeared at a funeral of a young Navajo girl who was killed in a car accident. Her husband was an artist and he was in art school back in Chicago and they went to a concert–the Indian people all like western music–and while sitting there, he did kind of a pencil sketch of Johnny Cash, and they knew there was no way you could get to him after the concert, so his wife took the sketch and gave it to one of the security people back there and said, “Just give this to Mr. Cash. We’re not tryin’ to get in and see him or anything.” But she had written their phone number and address on there. A couple of days later they got a phone call from Johnny Cash. It resulted in Johnny Cash bought a lot of his paintings, and used a couple of his paintings for album covers. And this happened to be at Crownpoint, which you just don’t expect to see someone of that….
But he came to that funeral as a mourner and as a very sincere person. It really, really impressed me a great deal.
I think I’d rather do business with Indian people than with Anglo people anytime. They really study what they want. And of course we were in the jewelry and rug business, and pottery and that type of thing. But just like when you need a plumber, not everybody’s a plumber. So you call a plumber. Well, not every Indian is a silversmith, so they go to a jewelry store and buy their material, or the things that they’d like.
We did handle some religious items. The peyote religion got to be very major among the people out here. It had been very popular in Oklahoma, and that’s the Native Church of North America, which is an incorporated church. And it really caught on with the Navajos. It just mushroomed over there. Many of the people who were in that religion were the tribal officials, were the best family people, took good care of their families. Of course that religion did not believe in drinking at all, which has always been a problem with the Indian people. And not just Indian people, with a lot of other people too.
Gallup, of course, has had the bad name of all the drunk Indians in Gallup, which it does not deserve that. There is a Skid Row section of Every City USA, and if the highway happens to go through there, that’s what they’re gonna say about it, and that’s where Gallup’s problem is. You get the truckers that were going through there on Front Street, and that happened to be where the Indian bars were located….
Underhill: How integrated was Gallup?
Woodard: Actually, Gallup got its name from a railroad paymaster, George S. Gallup. And of course the early days of Gallup–Gallup was a coal-mining town. There is probably, I think they have maps of over 300 miles of underground coal mines, going underneath Gallup, and as a kid I played in a lot of ’em. Not real safe, but many of those they’ve tried to close off and all that. But there was some major coal mining going on there. And the coal miners, there were a lot of Slavic people. With the railroad there they had some Oriental people who worked on the railroads. The makeup of Gallup was probably as diverse of any area that I’ve ever been in my life. And everybody just got along together. There was never any problems. Growing up I never saw any of the racial problems that I got to know about in later years. The Indian people, I’ve got a lot of very close Indian friends, and still to this day quite a few Indian guests here all the time–and even some of the old traders, too! (chuckles)
But I feel very bad that I wasn’t born, say, thirty years before I was; just as you feel that you wished you’d have started this [project] thirty years before you started it. (Underhill agrees) But I was fortunate to have been so close to it, and some of it rubbed off. I wish I would have become more interested much sooner than I did. And it’s kind of like a kid that just found his candy store, after I really got into it, and I’ve really enjoyed it ever since.
Underhill: And what got you started in the arts and crafts business?
Woodard: Well, the rodeo business wasn’t really doin’ real well, and I was getting out of college and getting married and I thought that I might better find some source of income. And so at that time I did open an arts and crafts store in Tucson.
Underhill: What do you think caused the interest in the 1970s in Indian arts and crafts–the boom?
Woodard: That’s easy! That was a Revlon ad. There was a gal wearin’ a concho belt. We sold to the Department of Interior shop in Washington, and American Indian Art Center in New York. Those were accounts that we had. And this Vogue magazine came out, and there was a gal wearin’ a squash blossom necklace, another wearin’ a concho belt. And I bet there hadn’t been two squash blossom necklaces sold in New York in the preceding ten years. But they ordered ten of them. We asked them if they were sober and sure. “What are you gonna do with ten squash blossom necklaces in New York?!” And before they got them, they had ordered some, like ten to twenty more. It just started and it really mushroomed. I mean, that’s what I kind of attribute it to. It was some national publicity. It had absolutely nothing to do with Indian jewelry. They were selling cosmetics, but it was just a fashion statement.
Pretty soon it just went wild. It was way over what we in the business could control. There was just no way. And I refused to take on new accounts, because I felt obligated to the people who had purchased from us for a number of years before. And then, of course (chuckles) right after that, every one of these people sold their stores to one of these other guys. Well, you never knew that was gonna happen. And I don’t regret doing it the way that I did it. We still kept a good reputation and had good quality merchandise all the time, which is more of the angle that we were….
And we worked very close with the Ceremonial, as did many of the traders and the Navajo Arts and Crafts Guild, the Hopi Guild, any other organizations in the area–everybody is–and from all over the United States, too.
Underhill: If there were anything that you could go back and change throughout your career or life, would you do that? What would it be?
Woodard: Well, I’d build a fence around New Mexico and the reservation and all that to keep it the same as it used to be (laughter) when it was really enjoyable. No, I’ve really enjoyed my whole life, and I don’t know that I could say I’d want to see anything change, other than to have what’s going on now [imitations in the Indian jewelry business] out of it, and not have to worry about things like that, and go back to the real thing.
I was visiting with Lige Blair when this fellah reestablished Toadlena Trading Post here a couple of years ago. And Lige, of course that was the first place that he was when he came out here, and I’ve known Lige, oh, for a number of years. When I was learning to fly, this Joe Danhoff taught me how to fly. He was always interested in flying and all. Of course he also was a trader out on the reservation, which many of them–Blair flies also. It’s just really the best way in the world to get in and out of there. So I’d go out to Joe to his trading post and learn to land on all the roads.
And Lige Blair’s place, we were out there one time and learned how to take off goin’ around a curve over a bridge! Well, that’s all three all rolled up into one, and that was kinda new then, and that was very exciting. But that wouldn’t bother me now. And then Hopi, there’s an airport there at Oraibi, but that’s the dumbest place in the world to land. That great big wide highway up there by the cultural center- that’s where you’re goin’ anyway-that’s the place to land, but a couple of Hopis started learnin’ to fly, and they were both landing, but going a different direction, so they kind of stopped that. (chuckles) It kind of ended our little airstrip there. But that road’s gotta be nine miles long and just as wide as it can be. And the airport down there, you’re always [dealing with] real tricky winds and a wash right at the end of it.
But over the years a lot of the traders have been pilots. Both the LaFont [phonetic spelling] boys fly a lot. Oh, there’ve been a number of them.
Cole: I was curious: You mentioned a couple of times the events, what’s happening at Zuni. What is happening?
Woodard: Well, when the Arabs first came out here–in fact, it was…. I’ve forgotten what his first name was, but their father is a wholesale grocer in Denver. Well, he was the first one to come down here, and they–it was in the early seventies–and they must have caught on that there was something really happening on this jewelry thing, and they came down and they just started–a whole bunch of ’em started comin’, and they essentially built a fence around Zuni. They would stand on the roads there, and they wouldn’t allow the Zuni to carry any jewelry out of there. They were in there workin’ with briefcases full of hundred-dollar bills, and apparently no record keeping of any kind. I don’t know why the IRS hasn’t gotten involved, because everybody knows that their transactions are very questionable. Well, they would pay ’em a little more than we were payin’ ’em, so that was the original enticement. And then they just got it, and then they cut ’em back after they had pretty well got control over it….
And of course I gotta say that Wal-Mart and all those big grocery stores and Thriftway are messin’ up the other end of the trading business. (all chuckle)
I mean, it’s not the same, but I am very happy to have lived in that time and gotten to know some of those people and seen that way of life. I feel very fortunate to…. I just wished I would have taken the bait or caught the bait long before I did, because I really missed out on a whole lot that I could have….
It’s been a very interesting life to me. And I have just started learning. I don’t know it yet. An expert’s somebody’s that been in this for less than two weeks. Then you find out how much you don’t know, and you get quieter and quieter as the years go by, because you realize how much you don’t know. But it’s really been fun for me.