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Brief History of Tobe Turpen's Trading Post

Old photo of Tobe Turpen's trading post Old photo of Tobe Turpen's trading post

The photo displayed to the left was taken in 1900 at the original sight of Tobe Turpens Trading Post in Gallup and shows John Lorenzo Hubbell, the owner, pictured in the center wearing a dark suit and hat. The counter shown in this photo was moved to the current Tobe Turpen's Trading Post on Second Street in Gallup NM and can be seen there today.

The Turpen family has been in the trading business for more than just 60 years. Tobe Turpen Sr. opened his Gallup trading post in 1939 in the building shown above that he purchased from J. L. Hubbell on North Third Street in Gallup NM. Tobe Turpen. Jr. is pictured to the right in the same store building with an employee and a Navajo medicine man (circa. 1947) In 1966, Tobe Jr. was forced to move from the building on North Third Street, when I-40 was constructed. He relocated the trading post to it's present location on South Second Street in Gallup.

Tobe Turpen Jr and Medicine Man Tobe Turpen Jr and Medicine Man

The history of the Turpen family in the trading business began in 1908 when, at the age of 11, Tobe Sr. came west from Texas to work in a trading post owned by his brother-in-law, C.D. Richardson. This was before the start of World War I and the Turpen family was having hard times at their home in Texas. Mrs. C.D. Richardson, formerly Trula Turpen (Tobe's sister), was trying to find work for her brothers at C.D.'s string of trading posts in Arizona.

Tobe Turpen Senior and Navajo friends c1920 Tobe Turpen Senior and Navajo friends c1920

The picture to the left was taken on the Navajo Reservation (circa 1920) when Tobe Sr. was in his early 20's. Tobe Sr. began working on the Navajo Reservation by hauling freight from Flagstaff, AZ to the trading post at Cameron, AZ. He also worked at the Blue Canyon Trading Post, where he learned to speak the Navajo language, and quickly gained a working knowledge of the trading business. This was the beginning of a long career as a Trader.

Tobe Sr.'s work in the trading business was interrupted when he lied about his age so he could join the Navy and enter WWI. When he returned from the war, he worked at Richardson's trading posts at Blue Canyon and Red Lake. He then moved to Gallup and worked for the McAdam Post and then for Gross-Kelly. Tobe Sr. ran the curio department for Gross-Kelly, where they sold rugs, jewelry and pottery that the local reservation traders brought to town as payment for the goods they hauled back to the reservation.

When Tobe Jr. returned from serving in the Navy in WWII, he joined his father in the trading business in 1946, and they worked together until 1954, when Tobe Jr. bought the business from his father. Tobe Sr. soon moved to Albuquerque where he opened a small Indian jewelry store and entered the cattle business. Tobe Jr. continued in the trading business and in 1973 his cousin, Jim Turpen, joined him. Jim Turpen became the General Manager and continued in that position until his retirement in 1994. Tobe Jr. eventually moved to Albuquerque and semi-retired from the trading business. Until he sold the store to Perry Null in 2002, he continued to travel to Gallup several times a month to oversee the trading post operations.

During the 1960's "boom years" of the Indian jewelry business, Tobe Turpen's enjoyed the success of supplying jewelry to the hundreds of retailers that sprung up across the country. The "boom years" were followed by a market saturated with cheap work and spreading disillusionment that ended the fad in the late 1970's. Although many retailers went out of business after the "boom", Tobe Turpen's continues to supply Indian jewelry, rugs, kachinas, pottery, sandpaintings, beadwork and old pawn to retailers throughout the United States and Canada. With the popularity of Indian jewelry growing in other countries, Tobe Turpen's now supplies businesses in Japan, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland and England.

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