History of Gallup Trading Posts: Post MGR J Turpen

history of Gallup trading posts Jimmy Turpen, managed Tobe Turpen Trading company until retirement in 1995
Intro

Many of us set out on our life’s journey trying to mold it. We want to end up where we think we should go, and do the things that we believe will get us there. Some of us however take a much different path, letting life happen. Jimmy Turpen let life happen and in return he has lived a full life. I could have spent hours listening to him give me his history, but I could tell his story could not be told in hours. He is a man who has much to share on the history of Gallup trading posts.

Perry Null Trading

Where should we begin?

Jimmy Turpen

It is your interview (laugh).

Perry Null Trading

The Turpen name is a well recognized Indian Trader name and has a long history associated with this area. How did your family come to this area?

Jimmy Turpen

In 1916 a relative died at the Shonto Trading Post (very remote part of the Navajo reservation, northeast of Tuba City) so my Aunt Trula Richardson got in contact with my father to come out here. Trula was responsible for bringing out many of the early traders in my family.

Perry Null Trading

What type of trading was the Shonto Trading Post actively involved in?

Jimmy Turpen

In those days they were taking a little pawn, the jewelry was pieces the Navajos had made for themselves. At this location and time no jewelry was being made by the traders for tourist trade. They dealt mostly with dry goods and groceries. The payment was made with anything of value, such as pinons, wool, and livestock.

Perry Null Trading

Did he stay at this location for a long time?

Jimmy Turpen

My father was sent to the different trading post owned by his family members, was sent to where the work was needed. At that time they had trading post at Cameron, Tuba City, Blue Canyon, Shonto, and some other remote places on the Reservation.

Perry Null Trading

Did he like the trading business?

Jimmy Turpen

He was a business man, always looking for opportunities. At one time he learned how do tailor work and opened a dry cleaning and tailor business in Winslow. Went to Gallup for a short period, than back to trading at the Grand Canyon.

Perry Null Trading

You were around for the Grand Canyon Trading Post. What do you remember?

Jimmy Turpen

I remember the first day we arrived, it was June 16th, 1936, and snow was on the ground and my mother cried all day. It was on private land and consisted of a curio shop, bar, and restaurant. It had a dance hall and a band played there every evening. You had lots of tourist traffic because it was on the road to the park.

Perry Null Trading

What was your dad doing at this time with regards to jewelry?

Jimmy Turpen

He had set up a shop behind the store where he would cut stones. My mom ran the store during the day and then my father would run the restaurant and bar at night. This would allow him time to cut stones in his shop during the day. Stones were a good revenue source so he was always in there cutting.

Perry Null Trading

How old were you when your family opened the store in the Grand Canyon?

Jimmy Turpen

I was six years old, and we stayed there until I was twelve. It was a great time and I have wonderful memories about the place. Still can smell the candy in the cases, and sneaking a few pieces. I had been around the Sunrise Springs Trading Post before we moved to the Grand Canyon, so was already familiar with this type of life style, always something going on and to do.

Perry Null Trading

Did you help your dad with the stones?

Jimmy Turpen

Yes, my dad would let me sand and polish the stones. He had a silversmith family living there that would make the stones into jewelry, and then he would also take loose stones on the road to sell. We worked with a lot of Number 8, Blue Gem, Morenci, and Kingman turquoise.

Perry Null Trading

How were you able to get a store in the Grand Canyon?

Jimmy Turpen

It was on private land. Dan Hogan an Irishmen from New York had rights to the land before it became a National Park. He had served with the Rough Riders during the Spanish American War and had become friends with Teddy Roosevelt. When Teddy Roosevelt became President he was visiting the area and ran into Dan. Dan had been prospecting for ore at the time and the President asked if he could do anything for him. It just so happened that he could, Dan surveyed the land and asked for the rights to mine it. What he got was the right to own the land, granted by the President. Eventually the land was given back to the park under a deal that once the uranium had been mined it would be turned over. This was the land the store was on and today the Powell Memorial is there.

Perry Null Trading

Why did your family leave the Grand Canyon store?

Jimmy Turpen

In 1942 the tourist stopped coming. World War II broke out and with it came rations on gasoline. So we moved to Tucson.

Perry Null Trading

What did your family do there?

Jimmy Turpen

They opened another curio shop. It didn’t take long for my dad to figure out he didn’t like waiting on customers, so he was back to cutting stones. He had two guys helping him (along with me) one Navajo named John Nelson who did silver work and John Garcia who helped with the stones. He started to make some really good jewelry.

Perry Null Trading

You finished high school in Tucson, then did you go to work for your father fulltime?

Jimmy Turpen

After high school I went to college at the University of Arizona. I started out studying to become a dentist, but changed it to Wildlife Management. This was a new program at the school and only six of us were in the first class.

Perry Null Trading

Did you go to work in this field after graduation?

Jimmy Turpen

I had gotten married when I was in college and didn’t quite finish. I was in the ROTC and enlisted in the Army when I was a junior in college.

Jimmy's wife, Robbie Wilson Turpen Jimmy's wife, Robbie Wilson Turpen
Perry Null Trading

What did you do in the Army?

Jimmy Turpen

I went to flight school and became a pilot. After flight school I was sent to Germany when we still occupied the country. We would take pictures from the air of the Russian Army advances in East Germany, after we developed the film we then flew it to our front lines to let them know about any movement of the enemy.

Perry Null Trading

How long were you in Germany?

Jimmy Turpen

We went, my wife and two children, in 1954 and came back home in 1957.

Perry Null Trading

Did you come back to Tucson?

Jimmy Turpen

Yes, I came back and finished my Wildlife Management program. By this time it was a popular field and the only job I could get was a study of the Razor Back in Tennessee. So I was on a job hunt immediately.

Perry Null Trading

What kind of work did you find?

Jimmy Turpen

My sister helped me get a job with Martin Marietta building the Titan Missile in Denver. So we moved there and began working, this was during the height of the Cold War. When we had finished building the missiles and the work slowed I got on with IBM in the same area of Colorado.

Perry Null Trading

How about the Indian Trading business?

Jimmy Turpen

I had a good job and really liked working for IBM. Still had an interest in it, but was working to pay bills and raise a family. During this time in Colorado we had made a trip to Estes Park. A lady owned a shop there that sold Indian jewelry and we saw a belt that my father had made in her window. We had made an offer to buy the belt and the lady told us it would be $3500. At that time this was an expensive price, but we wanted to have it and agreed. After that she said the piece was not for sale.

Perry Null Trading

Sounds like good business practice?

Silverware made by Tobe Turpen Sr.'s brother Silverware made by Tobe Turpen Sr.'s brother
 
Jimmy Turpen

We introduced ourselves to her. She told me that she had a piece of my father’s work at her home and would mail it to me. When it arrived I had the option to buy it from her. The box didn’t arrive until six months later, and by then I had forgotten about it. The packaged contained a silver ware set that my father made during the 1940s. She said I could have it for the price she paid him, that was $500. So I sent her a check.

Perry Null Trading

When did you get back into the Indian Trading business?

Jimmy Turpen

In 1973 I received a call from Tobe Turpen asking to check out a retail location in Denver. They were thinking of opening a store here. The location was terrible and they never opened a store there. However, I was offered a job to be the general manager of the Tobe Turpen store in Gallup.

Perry Null Trading

Was it an easy decision to make?

Jimmy Turpen

I knew the business and I liked the business. I had a good job with IBM and my wife was able to be around our children in the Denver area. It was a much harder decision for her because she would be leaving her children and grand children.

Perry Null Trading

Well we know you decided to return to the business, was it an easy transition?

Jimmy Turpen

It was for me, I was right back into the swing of things. My wife cried for the first two years, until our daughter and her family moved to Gallup. At the time we moved to Gallup the American Indian Movement was very active. Right before we moved down with our belongings AIM had taken the Gallup Mayor hostage and one of the kidnappers was killed in the ordeal. My wife was asking me what kind of place we were moving to.

Perry Null Trading

You showed up right in time for the big 1970s market, was business booming?

Jimmy Turpen

The 1970s was a big boom market for Indian jewelry. All of the big movie stars were wearing turquoise and that made everybody want it. You had everybody selling jewelry, train operators would take it on the road with them and sell it, school teachers were selling it, everybody in the town was selling jewelry.

Perry Null Trading

How busy was the store?

Jimmy Turpen

We were booming, at the time we had three locations. Most of our business was wholesale, it was not uncommon for us to sell 100 squash blossoms a day. We had 30 silversmiths working in the shop cranking out jewelry. It was a good time for the industry, but at the same time you had a lot of junk available because it was being made so fast and everybody was making it.

Perry Null Trading

When did it slow down?

Jimmy Turpen

The wholesale slowed down in the early 1980s, but at this time the pawn business was starting to grow really good. With the shortage of money from the slowdown in the market, people started to pawn for extra money. It was always busy at the store.

Turpen1

Perry Null Trading

During the 1970s C.G. Wallace had his big auction in Phoenix, did you pay much attention to it?

Jimmy Turpen

We would use the auction to get an idea for what things were selling for. One day Tobe Turpen came to me with the C.G. Wallace catalog and asked me about a silverware set in it. It was like the one I had bought from the lady in Estes Park. My father had made two alike sets, I had the other one. The set at auction sold for $35,000.

Perry Null Trading

You are also an artist, how did you get involved with making bronze statues?

Jimmy Turpen

In 1969 we visited a gallery in Taos and looked at some pieces. I thought this looked easy and decided to make some pieces. It was not as easy as it looked but I had a new hobby?

Perry Null Trading

Your hobby worked out pretty good for you, I have seen some of your work. Did you sell your pieces?

Jimmy Turpen

I have had them in different galleries. My pieces are also displayed in a book put out by Bill Harmsen.

Perry Null Trading

When did you leave the Tobe Turpen store?

Jimmy Turpen

I retired in 1995. Tobe Turpen Jr. was grooming his son to run the business. Today I help out at Richardson’s Trading downtown at the beginning of each month. Bill Richardson is my cousin and I enjoy spending time down there. Get to see some of the people I dealt with at the Turpen store.

Perry Null Trading

What do you miss the most?

Jimmy Turpen

I miss the action and getting to see my old friends.

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