History of Zuni Trading Posts: Esther Vanderwagon

history of Zuni trading posts Esther Vanderwagen
 

EVanderwagen1

Intro

New Mexico has a rich history associated with the Wild West, Santa Fe Trail, Billy the Kid, and Native Americans. The state has the misfortune of being the home of the Long Walk and the fortune of having the largest Native American population in the United States. Some families have very close ties with the history of these people and one of those families is the Vanderwagens. Esther Vanderwagen shares some of the history of Zuni trading posts with us.

Perry Null Trading

Lets first start with how Vanderwagen, NM got its name?

Esther Vanderwagen

In the early 1940s a family by the name Keeleys owned the White Water Trading Post and they wanted to create the town White Water. However, the name White Water already belonged to a town in southern New Mexico. The Keeley’s daughter was married to Richard Vanderwagen, and since the Vanderwagen was well known in the area they used his last name for the town (it serves as a Post Office where people in the area receive their mail).

Perry Null Trading

When did your family come to this area?

Esther Vanderwagen

My mother and father, Grace and Albert Garnaat, were missionaries for the Christian Reform Church and came to Orabi (Hopi Reservation) in 1941. Soon after they arrived in Arizona they went to do mission work closer to the Gallup area. When we came from Michigan I was in the fourth grade.

Perry Null Trading

Were their a lot of missionary families here?

Esther Vanderwagen

That is how my family came to know the Vanderwagen family. Effa and Andrew Vanderwagen were also from the Christian Reform Church and in 1896 went to Zuni, NM from Michigan to do missionary work. My family met them in 1943 when my parents moved to this area.

Perry Null Trading

The Vanderwagen family is known for being a Zuni Indian Trader family, how did they get involved in the trading business if they were missionaries?

Esther Vanderwagen

It didn’t take them long to figure out that they would not be able to survive on a missionary wage, so they opened a trading company in Zuni. In 1900 they opened Vanderwagen Trading in Zuni. At that time it served many purposes and they offered many dry goods and groceries.

Perry Null Trading

Your husband is one of their son’s, Ernie Vanderwagen, did you meet him in at the same time your family met the Vanderwagens?

Esther Vanderwagen

No, I did not meet him until 1947. He had served in World War II and his duty with the Navy kept him in service from 1942 until 1946. Ernie did his service in the Pacific. It was not until 1949 before we would get married.

Perry Null Trading

Was Ernie involved in the family business?

Esther Vanderwagen

Ernie was around the family business from a very early age. He was fluent in the Zuni language which made it very easy for him to build relationships with the local Zuni craftsman. When he was twelve one clan proposed initiation into the clan which would allow him to dance in the ceremonies. However, his mother would not hear of such a thing.

Perry Null Trading

After you had married was the trading business going to be your new families trade?

Esther Vanderwagen

We had left the area briefly after we married, but came back in 1951 to run a trading post in Tse Bonta. After that we owned or were co-owners in several different shops. The Vanderwagen store (White Water Trading Post), a store in Zuni, and Gallup Pawn. We did a little pawn business and jewelry business, mostly wholesale.

Perry Null Trading

How involved were you in the stores?

Esther Vanderwagen

I was raising kids and had other responsibilities that kept me busy. When we were in Vanderwagen I was the Post Master, in Zuni I worked for the schools, so I was not around the trading post as much as I would of liked to have been.

Perry Null Trading

You mentioned that Ernie was proposed the offer to be initiated into a Zuni clan and spoke fluent Zuni, did this give you access to many Zuni crafts people?

Esther Vanderwagen

Old man Leekya (Leekya Dyuse) was the Zuni who wanted Ernie to join the clan. So he had a good relationship with him. When we were down in Zuni, Ernie would go over to Leekya’s home and choose what fetishes he wanted. Leekya would set them aside and then when we got a collection we would string them ourselves.

Perry Null Trading

What other early Zuni artist did you trade with?

Esther Vanderwagen

Leekya’s daughter Elizabeth was married to Frank Vacit and they lived with him when they were first married. Leekya would carve these frogs that had a lip on them so they could be set in silver, after he was finished with them he would give them to Frank who had done the silver work to set them in the bracelet. These were some great pieces.

Perry Null Trading

It is different actually knowing the artist when you had grown up with them instead of being an outsider. How were the relationships different?

Esther Vanderwagen

When Ernie had enlisted to go to World War II, Zuni artist Dan Simplicio had enlisted at the same time. This was before he was the famous artist that he would eventually become. They had a very close relationship that was more than the usual trader/artist friendship. Many of Dan’s pieces prior to the War were done in traditional inlay style. It was not until after the war and he had the life changing experience associated with such an event that he began his style that was very different than what is associated with Zuni artist.

Perry Null Trading

So you and Ernie were considered part of an extended family in Zuni?

Esther Vanderwagen

We had many close relationships, today I still visit with Elizabeth on a regular basis. The Zuni Tribe wanted to make a Constitution, so they had all of these lawyers meeting with the Council. Many on the counsel didn’t speak english, and those that did have a general understanding didn’t understand lawyers terminology. So for one whole winter Ernie would go to these meetings to translate the lawyers terminology into the Zuni language and in a way it made sense.

Perry Null Trading

Looking back what are your thoughts?

Esther Vanderwagen

It is always easy to look back and see what you should have done that was different. I wish I had paid more attention to the culture and the different artist. Still we had a great time in the business and I would not trade it for another life.

Perry Null Trading

What are you doing today?

Esther Vanderwagen

I am still working and plan to work for a couple of more years. I have moved around a bit the last couple of years, a stop in Mesa Verde at a gallery. Now I am at Richardson’s in downtown Gallup, that allows me to see many of my friends and keeps me involved in the business, which I love.

1 comment

  • Who was Deana (Deena?) Vanderwagen’s husband. What became of them?

    Diana Quinn Cotton

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