Tobe Turpen Trading Post in Gallup, NM: Tobe Turpen Jr

Introduction

Perry Null purchased the Tobe Turpen Trading Post in Gallup, NM from Tobe Turpen Jr. It had been started on the north side of Gallup in the 1920s by his father Tobe Turpen Sr., a family with a rich history of trading, which makes for some great stories and a better understanding of how the business has evolved. Many Navajo and Zuni customers come into the trading post today and talk about how well they were treated by Tobe Jr., who is held in high regard by all who have met him

Perry Null Trading:

How did your father get involved in the Trading business?

Tobe Turpen Jr:

My Aunt was married to C.D. Richardson who brought my father to Winslow around 1918.

Perry Null Trading:

Which Trading Post did he work at?

Tobe Turpen Jr:

He spent a short period of time at some Posts around Winslow, but most of his time was in Shonto. It took one week by wagon to get from Flagstaff to Shonto, when my father was dropped off he was told they would see him in a couple of weeks. He didn’t see anyone for another six months, except the customers at Shonto.

Perry Null Trading:

How long did he stay at Shonto?

Tobe Turpen Jr:

He was there five to six years. It was hard life, we used kerosene lamps, carried our water, used a woodstove, nothing was easy. My mother who was from Oklahoma had a lonely life there.

Perry Null Trading:

So you lived at Shonto?

Tobe Turpen Jr:

Yes, I was born in 1923 and spent my first four years in Shonto.

Perry Null Trading:

What did your father do after Shonto?

Tobe Turpen Jr:

He moved around some spending time at other Posts, but settled in Gallup in the 1920s. He worked for a Trader by the name of McAdams on Gallup’s North side. A couple of years later he opened his own store down from McAdams.

Perry Null Trading:

Did you like the trading business at a young age?

Tobe Turpen Jr:

We lived right next door to the store, so I was there all the time. Every summer I had to work there and learned the business, but still was not very interested in it.

Perry Null Trading:

What changed, that made you become an Indian Trader?

Tobe Turpen Jr:

I was in the Navy from 1943 to 1946 and was an airplane gunner for 1 1/2 years. During that time I was in the Battle of Philippine Sea. After I got out of the service I came back to Gallup and went to work for my father. In 1956 I bought him out, and in 1972 I moved the store to where Perry is now.

Perry Null Trading:

So you came out of the service knowing you wanted to be in this business?

Tobe Turpen Jr:

No, I didn’t have anything else going on and my father had to tend to some ranching business in Oklahoma. He told me to watch the store for 3 - 4 weeks so nothing would get stolen. After 6 months he finally returned and I had a crash course in the business. During those six months that I discovered that I enjoyed the business, so I continued doing it.

Perry Null Trading:

Your father was involved in ranching, did you also continue to do this after he was gone?

Tobe Turpen Jr:

I inherited 300 head of cattle from my father. I lost money on every head, and that was the end of my ranching career.

Perry Null Trading:

Was pawn an important part of the business then?

Tobe Turpen Jr:

My father was taking a little pawn, and we thought that it would be a good part of the business. However, it was very difficult to get rid of the dead pawn. In those days you had to educate the tourist of what they were buying, they were leery of the merchandise. What the Navajo wore was different than what was made for the retail trade.

Perry Null Trading:

They made many western movies here in the 1940s and 1950s, did you sell much to the actors?

Tobe Turpen Jr:

My father would supply the livestock so he had made relationships with many of the actors and crew. We would stay open late, after they stopped filming, and show the merchandise then. It was very good for us, and I met Jimmy Stewart, Burt Lancaster, Ronald Regan, Marilyn Monroe, Randolph Scott, Tyrone Power, and Earl Flynn.

Perry Null Trading:

Any good stories about the movie stars?

Tobe Turpen Jr:

Burt Lancaster came in one evening and wanted to buy rugs for friends and family. I started helping him and he had me make two piles. One pile he kept putting every good rug I had in, I kept thinking I was not going to have one good rug in the shop after he was done. He kept going and going, and it started to make me sick to think about all those good rugs leaving the store. When he finished he told me he would take that pile, and pointed to the one without the good weavings.

Perry Null Trading:

Did you do a big business in rugs?

Tobe Turpen Jr:

At the Tobe Turpen Trading Post in Gallup, NM jewelry was always the best. However, we would buy all the rugs that came in the store. I thought that at one point that the we were not going to get anymore rugs. During this rug drought I would travel to the Post on the Reservations to buy rugs, it was the only place I could get them. I thought for sure that was the end of Navajo rug weaving, but the traders started paying more and it fixed itself.

Perry Null Trading:

Did you make most of your jewelry in house?

Tobe Turpen Jr:

Almost all of it, we would buy some from the Zuni artists. We purchased stones from the Nevada turquoise miners, and my father at one time even had a claim to a mine in Colorado.

Perry Null Trading:

What was your favorite stone?

Tobe Turpen Jr:

We always bought what was available, I liked Lone Mountain, Morenci, and Bisbee.

Perry Null Trading:

People always talk about the big boom of the 1970s. What was it like?

Tobe Turpen Jr:

You always hear that the Hollywood crowd was responsible. I think the Hippies had more to do with it. Turquoise became very popular and I would have 5 - 10 Volkswagen vans in my parking lot every morning. They would come in and get the jewelry, after that they hit the road and would be back in two weeks.

Perry Null Trading:

Do you miss the Trading business?

Tobe Turpen Jr:

I do, I stayed active in it until the mid 1990s when I sold the Tobe Turpen Trading Post to Perry Null.

5 comments

  • I have a rug bought from the Tobe Turpins Trading CO. It was weaved by Rita Mose who i understand passed in 2005. It cost 225.00 whenever it was purchased. Would it be worth as much today?
    Thanks
    DON George

    Don George
  • My mother purchased several jewelry pieces from Tobe Turpen in 1972 ish. I have a couple of pieces. They have scratched on the back – letters. “AIZR”. Another one looks like “UZRZ ? “. Can you tell me what that means. Am wanting to sell but need more info. Thank you. Sondra Bower. I think her sales person was. Frank B Thompson. It’s written on a T Turpen business card.

    Sondra Bower
  • I have an old piece not sure how old. It was given to me several years ago from a friend who’s grandmother had. It looks like a roadrunner with coral, Turqouise, and Opal?? It is still in the original box.
    Tobe Turben’s Indian Trading Co. Gallup, New Mexico.
    My interest is there any value to this piece? It looks like on the back markings of xxz. This piece is absolutely gorgeous. Still vibrant colors and all stones are intact.
    I’m just trying to find out if it has any value.
    If someone can get back in touch with me, I will be glad to show pictures.
    Thank you.
    Beverly
    Tennessee

    Beverly Davis
  • We used to live just down the street from Tobe Turpen and his family on Aztec street in Gallup. I went to school and played with Corby. My brother Scott knew Shelly. I was born and raised in Gallup. Used to go to their house everyday. They were great neighbors. Steven Lowe

    Steven Lowe
  • I used to go to the LA gift show all the time and buy for our shop and for myself from this nice gentleman I bought a beautiful horse buckle and a beautiful conch buckle besides all the other beautiful things we bought I wear my conch felt quite a bit and all my friends love it they keep asking me where I got it I decided to look through my old checks and I actually found it from 1992 so I looked you up and found this website all my friends love the beautiful things I bought from him and wanted to see if he was still in business so I would like to get more information about the business and if it’s the gentleman is still around he was so so nice every time we would go to the show he always acted like he remembered me which I thought that was probably impossible

    Lorie martan

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