THE THOREAU TRADING POST MYSTERY

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This is another example of how recent history can vanish so quickly. This trading post stands to the west of Thoreau in New Mexico and is rapidly falling apart. Yet even its name is already lost, or so it seemed.

Part of the problem with identifying the building is that Thoreau was a town which, despite its tiny size, thrived on trading posts (at least six to my knowledge). But, putting my faith in Jack Rittenhouse and his 1946 guide, I figured that this place must have been either the Thoreau Trading Post or the Beautiful Mountain Trading Post, both of which Rittenhouse mentions as being on Route 66.

To be honest, I really hoped this place would be the Beautiful Mountain Trading Post, if only because it seemed that someone had at least made an effort with the name. The Thoreau Trading Post was, well, just a little short on imagination. For a while, that seemed likely. Even the Northern Arizona University digital archive had a modern-day picture of the building which it titled ‘Beautiful Mountain Trading Post’. But it had then attached a question mark to that title which didn’t inspire confidence.

Then, tucked away on an inside page of a 1945 edition of the Gallup Independent I found a single mention of the Beautiful Mountain Trading Post in which it was described as at the intersection of Route 66 and the road into Thoreau. That, of course, is where the now closed Red Mountain Market and Deli stands … and ‘Red Mountain’ is close to the original name, if a little more economic on paint.

The reason why the place was even mentioned in the paper was because it had just been sold to Mr TM Lane by one Jake Atkinson, member of one of the two famous trading post families of this part of New Mexico. If you read the post on the Atkinsons on this blog, you’ll see that the timing matches – 1945 was the year that he and his wife Maxine bought the Brock Trading Post in Bluewater and turned it into the famous Rattlesnake Trading Post. Even more intriguing, by the mid-1950s, the Beautiful Mountain was owned by Blake Bowlin, from the other famous trading post family, and brother of the remarkable Claude Bowlin.

So, that seems to solve the mystery of the Beautiful Mountain Trading Post, but it leaves me little the wiser about the history of this sad place. As well as the Atkinsons and Bowlins, John H ‘Bill’ Bass operated a trading post in Thoreau as well as opening the Thunderbird Bar in Thoreau on 4th July 1964. Bill Bass and his wife Lorene had moved to New Mexico in the 1940s and Bass ran the Top of the World Cocktail Lounge at Continental Divide. In 1948, he was charged with ‘operating a confidence game’ at Willard Neal’s zoo, although it doesn’t seem to have hurt his future career. For many years he was either the McKinley County Sheriff or Under Sheriff (once working for his son amid calls of nepotism). Was this his business? And did it ever have a name to call its own? Given how I have watched this building deteriorate over the last few years, that may soon not even matter.

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13 thoughts on “THE THOREAU TRADING POST MYSTERY

    • I would love any info/location on the Jones Mercantile Co. which was owned by Homer C Jones and sold to Dan Rangell in 1952. Dan Rangell renamed it Thoreau Mercantile. Thank you!

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  1. Bowling and rattlesnake gardens are still standing. Atkinsons bought Justin’s trading at prewitt. Brocks owned Brocks until they moved or died Beautiful Mountain was across road from Johnnies/Red Mtn….and my Grandfather was not at the top in 1948 he was at the old place (this location..different bldg.) 🙂

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  2. My grandparents Francisco and Katie Hernandez purchased Brocks Bluewater Trading post from Otto Brock. The Rattlesnake was further west about a half mile. My grandmother ran the store until the late eighties.

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  3. The building was originally built by my father Bill Bass and my uncle Charlie Bass in 1947. They opened as the the Thunderbird Bar and Thunderbird Trading Post, Grocery and Gas. It was also a Texaco Gas Station. The building was constructed of ammunition boxes filled with sand. The ammo boxes came from Fort Wingate Army Depot. According to my uncle and dad, they constructed the building for around 1600.00. If you go into the building today you can see the ammo boxes where the plaster had degenerated. The business operated there until 1964. I40 opened then and Route66 no longer existed for the tourist trade and the business was fenced off. My father and uncle made a very good living at that location for many years buying live stock, selling groceries, and local bar for the residents of the area. Before liquor became legal for the Native American population in 1952, they also provided liquor for bootlegging operations on the Navajo Reservation. In 1952 illegal gambling which was given a blind eye by enforcement authorities was also shut down. My father and uncle had a bank of 15 to 20 slot machines in a back room of that building in that building before gambling becoming a no, no in the state. My father and uncle dissolved their partnership when I40 fenced off the business. My father built a new bar a couple of miles up the road and my uncle went into full time ranching on his ranch property that he and my father acquired in the 1950’s. The building later became an Indian Jewelry Manufacturing business operated by Max Sandoval and a restaurant operated by his sister Merly Rangel. That’s the mystery that is now solved about the history of this building. How do I know, I was raised there. I have pictures of the place back then. Wish I could attach them here.

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  4. The Beautiful Mountain Trading Post was located at the far right end of the junction of Route 66 and the road heading into Thoreau and Crownpoint. It was owned and operated by Dave Ortega. It burnt down in the early 1950’s. Dave moved his business to Prewitt, NM., about 9 miles East and opened the Prewitt Trading Post. He also had a post office in that building at Prewitt.

    On the other side of the junction was the Red Arrow Trading Post, which was operated by Harry Boyd known by his Navajo name “Willa Chee Boyd.” Translated as Red Ant Boyd. He was bald and had a very ruddy complexion. The Navajo population thought he look like a red ant. That business also burn down in 1960. The cement floor and gasoline islands are still there.

    To the far west was Johnies’s Inn. It was a restaurant and bar owned and operated by John Radosevich, an early Immigrant from Yugoslavia who started out as a logger in the the Thoreau and McGaffey area when he came to this country. He had an early business a Trading Post in the 30’s on the original Route 66 when it ran through Thoreau. After his death in the early 1960’s, his oldest son Jay ran the bar until his death. The youngest son Joey ran a deli and pizza business out of the building for a time in the 1970’s. It was called Red Mountain Deli and Pizza and was in the portion of the building that housed the old restaurant of the 40’s and 50’s.

    Herman’s Garage and Gas had two locations. The first as I remember as a child that it was next to the Besutiful Mountain Trading Post. Roy moved the entire building to the far west of Johnnies Inn in the late 50’s where it still sets today and operated by Roy’s son Jimmy. Where the moved the building was to a location that had been an auto repair garage operated by Graffin Morris.

    Memories of Thoreau by Bob Bass. “Son of Bill Bass and was born, raised and lived in that area for many years.”

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  5. In 2014 I took a photo of a small curio shop on 3rd street in Thoreau. Several years later there was a pile of building materials and a prefab home standing on this spot. The resident told me it had been moved from First Street sometime back to Third Street. That would have originally put this shop on Route 66. I call it Navajo Rugs and Jewelry as that was the words I could make out on the front side. I have a great photo of this shop. I’d like to know about this place.

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