In the fall of 1982, I was sitting in front of the fireplace at my Trading Post called "Canyon Collectors" in Durango Colorado with an old cowboy friend. An old car pulled into my parking lot and as I looked at it I thought I saw Navajo Rugs stacked to the sealing in the back seat. I said to my friend "Jed", watch me buy an old Indian Turquoise Jewelry collection and we both laughed.
I had been trading in antique guns, early frontier items and vintage Turquoise Jewelry since
I was a Kid - 1960's and I had owned the Trading Post since 1976 dealing in the same.
This old man, about 90 years old, walks in my door and Jed and I said "Hello", he grunted something. He casually walked around the Trading Post and then walked up and said, "Who owns this joint?" I said, "I the owner, can I help you?" he said "I got a bunch of old Navajo Rugs, are you buying?" I said, "lets go out and look". We went out to his car and here's the story;
I had just met one of the most famous Indian Traders of the American Southwest! Francis Griswold was his name; he had been an Indian Trader since about 1900. He had just got out of prison and came up towards Durango to try to raise some cash. He stopped at every Trading Post from Gallup to Durango and nobody would even give him the time of Day.
Well, I opened the door of his old car to find Navajo Rugs from the 1880's to about 1955. I was totally blown away. Then I looked at the old pawn tags to find they had prices on them from the 1950's. For example, a 1930's 6' x 8' rug priced at $85.00. I said "what's the deal here?" He said, "I want 60% of the price they are marked! Whoa! I brought all of the Navajo's in and I bought them all.
I then asked him if he had any old Turquoise Jewelry or other old Indian items, and he said he had a ton of stuff in Gallup. He didn't want me to come down as I think he wanted to see if my check would be good. He said he would bring some Jewelry up next week and I said OK.
Click to Blow Up In about a week Francis showed up. He had a box of old Jewelry, it was awesome as it was all from the 1920's - 1950's. He had brought about 300 rings, 100 bracelets, 100 pins, 3 Concho belts, 50 sets of Jaclas (JaClaws), 500 silver buttons and a bunch of old parts and pieces. Along with that he brought about 25 great old Navajo Saddle Blankets. A lot of the items still had the old pawn tags on them and the cost was stupidly cheap - I bought it all!
I asked Francis if he had many Conc ho belts and he said a couple of nurses from Santa Fe had came down to Gallup and bought most of them from him. I knew then I better get down there or someone else would get his stuff. I told him I wanted to come down and he finally said OK after much talking.
I had my old friend Punk Blackstone, (an old Railroad Conductor), and I went down to Gallup and went to Francis's house. It was an older house, the lawn looked like it had been dead forever. Anyway, the house was full of old Trading Post items such as Navajo wedding baskets, tanned hides, old pottery, Navajo velvet blouses full of silver buttons, paintings, Indian beadwork and other. It was truly an Indian Traders dream. The bedrooms had old Navajo rugs stacked on the beds, in the closets, in cedar chests and everywhere.
Francis started pulling out one Trader case after another of trays and trays full of old Indian Jewelry and old Pawn Jewelry and loads of Turquoise Chunk Necklaces. I was totally in heaven and Punk was totally floored with what he was seeing. I ended up buying about 5000 rings, 1500 bracelets, 50 Concho belts, 2500 pins, 500 squash blossom necklaces, 500 multi-stranded Turquoise chunk necklaces, 300 pairs of earrings, 1000 sets of Jaclas, bolos, buttons, silver beads, buckles, whisker pullers (silver tweezers) and bushel baskets of old silver single Conchos, squashes and parts.
I went ahead and picked out another 200 rugs, or so. Punk and I were in a total dream!
We took Francis out to diner and took off for Durango, Punk said, "You have just become one wealthy Trader, John", I was just in dream - Really! I had just purchased the largest old Indian Jewelry collection, most certainly, that had surfaced in the last 25 years.
Now, get this;
About a month later, I was telling another Trader in Gallup about my find and he asked me if I knew the Francis Griswold Story, I said no. So he told me.
In the mid 1950's, Francis was running the Trading Post when he discovered his wife had been cheating on him with another man (Navajo). Evidently, she came in the door of the Trading Post and Francis shot and killed her. There were customers/witnesses in the Trading Post at the time and he was convicted of murdering his wife. Francis must have had time to pack up his belongings prior to going to prison. I met him right after he got out of prison on a medical release.
I continued going to Gallup nearly every week and took Francis out to lunch or dinner. He was a very kind gentleman and I really enjoyed my friendship with him. Francis owned several Trading Posts in his life, Wide Ruins, Toawac, Fort Defiance and he either owned the Chilchimbito or was a partner in it.
I learned so much from Francis, he was very instrumental in the development of trade to the Navajos. He worked very hard in his life to help the Navajo people in many ways. He was a good Trader to the Navajo people and those who knew him, loved him.
I feel, the Vintage Turquoise Jewelry and other items that I have left from the Fort Defiance Trading Post collection are some of the most historic collectibles I own. I do sell Fort Defiance items and I give a letter of authenticity with them.
Also, See Chilchimbito Pawn Jewelry Story
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