trading post

Encyclopedia Article


A trading post is an establishment where goods can be traded. It is also a social center where news and gossip are exchanged. Trading posts have been associated with American frontier culture since the seventeenth century. Over time, trading posts developed into a cultural institution at first funded and backed by empire, later by national interests, and most often by enterprising business men.

Trading posts became centralized hubs in a network of exchange that both participated with and circumvented the burgeoning capitalist system that was imported into the Americas along with settler colonialism. Although trading posts were initially intended to provide support to the European traders and trappers who traced their way across the North American continent, Native American groups were also drawn into the posts' exchange network. Native Americans traded furs, pelts, and even scalps for finished goods such as steel knives, firearms, woven textiles, food stuffs, and alcohol. Although not every post was poorly managed, trading posts earned a nefarious reputation for taking advantage of Native traders by offering poor exchange rates, trading products that were infected with diseases, and promoting the purchase and use of alcohol.

Many trading posts are still in existence. In the Southwest, they still symbolize "the frontier" as they are located as at the dividing line between "wilderness" (Indian country) and "civilization." Today, trading posts can be reached by pickup truck, tourist RV, and even the occasional horse. Many trading posts are also preserved as National Historic Sites.

Photo Credit: 

"Listening to "The Voice of the Navajo People" on the radio at Ben Turpin's trading Post, Gallup, New Mexico.," photograph, (059296). Palace of the Governors Photo Archive, New Mexico History Museum. Use with permission only.