Ed Noland’s Four Corners trading posts
Editor’s note: This story was printed in Vol. 3 of the Montezuma County Historical Society’s “Great Sage to Timberline.” It was given to the historical society by the family of Oen Ed Noland. Part I appeared in The Journal in August.For The Journal
Oen Ed Noland wanted to start a trading post on the San Juan River in the Four Corners region and wanted to trade with both the Utes and the Navajos. In the new town of Durango, he walked into the general merchandise store that was owned by Ed and Pete Schifferer. Noland said, “I want ten thousand dollars’ worth of merchandise, and I’m broke,” according to an article written by D.B. McGrue. The Schifferer brothers asked questions and wondered if this man was drunk or touched in the head. Minutes passed before either of the brothers spoke. Then, “We will let you have the stock of goods,” Pete said, “on one condition.” “Name it,” Noland said without a blink.
It was mutually agreed Noland could have the stock on the condition that he took out a life insurance policy for $35,000 to be kept in effect until the goods were paid for – if he lived that long. The policy was written by an agent who collected a year’s premium. Within twelve months, Noland had paid for his merchandise – and he was still alive.
Noland’s store was constructed on the north banks of the San Juan near the Four Corners. It was reported the post was an L-shaped building back to the river and facing north – built of cottonwood logs, a large store in one wing, living quarters in the other. At the west end of the store, he later added a huge room with the walls pierced with loopholes in event the place had to be defended. Logs and planks supported a sloping dirt roof. Noland freighted in supplies from Mancos, and in 1884 or 1885 the post was ready for trade.
Trading with the Utes and Navajos, Noland at first was regarded with suspicion, as an unwanted, interloping white stranger. Several times, incidents arose in which a lesser man would have panicked and done something foolish. Noland kept his head and restored quiet without threatening to use his rifle. The Indians responded by giving him their respect, the Navajos calling him “Ba’dani,” a word meaning “son-in-law” and implying friendly kinship.
Several years later, Noland and his father-in-law, Stanley Mitchell, built a second post five or six miles downriver. This store was situated on the north bank of the San Juan, near the mouth of McElmo Creek, a place Noland called Riverview, but which came to be known as Aneth. Later, Noland turned over management of the Riverview post to Pete Guillet, who bought the store a year later when his brother Herman came out from Missouri to join him.
While living in the Mancos area, Noland boarded with the Stanley Mitchell family and on September 9, 1880, he married Mitchell’s daughter Caroline (Callie). It was at the Four Corners Trading Post that Ed and Caroline’s four children were born and spent most of their childhood. Callie died in 1895 at the age of 35, two weeks after the birth of their daughter Callie. This left Noland with five children, the eldest being 13. The family home was next to the Mesa Verde Hotel, and Noland hired Mancos ladies to care for the children.
In 1902, he married Lolla Thompson Kutch, and she became the mother of the five children. Later, Noland and Lolla had four children, and a house was built at the west end of town. Lolla was constantly cooking for out-of-town guests – mostly Indians. One Christmas, she had the family dinner going well when she looked out the window and saw a yard full of Indians dressed in their best garb and their horses tied to fence posts. Noland hurried to the store and bought canned meats, peaches, tomatoes plus other foods. It was a sunny day. He made table with sawhorses and boards. The Indians were “tickled to death.”
Chief Ignacio, successor to Chief Ouray, spent many a night at the Noland house in the great chair in the living room that was reserved for Ignacio – for him alone.
When Noland learned the plight of a group of Navajo children going through Mancos in an open wagon without blankets on their way to Fort Lewis Indian School on a cold December day, he sent them to the hotel for baths, food and to spend the night. The next day, he had train tickets for each of them for the rest of their journey, and stood on the depot platform to put each child on the train.
When the Ute Agency was established at Navajo Springs, Noland maintained a large trading business and sold the Four Corners Post.
In 1909, Baker, an Oklahoma bootlegger, came to town. He invited Noland’s sons Edgar and Frank to his hotel room, where they drank booze and gambled. Noland went to the hotel and ordered his sons to go home. Baker offered Noland a drink, but he refused to drink with him. The next day, Noland and a friend were sitting on the store steps when Baker went by several times, then turned and shot four times. One shot tore out Noland’s eye; one creased his face near the other eye; and the others ripped through his neck. A special train with a doctor and nurses aboard was sent to take Noland to a Durango hospital. During his three-month convalescence, the Indians were loyal to him and wanted to hunt the gunman, down but Noland told them “no.”
The day of Noland’s funeral, far down the road puffs of dust appeared, then came the sound of hooves of horses. With it came the magnificent pageantry of the Navajos and Utes. These great people wore this finest raiment reserved for only the most solemn and splendid occasions. The riders spoke no word. Never before had they paid such homage to the white man.
The multitude fell in behind two horsemen and moved forward toward the grave site. All stared straight ahead, and the stares were fixed. The host had arrived at the grave site. Then came the signal. Kee, the leader, jerked his chin up and so they went their separate ways. The host for that very special day was the one called Ba’dani.” For Oen Edgar Noland, it was the year of our Lord 1935.
The late D.B. McGue, a former resident of Durango, wrote articles for the Sentinel in Cortez. June Head, historian, may be contacted at 970-565-3880 for questions or comments.