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Canyon de Chelly, Arizona


Thunderbird Lodge Trading Days

Situated in a grove of cottonwood trees, one-half mile southwest of the Visitor Center, the Thunderbird Lodge, rich in history and lore of the early days, continues a long tradition of providing visitors to Canyon de Chelly with accommodations, meals, canyon tours and local crafts.

The Trading Post

The lodge began its life as a single building, a trading post, built in about 1902 by Sam E. Day (now a part of the cafeteria). Day began trading with local Navajos and providing not only staples of coffee, flour, sugar and tobacco, but tools, cooking utensils, dry goods and whatever else that he felt would interest the Navajos. The post, like others on the Reservation, not only served as a store, but bank, post office, community meeting place and courtroom, with Day serving as sheriff, judge and jury. Sometimes he would even provide medical and mortician services!

Navajos would make the long journey from surrounding areas on foot, in wagons and on horseback to trade their sheep, wool and rugs or pawn their jewelry for goods, cash or credit. The trip to the post was a major social event for the widely scattered Navajos. It was a chance to see friends and relatives once again, catch up on the latest news, gossip, and carefully ponder the purchase of a new item. It was an event to be savored and no part of it could be or should be rushed.

A meal and a place to sleep

Day sold the post a few years after it was built, but it was not until 1917, when a family named Kennedy bought the post, that more than a handful of tourists started coming to Canyon de Chelly.

Having heard about the cliff dwellings and spectacular scenery, tourists would show up on the Kennedy's doorstep looking for a meal and a place to spend the night.

Though there was still nothing but the post and the family's quarters, the Kennedy's with true Western hospitality, would accommodate these unexpected guests as best they could. Evening entertainment consisted of listening to a few records on the Kennedy's Victrola, a rare treat in this part of the world!

A "Cozy" place

In 1919, the Kennedys sold the post to Leon Hugh McSparron. Everyone knew him as "Cozy," and it was he who left the greatest impact on what is today's Thunderbird Lodge and the Navajo people who live here.

Cozy was the first person to make accommodations for tourists, starting with a few cots around the post and eventually building some cabins, a house for himself, with guest rooms (now part of the gift shop) and later, more rooms. Cozy also began the first organized tours into the canyon, first with horse drawn wagons, later, with the first all-terrain vehicle, the Model-T Ford.

Cozy provided hospitality which lived up to his name and which earned him lavish praise in many of the early Travelogues of the Southwest. But Cozy, in his role as trader, made an equally significant impact upon Navajo culture, as well. Working closely with some of the local Navajo weavers, Cozy helped develop natural or vegetal dyes that are now called "Chinle" rugs. This pattern and similar ones influenced by it are still found in this area of the Reservation today.

Cozy sold the post and lodge in 1955. Many historic posts have long since disappeared. The Thunderbird Lodge, however, whole changing with the times, still retains much of its heritage and flavor from the past. Relax in a comfortable chair under the massive cottonwoods in the evening; let your mind wander down an old trail; that dust on the road is a horse and rider coming to the post.

Reprinted from the "Canyon Overlook Guide, 1995 - A visitor's guide to Canyon de Chelly National Monument"
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