Ella’s Frontier Trading Post has sat abandoned on a disused segment of Historic Route 66 for over 30 years. Only a half-hour east of Meteor City, I figured Ella’s was worth checking out. It turned out to be much more interesting than I anticipated. As with Two Guns ghost town, the lots on either side of Ella’s Frontier Trading Post were home to other interesting abandonments.
I exited the freeway at Joseph City and pulled up to the site, disappointed to find a pickup truck parked out front with its tailgate down. A couple scenarios ran through my head: It could be another explorer checking out the ruins, or it might be a local who’d take one look at my California plates and tell me to get the hell out of there. I realize that might sound a bit paranoid, but I did end up running into trouble several times in Arizona (More on that in future blog entries).
A Native American dude in his late 30s walked up with his two dogs. Much to my relief, he was quite friendly and we ended up talking for a good 15 minutes. He said he moved to the area about 15 years ago, and Ella’s Trading post had been vacant since long before then.
He also told me that Joseph City was one of several Mormon settlements in the area. He said Brigham Young had instructed his flock to build settlements all along their journey west, so that they would have friendly places to return to in case they needed to retreat eastward.
Then he told me a story about a Mormon settlement someplace north of where we were. Apparently they were concerned about a hostile Navajo tribe in the area, and tried to convince the Hopi to move between them, so as to provide a buffer. The Hopi were nonplussed by the suggestion and told the Mormons to piss off (their words, not mine) and leave the area. Allegedly one of the Hopi women correctly predicted that the Mormons would end up settling somewhere along the Colorado River.
I don’t know if there is any truth to the story. My research turned up some info about Mormons interacting with the Hopi people and mentioned conflicts with the Navajo, but nothing that matched this story. If you have any info, please leave a comment below.
The guy said he had to head to work. He set up a lawn chair behind his pickup, and the dogs jumped up from it onto the bed of the truck. After he left I explored with abandon and took tons of pictures.
The trading post, originally “San Diego’s Old Frontier” was founded in 1927 by Frederick “San Diego” Rawson. Born in 1861, Rawson was said to have led a very interesting life. As a child he was allegedly enslaved by Plains Indians for several years before the US Army rescued him. It is said that he went on to dabble in many careers: prospecting, trapping, scouting for the army, training circus animals, philosophy, writing, and running a museum. I remain highly skeptical of these claims, but I bet he was a damn good story teller.
The log-cabin style trading post was built from telephone poles and included a workspace for local Navajo to craft jewelry, blankets, and quilts.
The property eventually passed to Ray Meaney, a Hawaiian band leader and owner of Hopi House, another trading post on Route 66. When Meaney and his wife Ella Blackwell divorced in 1955, each ended up with one of the trading posts. Meaney later sold Hopi House, but Ella Blackwell held onto the rebranded Ella’s Frontier Trading Post until her death in 1984. Ella, a pianist trained at Juilliard School, was quite eccentric, but a delight to visit. She kept a piano at the store and often played for customers.
It is said that Ella suffered from delusions. She claimed her store was established in 1873 making it the oldest trading post on Route 66. Other times she claimed it first opened in 1940. Later in life, she was often seen having conversations with imaginary people and animals. The building is in pretty rough shape these days.
After a thorough exploration of Ella’s, I wandered through the adjacent lot, where sits the abandoned Big Arrow Campground. The campground was equipped to accommodate RVs. There was a fenced-off area with shelters for when it rained.
It looked like it was pretty nice before it was abandoned. But at the time of my visit, it was thoroughly vandalized and the roof had begun to collapse.
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