About Keams Canyon and the McGees

McGees Indian Art Gallery and Shopping Center is located in Keams Canyon, Arizona, within the Hopi Reservation, on Route 264. It is an easy ride north from Interstate 40–via Winslow, AZ, on Route 87 or via Holbrook, AZ, on Route 77. But, how did this canyon get its name and how did this Trading Post start? Here is the story.

Incised into the sandstone wall of Keams Canyon is the following legend: 1st Regt. N.M. Vols. August 13th, 1863. Col. C. Carson, Comdr. It was here that General James Carlton sent Colonel Kit Carson and troops from Fort Canby, a military post near what is now known as Ganado. Carson camped in Keams Canyon, then known as Peach Orchard Spring, during periods in 1863 and 1864, in the U. S. Government’s effort to capture the Navajos.

Thomas V. Keams, from Cornwall, England, was one of the troopers. After the fighting stopped, Keams served a short time as a temporary Indian Agent to the Navajos. He then married a Navajo woman and came back to the Peach Orchard Spring, and settled into a ranch that became Keams Canyon.

Keams built the original trading post in 1869, about three miles east of the current location. The current Keams Canyon trading post was built in 1879. The Santa Fe Railroad reached Holbrook in 1881, improving the transportation of supplies, somewhat. Paved roads were not in place until after the 1940’s.

In the old days, and up until after World War II, trading posts relied primarily on barter rather than money. The problem for the trader was to find produce from the Native Americans that he could turn into cash to purchase staples for his trading post. At first, the Indians traded mostly live stock and wool for sugar, tobacco, flour, etc. Keams began to trade for pottery which he then took to Holbrook and sold to train passengers traveling through on the Santa Fe. This activity led to Keams supplying Fred Harvey and the Grand Canyon Park operations with many Indian arts and crafts.

In 1906, the trading post was sold to Lorenzo Hubbell, of Ganado fame. After several intervening owners, the trading post was purchased by the McGee family in 1937. Now, Ron McGee runs the Indian Art Gallery, and other operations in Keams Canyon. He is the second generation of McGees at Keams Canyon, his uncle, Bill, and his father, Cliff, started the tradition in 1937, and now it is Ron.

As laws have changed, and as transportation has improved, the old-fashioned trading post concept has become obsolete. The McGees began with the old and transitioned into the modern, with primary emphasis now on the Indian Art Gallery.

Store Building

The original trading post is still the center piece of the Keams Canyon store. However, other additions and changes have been made to accommodate today’s traveler. The market was added in 1962, the restaurant in the late 1960s, and the service station in 1974. There are also lodging accommodations available. One can stand back and only wonder what Tom Keams would think, were he at the trading post, today.

The McGee Indian Art Gallery buys from local artisans, just as Thomas Keams did in 1869. ‘In fact,’ says Ron McGee, ‘when I was a kid, I used to play with many of the artists who now bring in their creative work.’

The gallery features a wide range of arts and crafts, and a wide range of prices that accommodate the first-time buyer, as well as the avid collector. You’ll be interested in comparing the McGee prices to those in Santa Fe, or Scottsdale, or Chicago, or Los Angeles. You’ll find McGee’s reservation prices significantly below those in the major metropolitan centers.

Ron McGee states that he frequently buys as many as 50 kachinas in a single week. The McGees also have a wholesale branch that sells to bona fide retailers all over the world.

Special Orders Are Welcomed

As you look through this Internet Catalog, please be aware that the McGees regularly fill special orders. If there is a particular artist or a particular piece that you would like to obtain, contact Ron McGee.

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