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The following article appeared in the September 2002 issue of "Talkin Tokens", the monthly magazine of NTCA, the National Token Collectors Association. 


C. N. Cotton

Indian Trader Tokens - Gallup, New Mexico

By Jerry Adams, #105

In memory of “Grand-dad”- A. T. Cotton


C. N. COTTON / 1732 (stamped into the planchet) / GALLUP, NEW MEXICO.


Aluminum- round - 38 millimeters (fairly common to token collectors, NM book lists 100-200 known, estimated value $10 - $19) (“seco” is the term used by the Indians to refer to the traders’ tokens) J. J. Curto listed these tokens as number 42 ½ in his list, reprinted by the ANA as ‘Indian and Post Trader Tokens, Our Frontier Coinage”. Curto also listed tokens of 50 cent, 25 cent, 10 cent, and 5 cent. Estimated date: 1905


Clinton Neal Cotton was born on 12 April 1859 on a farm near Howard, Ohio, not far from Mt. Vernon. His mother was Mary Neal, and his father was Liberty Leslie Cotton. His educator father was something of a local celebrity, known for his amazing memory and ability to add or subtract long strings of numbers in his head with lightening speed. He traveled the surrounding areas of Ohio giving demonstrations of his prodigious memory and calculating abilities. Unfortunately Liberty Cotton died in 1870 when C. N. was only 11. As many young children of the era, C. N. was forced to leave school and find work to help support the family after his father’s death. He found work as a telegraph operator’s apprentice. His inherited ability for mental calculations helped C. N. later in life as an Indian trader.

By 1881, when C. N. reached the age of 21, he had saved enough money to buy a train ticket to the west. His mother and brothers and sisters had adequate means of support, and so C. N. boarded the train for New Mexico. One of his first stops was in the town of Las Vegas, New Mexico where the passengers were allowed to go to the local jail to view a notorious outlaw named Dave Rudabaugh. Rudabaugh (one of Billy the Kid’s gang) was chained to the floor in the middle of the cell, and was viewed by the passengers. After returning to the train the trip continued and C. N. arrived in Albuquerque. His previous experience as a telegraph operator made him a valuable commodity, and he soon was working as the telegraph operator at the end of the railroad line, in Guam, N.M. Guam is located about 138 miles west of Albuquerque. By February 1881, the rail lines had pushed westward another 10 miles to a point near Fort Wingate. Ft. Wingate was one of the most important military installations in the area. C. N. moved to the end of the tracks at Fort Wingate, and his office was a boxcar set off the side of the tracks, which was the telegraph office and his living quarters.

C. N. Cotton in 1882

During the winter, railroad workers found a man’s body in the area with a large Newfoundland dog standing watch over the body. The dog was nearly starved to death. The workers brought the dog back to young C. N. who nursed the dog back to health. They became best friends for many years.

In 1882 C. N. returned to Ohio to wed Miss Mary Alice Crain, who was the daughter of a college professor. The wedding was held in the home of her parents and the married couple left for New Mexico that afternoon. They set up housekeeping in the very same boxcar off the side of the tracks that C. N. had called home for months. Their first child, Charles McGugin Cotton was born in this house/boxcar. Sometime in these years, while at Wingate or Guam, C. N. met Juan Lorenzo Hubbell. Some stories say Cotton was going to teach Hubbell Morse Code so that Hubbell could get a job with the railroad. Whatever the reason, the two young men became fast friends and remained close personal and business friends for the remainder of their lives.

No doubt that J. L. Hubbell influenced Cotton to take up the trade with Indians, as Hubbell had been involved in trading with the Indians since about 1878 near Ganado Lake, Arizona. His stories must have mesmerized Cotton!


Many Indian (Native American) tribes were in this area of western New Mexico and eastern Arizona, including Navajo, Utes, Pueblos, and Apaches.


The Navajo Indians were shrewd traders. They also lived in very isolated areas, and had lots of time to seek the best deals on their goods. So with numerous traders around the Navajo reservation, the traders had to be equally shrewd to do business with them. A typical Indian trader might carry stock of flour, sugar, coffee, calico, leather, blankets, tobacco and meat. The Navajo would bring in for trade sheep wool, pelts of goat and sheep, and hand made blankets. In addition, most Navajo had buttons made of various silver coins. When a Navajo saw something he wanted and had no other items to trade he would simply cut off the number of coin buttons required to pay for the item.

The Navaho were very adapt at sheep and goat husbandry, and the wool shearing business was a large part of their income. June and July each year brought the shearing of the sheep, and a corresponding increase in trade at the posts.


The typical Indian trading post was laid out in more or less the same manner. The small trading posts built in the rural areas near reservations were mostly built from whatever materials were at hand, rock, timber, adobe, etc. Normally there were very few windows, as they had to be hauled in by freight wagons. Iron rods were sunk into the walls in front of the windows for protection from theft and attacks. As one entered the front door of a trading post, you would find yourself in a smallish “bull-pen” surrounded on three sides by high counters with no pass through door. The bull pen was normally provided with a wood stove, but no benches or chairs. The counter on three sides was normally a foot higher than typical counters found in the rest of the world, in order to keep the trader safe from the client Indians. Behind the counter, were shelves on the wall, to the ceiling. These shelves were loaded with supplies. Hooks hung from the ceilings with more supplies of all sorts hanging from the hooks. Oil lanterns, frying pans, tin pots, kettles, coils of rope, bridles, saddles, and all sorts of items that would make the Navajo of the day wish to become “a good consumer”.

The Navajo traded wool, sheep, cattle, hides, corn and other items with the traders. After the wool was weighed or the sheep counted the deal was closed and the trader paid with trading tokens and merchandise. Later the Navajo bought goods against their credit. Inside the trading post in the "bullpen," the trader displayed all the groceries and dry goods he had for sale. Here the Navajo could buy whatever was needed: cloth, sugar, flour, coffee, utensils, kerosene lamps and even sewing machines. The customer would point to the items that they wanted. Items were bought one at a time after each was examined closely and duly considered. Buying continued as long as the trading tokens lasted. Trading was not a thing to be hurried. A trip to a trading post was a major event which no family member passed up. Much socializing went on in the bullpen during the transactions. A trading trip often lasted several days.

Each trader was expected to have free tobacco for the Indians in the “bull pen” of the post. A small wooden box was nailed to the countertop and loose tobacco was put into this box. One trader even put nails pointing upward into the box, to keep the grabs for the tobacco small.


About 1884 or 85 ( I have found exact dates in both years for this event) C. N. Cotton bought half interest in J. L. Hubbell’s trading post at Ganado, Arizona. Hubbell was the sheriff of Apache County, and he relied on Cotton to run the day to day business of the Ganado post at this time. Hubbell was 5 years older than Cotton, and since he had been in the business there first, the business was called “Hubbell and Cotton”. Letters were sent to the Internal Revenue Service in Prescott notifying them of Cotton’s half interest. Ganado, Arizona was also known as Pueblo Colorado, Arizona. Cotton renewed his license to trade at Ganado regularly at Ganado up to October 1900. Amazingly, in all his applications, Cotton listed his half partner Juan Lorenzo Hubbell as his clerk!

Cotton soon learned the business of Indian trading, which required him to be able to communicate business clearly through the postal mail, ordering huge quantities of goods from central New Mexico. He also learned the Navajo language, as it was required to do day to day business with the Navajo Indians.

It is said that Cotton and J. L. Hubbell made such good partners, because their skills and demeanor complimented one another. Hubbell was a gentlemen who was hospitable, in the way of a Spanish Don. Cotton on the other hand, was also a gentleman, and honest as one could find, and the born businessman. Cotton insisted that every deal bring a profit, and that all was done right, fair and honestly.


At some point in time, either Cotton or someone had the idea of marketing the woven Indian “blankets” as “rugs’ for the floor. Cotton convinced the Indians to weave large size thick rugs, one of these made in 1885 measured 12 feet by 18 feet 2 inches. A bit large for a blanket. In Feb. of 1888, Cotton wrote that he had over one hundred heavy coarse Navajo blankets in stock, and he offered them for sale at 35 cents per pound.

C. N. Cotton was the first person in the Indian trade to make a big effort to market the Indian made rugs, to the outside world. About 1897, he issued the first catalog of Indian rugs and used the circulars to market the rugs “back east”, and in any markets that came to mind. Cotton acquired a mimeograph machine (that is a one of the first copy machines to you younger folks) and made circulars that found their way around the US. Cotton marketed the rugs in three grades of quality, the highest being the Navaho rugs, the middle being the more fluffy saddle blankets, and the bottom being the shoulder blankets. Successful in this marketing, Cotton briefly returned to the direct trade with the Indian tribes, by buying out the Round Rock Trading post of S. E. Aldrich about 1911. He also acquired a trading post at Zuni, and part interest in the Lorenzo Hubbell store at Chinle from 1917 through 1923.


Gallup, New Mexico was located near the old Fort Wingate, and in the center of a large area of Indian reservations, spread over western New Mexico and eastern Arizona.

C. N. Cotton founded a wholesale establishment called C. N. Cotton Company in Gallup, New Mexico after he dissolving of partnership with Hubbell in 1894. At the time, Gallup, N. M. was just realizing it’s amazing position as the geographical hub of a large number of Indian reservations to the west, east, north and south. Cotton used his great knowledge of Indian preferences, to acquire the exclusive regional distributorship of two important items needed for trade with the Indians: Arbuckle’s Coffee and Pendelton Blankets. To the Navaho Indians, these were the only acceptable brands of coffee and blankets. Therefore most of the outlying Indian trading posts ordered all the Arbuckle’s Coffee and Pendelton blankets from Cotton. As an example of how the pricing structures worked, Cotton paid the Arbuckle’s distributor $7 for a case of coffee, and would sell the case to an outlying Indian trading post for $8 per case, and the smaller trading post would sell the coffee to the Navahos for $10 per case.


Prior to1900, most Navajo silver work was very heavy, and crude. Most was so rough and heavy that only the Navajo liked it. Cotton brought in a Mexican silversmith named Naakaii Daadil and had the silver craft taught to some of the Navajo silver workers. Cotton also ordered large quantities of silver coins from the bank in Albuquerque, most likely for the Navajo silversmiths. Mexican silver dollars were the preferred coin for melting and making into jewelry, as they were harder than U.S. silver coins, and were also cheaper. At the time, Cotton also sold some old Navajo pots, that had been dug in the ruins of the pueblos, which would be frowned on today, but then was thought of as not offensive at all. Many odd Navajo trinkets were labeled as “curios”.


Government contracts provided another large part of Cotton’s business, his firm being awarded the contracts to provide feed, oats and salt to the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni in1905, to the tune of $156,261. In 1906, Cotton successfully landed government contracts for supplying the feed and oats to Indian schools in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico, for $207,900. So the government contracts were a major part of his business. By 1914 Cotton filed an amendment to his company charter, increasing his firm’s capital stock from $100,000 to $500,000. The following year his firm had almost outgrown the building they occupied adjacent to the railroad and directly in the center of Gallup. He contract the start of construction on a new addition to the building, that would make it the largest business house in the Southwest.


C. N. Cotton served a term as mayor of the city of Gallup for one term during the first World War. Cotton also had a home in Los Angeles, and often spent the winter months there. While in Los Angeles in the winter of 1913, he attended a meeting of the executive committee of the National Highway Association. The N. H. A. group was planning the path for a new transcontinental automobile highway. They had pretty much decided on a path from Los Angeles all the way to Williams, Arizona. Cotton saw an opportunity, and spoke boastfully of the benefits of the highway passing through the city of Gallup, New Mexico. Of course, this highway was constructed and was named Route 66.

One of C. N. Cotton’s unusual civic habits, was buying long strings of tickets to the theater, and handing them out to children on the street. With all the tickets handed out, Cotton would join the children in the theater to enjoy the show, all the while smoking his long black cigars in disregard for the “no smoking’ signs posted in the theater.


Cotton was called Beesh Baghoo’I - by the Indians, which means metal teeth, for the large number of metal crowns and inlays in his teeth. He was a chain smoker of “El Araby” cigars, and was described by those close to him as a hearty fellow, tall, and rawboned. Cotton was a man who was violently opposed to any alcohol beverages. He never drank whiskey or beer, and if he came up against any use of whiskey, he always was opposed to it’s use by anyone. He made life miserable for saloon keepers of Gallup when he was elected mayor in 1916. Cotton bought the first automobile in all of northwestern New Mexico, a 1904 Packard. His other early cars included a “Pope Toledo” and a “Stanley Steamer”. He later drove only Packards, and in 1930 had two, a yellow sports coupe for himself, and a blue seven passenger sedan for his daughter Barbara.

Cotton’s home in Gallup was at 406 West Aztec Street. The home had started as a five room adobe house in 1888. It was enlarged and improved many times, and in 1907, it was claimed to have the first indoor bathroom in Gallup. Cotton hired labor to run a sewer line to the Puerco River which involved running the 8 inch line under the Santa Fe tracks, for which he gained permission from the railroad. Other improvements to the house included a bowling alley, many bedrooms and a huge parlor. The house became U shaped after many additions and had an adobe wall surrounding the house, in the manner of Mexican villas.

Mrs. Cotton (Mary Alice) became ill in 1919, and went to the Mayo Clinic for treatment. After returning home, she died on December 12, 1919. After her death, C. N. would have large chili dinners for his office staff every month. He would regale his dinner guests with all kinds of wild stories about the early days of his trading, and the olden days of Gallup.


In 1905, Cotton decided that he could help the Indians and himself by providing laborers for the railroad. He secured about 40 Indians to work for the Santa Fe railroad as section men. They were paid directly by the railroad at the rate of a dollar a day. Arrangements were underway for Cotton to provide up to 600 Navajo Indians for work as an “extra gang” at the rate of $1.25 per day. Cotton issued the Indian railroad workers metal tokens, between paydays, that were good only in his stores. This could very well be the typical aluminum tokens from the Cotton store, that we see today. If so, they were used by the Navajo railroad workers in 1905, as credit until payday, and redeemable at the Cotton stores.


In 1930, Cotton began to sell off some of his assets, starting his retirement. He sold the large wholesale house in Gallup to Gross-Kelly and Company. The C. N. Cotton Company was unincorporated in 1932. He did maintain his blanket room at the company, and kept many of his blankets that were the pride of his collection. He had what was considered the largest and finest collection of Navajo blankets in the world. By 1934, his health was failing, and he ceased all trading. By 1936 his condition had worsened, and for three months, he was seriously ill.

C. N. Cotton died at 3:07 AM, Saturday, September 20, 1936 in his beloved adobe home in Gallup.


Since acquiring a number of the C. N. Cotton tokens for study, I have observed some interesting peculiarities about the tokens. Some are counter stamped with a punch, presumably an Indian (possibly a Zuni, Navajo) silver workers punch. The Navajo Indians called the tokens “seco” meaning dry, or light (in weight).

The next observation, requires first a brief explanation of die alignment terms on coins and tokens. Many tokens, have no particular die alignment from obverse to reverse. Most were completely random. However, coins and medals in the modern age normally have one of two die alignments, either “coin turn” alignment, or “medal turn” alignment. United States coins have “coin turn” alignment. In “coin turn” alignment, the top of the obverse is adjacent to the bottom of the reverse. In “medal turn”, the top of the obverse is adjacent to the top of the reverse.

All of the dollar size C. N. Cotton tokens I have inspected have one or the other die alignment, the dies do not appear to be randomly rotated.

One token I have had in my collection since 1977, has a “medal turn” die arrangement. All the remaining tokens I have acquired in recent years, have a “coin turn” die arrangement.  One possible explanation is that a later striking of tokens, somewhere after the incuse number 1960, and before the 1984 incuse number, changed die alignment.  

Here is a chart of the dollar size tokens, and the die rotation, related to the incuse number stamped on the obverse:


Incuse number on obverse

Die orientation

Counter stamped on reverse


Coin turn

Yes, Maltese cross

1217 Coin turn No
1229 Coin turn No
1310 Coin turn No
1329 Coin turn No


Coin turn



Coin turn


1960 Coin turn No


Medal turn


The reverse of the token plainly states “at retail” indicating that the tokens were most likely struck after Cotton entered the wholesale business in addition to his retail trader business. Interesting details from the tokens, include the use of serif lettering on the words “good for” on the reverse. Also, the sloped ends of the strokes on the C’s of C. N. Cotton. One small possible defect noted on all the tokens examined is the noticeably shortened right foot of the vertical stoke of the letter R in “good for” on the reverse.

We are walking in the footsteps, of those who’ve gone before.”

(lyrics from When the Saints go Marching In )

My step-grandfather’s name was Arthur Theo Cotton (1896-1965), everyone called him “A.T.” and I called him “grand-dad”. Physically he was a large, white haired man, known to all as gentle and kind. He served his country in World War One in the U.S. Army. I have tried for years to tie his family to the Cotton family in Ohio and New Mexico, although the chances of this are slim. Cotton is a fairly common name. Regardless of this, I always think of him when I handle one of the C. N. Cotton tokens.




“The Indian Traders” by Frank McNitt, 1962; “Indian Trader, the Life and Times of J. L. Hubbell” by Martha Blue, 2000; “ C. N. Cotton and his Navajo Blankets” by Lester L. Williams, M.D. , 1989; “Indian Trade Tokens of Arizona and New Mexico” by Harley Rhodehamel, TAMS , August 1972 issue; “Indian and Post Trader Tokens” by J. J. Curto, ANA reprint; “Catalog of New Mexico Trade Tokens” by John Schilling, 1995



update:  1 FEB 2004