American Studies ETDs


Nancy Peake

Publication Date



Walter M. Kennedy is a living anachronism who spent half a century--from the pre-World War II era into the 1980s--practicing an almost mythical career on isolated trading posts on the Navajo Reservation. Kennedy, an Anglo, and his Native American clientele interacted and conducted business in much the same way as their historical predecessors, with little regard for contemporary socio-cultural and economic circumstances prevailing in the “outside world.” His personal memoirs--over five hundred pages of penciled notes--vividly recreate those experiences. The transcription and editing of those notes, enhanced by an extensive oral history project, comprise one element of this dissertation.

A second element, utilizing relevant cultural, historical and ethnographic literature as well as other autobiographical and biographical accounts, balanced whenever possible by Navajo accounts, provides interpretive context and continuity by means of endnotes and connective in-text narrative. The result of this dual perspective--one man’s life as viewed by the subject himself and by his biographer--is a multi-dimensional examination of the contemporary Indian trader (in many ways still a remnant of the Old West), and his role in perpetuating the myth of the “Indian" to present day Anglo and Navajo societies.

A discussion of the Navajo/trader relationship as a century-old, intercultural phenomenon precedes Kennedy's "trader's tales,” providing an introductory framework for the presentation and interpretation of his memoirs. Selected "stories" are then arranged chronologically and thematically in an effort to recreate Kennedy's life and career in its appropriate context. This personalized regional study in Anglo-Navajo relations is by necessity interdisciplinary in its scope and synthesis. The final portrait reveals an individual who continued to play out the trader's life and his many roles within Navajo society as he believed them to be, even as he was forced to confront the changing social characteristics and commercial realities of the twentieth century.



Document Type


Degree Name

American Studies

Level of Degree


Department Name

American Studies

First Committee Member (Chair)

M. Jane Young

Second Committee Member

Vera Norwood

Third Committee Member

John L Kessel

Fourth Committee Member