These are hardy folks – these some 1,500 residents of Joseph City, Arizona. They come by it honestly, from their ancestors who built this community on the banks of the Little Colorado River in 1876. Founded by Mormons and first called Allen’s Camp, they watched four other early settlements die at the hands of the Little Colorado. These early pioneers were determined to dam the capricious river to provide irrigation for their crops, but time and time again, they watched in despair, as the dams washed out and their crops amounted to nearly nothing. Not just one or two times, mind you, but 14 times before a dam was successfully built in 1939. This led Andrew Jensen, a Morman church historian, to call the settlement “the leading community in pain, determination and unflinching courage in dealing with the elements around them.”
When Route 66 came through, the town was just a quiet stop for services until after World War II, when people really began to travel and traffic increased through the small town. It was during this time that another hardy man named James Taylor built the Jackrabbit Trading Post in 1949. Though Taylor wasn’t originally from Joseph City, he showed the same determination in making his business a success as the citizens of Joseph City had earlier displayed in saving their town.
Here It Is! Trading Post Marketing 101
In the beginning, Taylor bought an asphalt-shingled shack that had formerly been used as a snake farm and then he turned out all the snakes, much to the alarm of several area residents. Soon, he began to revamp the building, with dancing chiefs painted on the front, 30 twelve inch jack rabbits hopping along the roofline, and a large rabbit painted on one side of the building. He then installed a three-foot high, composition jackrabbit with yellow eyes, just inside the door to welcome the many tourists stopping by. Many an old time traveler can tell a story of having their picture taken atop this rabbit when they were a child. Inside, the counters and shelves were lined with pieces of petrified wood, turquoise jewelry, and Indian souvenirs.
But owning a Trading Post in those days just wasn’t enough. Dotting the highway, they were a dime a dozen and competing with the nearby Geronimo Trading Post, with its visual pulling power of large decorative teepees, Taylor had to do something more.
And, something more he did! Joining forces with Wayne Troutner, owner of the For Men Only Store in Winslow, the pair traveled Route 66 to Springfield, Missouri plastering billboards all along the way. Hopping rabbits paired up with a dancing cowgirl for more than 1,000 miles, enticing travelers to stop at the Jackrabbit and the Men’s Only Store in Winslow. After all those miles, travelers couldn’t miss the huge yellow sign that simply said “Here It Is” paired with its famous jackrabbit icon.
Obviously, Taylor’s tactics worked because the Jackrabbit is still in business and has long since become a Route 66 icon. For two decades Taylor operated the post until he leased it to Glen Blansett in 1961. Blansett purchased the business in 1967 and passed it on to his son and daughter-in-law who eventually sold it to their daughter and son-in-law, Cynthia and Antonio Jaquez, who run the trading post today.
By Kathy Weiser, updated November, 2017.