By Francie Payne
The descendants of renowned Indian trader Thomas Varker Keam (Hastiin Dimaas) and his wife, Asdzaan Liba, will gather for the fourth annual Keams Family Reunion Friday through Sunday, June 20-22.
Keam settled in the canyon later named for him in 1875, along with his brother, William. Though his aim was to establish a cattle ranch, the Englishman’s life took another turn, and he began to trade with the Navajos and Hopi in the surrounding area.
Over the years he built an impressive compound that included 12 to 15 buildings, including his home, quarters for friends, employees and occasional tenants, the trading post, warehouses, carpenter and blacksmith shops, sheds and stables.
As he grew to know and become the friend of many of those he traded with, he began to push for a school for the youth that would include vocational training. He urged government officials to consider his plan, and even offered the free use of some of his facilities as a school. A few years later, the government agreed, but wanted his entire compound. Under an agreement crafted by Commissioner of Indian Affairs J.D.C. Atkins, Keam rented all of his facilities to the government for $1,200 a year. The school opened in late 1887.
That deal left Keam with neither home nor business site, so he rebuilt on a smaller scale just 2½ miles down the canyon.
Two years later, officials of the Indian Office asked Keam to sell the property for $10,000, substantially less than he had in it. His hopes for the success of the school led him to agree.
Keam continued to trade until the late 1890s, and remained in the area for a few more years.
He eventually returned to England, where he died in 1904.
The subsequent generations of his sons, Thomas Keams Jr. and Billy Keams, now gather at the summer camp of the late Joe and Barbara Keams, at milepost 77 of West Navajo Route 15 near Greasewood Springs. Joe was Billy’s son. Joe’s daughter Amy Begay, who is well known as an excellent cook, is instrumental in pulling off the annual gathering.
For more information on the reunion, call (928) 871-2274.