Dear Friends,

It seems like only yesterday we were pulling our horse trailer full of Mexican saddleblankets across the Indian reservations selling and trading all over the west. The folks we met along the way were collectors, celebrities, traders, and lots of hard working folks like you.

Those were great years - the freedom to travel, make money, and build our business without phones and real estate. We lived in Central America for a year, setting up our weaving operations, traveled regularly to South America buying cow hides, and crisscrossed the globe buying or selling in 51 different countries. China, Australia, and India are awesome - Morocco and the Philippines are scary. Mexico, of course, is our favorite and most prolific in beautifully handcrafted products.

But we've also had a ball with store and factory locations such as The Navajo Rug Gallery in Scottsdale, AZ, a wholesale gold jewelry distributor ship, the funky Alameda Street warehouse in El Paso, and the most challenging project of all - the Rancho El Cid manufacturing faculty in Chihuahua, Mexico in the 1990's.

Thank you for having the confidence in us and the products of  El Paso Saddleblanket all these years. If you want to hear more about our life on the road, making deals, and playing with politics, please read our book.

Dusty and Bonnie HensonMany of you have commented that you enjoyed our first book
"How to Start and Operate Your Own Southwest Store and Trading Post." Perhaps you'll find something in this book that will also help you in your business.

Hope you enjoy it!

Dusty & Bonnie Henson

All chapters will open in a PDF file

Part 1 - Born To Trade

Chapter 1 - The Natural
As long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be a trader. As a little kid, one of my favorite games was to drag out all the canned goods from the cupboard and play store. I was never much of a mathematical whiz, but I was proud that I knew how to make change before the other kids my age did.

Chapter 2 - Texas Wheeler-dealer
By 1957, Daddy was operating the big store and had also opened three drive-in groceries, called Quickways, in three different parts of Abilene. We didn’t realize it at the time, but Daddy was pioneering the concept of the modern day convenience store. That year Daddy leased out the big store and sold the Quickway drive-ins.

Chapter 3 - Leaving Texas
Texas was home and she had been good to us. As far as I know, none of my ancestors died in the Battle of the Alamo, which is the ultimate bragging right if you’re a Texan, but our roots went deep and I had always been proud that all four of my grandparents were born in Texas in the 1800s. My granddad, C.J. Henson—or Old Man Henson, as he referred to himself—moved to Abilene in the early ’40s from Seymore, Texas. He first worked as a produce peddler in Abilene and later owned a small neighborhood grocery store that became quite an institution. Aside from his grocery store, he traded in produce and junk, and built and sold cheap houses in North Abilene.

Chapter 4 - The Colorado Rancher
We renamed the ranch Fun Valley, and while life was different, it was never dull. The first summer we built a cement miniature golf course. The locals were very confused by the strange foundations and forms we were pouring. We had a lot of fun telling them it was a brand new type of motel. After working on the cement crew, I knew right then and there that I would NEVER again be in construction, or any other business that involved manual labor!

Chapter 5 - Valentine’s Cakes and a Pile of Dirty Laundry
We only lived year-round in Colorado for two years. After that, we spent summers at Fun Valley and spent the school year in Abilene. My family has continued to do that since 1959.

Chapter 6 - The Old West Hotel
My family’s business—Fun Valley Resort in South Fork, Colorado—has always been geared more toward the middle class family vacationers rather than the jet setters or the rich and famous. But we did get some famous guests through the years. Back in the mid- 1960s, Texas Governor Preston Smith from Lubbock was a regular Fun Valley guest, before, during and after his term. He was a nice man and a good tipper who really liked fly-fishing.

Part 2 - The Business Partnership

Chapter 7 - Tying the Knot
The good-looking woman who came into the Old West Hotel in the summer of 1974 was a schoolteacher from Iowa. She was doing advertising work for a development in Pagosa Springs, which was just across Wolf Creek Pass from the Old West Hotel. Bonnie came into the hotel and asked me if I’d let her put cards advertising the Pagosa real estate development in every hotel room. The deal was that if someone went to listen to their pitch, they’d get a free round of golf, or a camera or some other prize.

Chapter 8 - The New Navajo Rug
We we're mostly still focusing on jewelry when we stumbled into something that would change our business forever. It was just a routine trip across the river to restock some silver from a wholesaler named Mauricio in Juárez.

Chapter 9 - Guatemala
Just when our business was really taking off, we hit a snag. We couldn’t get our beautiful new rugs out of Mexico. The administration of Mexican President Escheveria was decidedly anti-American and anti-trade. Importing from Mexico became almost impossible. Just when we had discovered the perfect product, our source was cut off. We had to find new weavers in a new country as fast as possible. That country was Guatemala.

Chapter 10 - On the Road Again
After we got back from Guatemala, we rented an apartment on the west side of El Paso. We started up production again in Juárez and put out our first catalog mailing. It was three color sheets, a lot smaller than the fifty-six-page catalog we put out these days. But I was thrilled to get back into using the mail to make sales.

Chapter 11 - The Arizona Showroom
In our new Chevy Suburb an with customized horse trailer, we continued to work our way around the Southwest hard-selling our products. We decided to set up a showroom in the Phoenix area. We quickly set up three showrooms. One was a wholesale showroom for saddleblankets and Mexican rugs. Another was the Navajo Rug Gallery in Scottsdale where we sold high-end Navajo rugs handwoven by the Navajo. The third was a wholesale gold jewelry distributorship.

Chapter 12 - Alameda Street Store
Our new warehouse on Alameda Street was actually in the first strip shopping center ever built in El Paso, right across the street from the old Del Camino Motel. It wasn’t a luxury location. Our landlord was an older Greek/Mexican gentleman named Miguel Papadopolous. His family was from Torreon, Mexico. He was a tough old character. One time, when I was negotiating to rent some additional space, we stood inside the warehouse property and talked about air conditioning.

Chapter 13 - World Famous Trading Post
In 1987 we moved El Paso Saddleblanket from Alameda Street to downtown. At our new 36,000-square-foot location on Oregon Street another fascinating change took place. For the first time THE PUBLIC WALKED IN! Although we really liked the wholesale part better, we readily adapted to the retail business. We quickly became one of El Paso’s major tourist attractions. The downtown location became famous for offering reservation Indian jewelry, fine Oriental rugs and decorative items from every corner of the world.

Chapter 14 - Making Deals
We’ve be en trading merchandise every day for over forty years. But we have always kept our eyes, ears and noses open for new products. Merchandise is like the weather in Texas—it changes constantly. What sells today won’t necessarily sell tomorrow, and that means you should jump at the chance to make money today.

Photo Gallery - Scrapbook

Part 3 - Worldwide Adventures

Chapter 15 - International Markets
One of the best thing s about being in the import/export business is all the pre-tax dollars you can spend running around the world buying and selling. I think travel makes people more aware of what’s going on in the world. We never travel just to sightsee. We travel to trade, both selling and buying. There’s no more fascinating way to get to know a culture than through trade. It gives you a way to meet people, a way to deal with them, a way to get to know about their customs and their economy. And it can also make you money. What could be a better combination!

Chapter 16 - The Wild, Wild East
Bonnie and I figure that over the years we have traveled to forty-nine different capital cities in Central and South America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Australia and Asia. Some of the wildest trips we had were in Asia. I call it the wild, wild east.

Chapter 17 - Politics is Good Business
Travel is a great way of finding out what’s going on in the world. Politics is a great way of finding out what’s going on at home. And El Paso, Texas has some of the most interesting politics in the world and has had for some time. Back in the 1880s, Wyatt Earp visited El Paso, spent one night and left the next day for Tombstone, Arizona. He thought El Paso was too dangerous.

Chapter 18 - Rancho El Cid
In the early 1990s, American politics got a little too crazy for Bonnie and me. We felt like we couldn’t operate any more without getting sued. El Paso had become the center for a large number of sleazy lawyers known as “sewing lawyers” for all the suits they filed against local clothing manufacturers. In 1992, for example, one out of every four of the workers at a major El Paso clothing manufacturer was collecting workman’s compensation but not working.

Chapter 19 - The Wholesale Experience
It was about mid-May 1999 by the time we were completely out of El Cid. Sold, moved, and out! The ’90s had been good, particularly the early ’90s. Those were recession years in America, but El Paso Saddleblanket has always done very well in recessions. We sold to a lot of folks who were unemployed or needed extra income. It’s one thing to sell to the “hobby” or “fun” vendors who enjoy selling our products at craft shows, fairs, home shows, and such but who do not have to sell.

Chapter 20 - Hillsboro
After we sold El Cid in 1999, we really missed having property in a rural area—the open spaces, room for the dogs (four German shepherds by this time) and just a place to go to. Business was good and we had made some money on the actual sale of the El Cid property (not the overall business venture), so we decided in 2001 that we wanted to buy a large ranch within easy driving distance of El Paso.

Chapter 21 - The New El Paso Saddleblanket World Headquarters
In late 2004 and early 2005 we were looking at several expansion possibilities. We had some blue prints drawn up for a huge new “Highway Store” Trading Post we wanted to build west of El Paso on Interstate 10. Tanny Berg—a long time friend and very successful real estate developer (among many other things)—was building his second Microtel motel franchise on a large parcel of land he owned. We planned a joint venture partnership deal on a building to be built next door. El Paso Saddleblanket would do a long-term lease with an option to purchase everything at a later date. We designed this huge forty-thousand-square-foot trading post to look like an Aztec village. It featured an eighty-foot observation tower with a viewing platform at the top that would enable people to see three states and two countries.

Chapter 22 - Trading Post Events
About four to six months after we opened we started making major changes. Our initial theme was a plain warehouse outlet with minimal selection of goods and mountains of products stacked high. Our new concept would be a colorful trading-post atmosphere with Spanish guitar music, great displays and more variation of merchandise. Once we decided on that direction, changes came very fast. We removed the partition down the middle and the registration desk at the front door. The Oriental & Persian rug inventory doubled.

Chapter 23 - The El Paso Saddleblanket Family
More than the trade goods , the travel or the deal making, the most amazing thing about El Paso Saddleblanket has been our employees. Bonnie and I don’t have kids. Our employees are our family.

Chapter 24 - Retire? Never!
I’ve been called a lot of things over the years, and many of them I can’t put into print. But one thing I have been called is one of the best marketers on the border. That means a lot. The border is a tough place to cut a deal and a tough place to survive. We’ve not only survived on the border—we’ve thrived. I guess by most people’s definition we are self-made since we started out selling saddleblankets and rugs out of the back of a pick-up truck and built that into a multimillion dollar business.

Appendix - A Tribute to My Dad,Mack Henson
Maxie Aquilla Henson was born in a tent in Ranger Hill, Texas on July 10, 1920 during the Ranger oil boom. Mack, as his parents called him, was the third of five children born to Claude Jackson Henson and his wife Olive Lutrell Henson. Both C.J.—as he was called—and Olive were born in Texas in the 1800s.

In a world where the art of horse trading has withered to a handful of diehards, and the old time drummer has all but disappeared, the Henson's maintain a little of both traditions…Here are the characters, the deals, and the story of two interesting lives that are still a work in progress
Charlie Daniels, Nashville Musician, Singer & Songwriter

Rugs to Riches, The Amazing Story of El Paso Saddleblanket Company
Copyright © 2001, El Paso Saddleblanket Co.

All rights reserved. No part of this book covered by the copyright hereon may be reproduced or used in any form or by any means—graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or information storage and retrieval systems—without written permission from the publisher. For information please contact El Paso Saddleblanket Co., 6935 Commerce Ave., El Paso, Texas 79915, or e-mail to

An exception to the above conditions is hereby granted to a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a magazine or newspaper. Exception is also granted to a trade association or other industry organization which may excerpt sections of no more than 250 words for inclusion in a noncommercial newsletter with the credit line: “Excerpted with permission from Rugs to Riches, The Amazing Story of El Paso Saddleblanket Company available from El Paso Saddleblanket Co., El Paso, Texas.”

This publication is intended to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought.

First Edition
Revised and expanded
20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11
Publisher’s Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Henson, Dusty
Rugs to Riches, The Amazing Story of El Paso Saddleblanket / by Dusty Henson and Bonnie Henson. – 1st edition.
p. cm.
LCCN: 01-135493
ISBN-10: 0-9636577-9-8 / ISBN-13: 978-0-9636577-9-4
1. Business. 2. Sales and Marketing. 3. Arts.
I. Title.

Book design, cover design & typesetting by Vicki Trego Hill of El Paso, Texas
Edited by John William Byrd of El Paso, Texas
Printed and bound in the U.S.A. by McNaughton & Gunn, Inc.