The Long Walk

The Long Walk of the Navajo, also called the Long Walk to Bosque Redondo, was a twenty day foot walk many Navajos made in 1864 to a reservation in southeastern New Mexico.These lands are called, in the Navajo language, Dinétah. Dinetah included land within the borders of the four sacred mountains, from northeastern Arizona through western New Mexico, and north into Utah and Colorado. (Ackerly)

The Navajo farmed crops on the fertile lands of canyons, including Canyon de Chelly, and raised sheep, which they traded or stole from the Spanish and Mexicans. There was a historical pattern in the southwest of groups raiding and trading with each other. This included Navajo, Spanish, Mexican, Pueblos, Apache, Comanche and later Americans. (Ackerly)

The conflicts rose with the Americans following the killing of respected Navajo leader Narbona in 1849. Treaties negotiated and signed in 1849, 1858 and 1861 were broken. In August 1851, the U.S. government established Fort Defiance, present-day Window Rock, Arizona and Fort Wingate. The Bonneville Treaty of 1858 lessened the amount of Navajo land. (Ackerly)

Typical events in the period between 1846 and 1863 included a number of treaties, raids and counter-raids by the Army and Navajo and a civilian military, with civilian speculators often on the end watching. Some examples include the murder of Major Brooks’s personal servant in July 1858, and an alleged raping of a Navajo by a servant of the commander of Fort Defiance, William T. H. Brooks. There was an attack on Fort Defiance by about 1,000 Navajo warriors under the leadership of Manuelito and Barboncito on April 30, 1860, who were angry that the Army did not bring in feed for their animals and often used the best grazing land. A treaty was signed on February 15, 1861, to calm the Navajo. Then Manuel Chaves of the New Mexico Volunteer Militia took the field with 400 men and searched Navajo land. By 1862, the Union Army had pushed the Confederates down the Rio Grande and again turned its attention to the Navajos. (Ackerly)

The plan to relocate the Navajos to a series of reservations was first proposed by General Canby, former commander of the New Mexico Military Department. Major James H. Carleton was ordered to relieve Canby as the commander for the New Mexico Military Department in September 1862. Carleton gave the orders to Kit Carson to proceed to Navajo land and to receive the Navajo surrender on July 20, 1863. When no Navajos showed up, he used a earth campaign to starve the Navajo out of their traditional homeland and force them to surrender. Some Navajos managed to escape the U. S. Army and scattered into the territory of the Chiricahua Apache, the Grand Canyon, on Navajo Mountain, and in Utah. (Ackerly)

The Long Walks started in January 1863. Bands of Navajo led by the Army were relocated from their traditional lands in eastern Arizona Territory and western New Mexico Territory to Fort Sumner also called the Bosque Redondo or Hwééldi by the Navajo in the Pecos River valley. At least 200 died along the 300-mile trail that took over 18 days to travel by foot. According to the essay The Long Walk to Heewaldi by Niel Ackerly, “between 8,000 and 9,000 people were settled on a 40 square mile area, with a peak population of 9,022 by the spring of 1865”. (Ackerly)

Like some concentration camps involving several tribes, the Bosque Redondo had serious problems. About 400 Mescalero Apaches were placed there before the Navajos. The Mescaleros and the Navajo had a long tradition of raiding each other; the two tribes had many disputes during their encampment. Furthermore, the initial plan was for around 5,000 people, certainly not 9,000 men, women and children. Water and firewood were major issues from the start. Nature and humans both caused crop failures every year. Comanches raided them on a regular basis. The non-Indian settlers also suffered from the raiding parties who were trying to feed their starving people on the Bosque Redondo. And there was inept management of what supplies were purchased for the reservation. In 1868, the experiment meant to be the first Indian reservation west of Indian Territory was declared a failure. (Ackerly)

Navajo men were forced to mold adobes and to build Fort Sumner. They were given no wood for fires, the drinking water was bitter and the soil no good for growing corn. Men, women and children became ill, developing stomach problems and other conditions due to the lack of fires to withstand the cold winter rain and wind. Without their land and their corn, the people were in a state of desperation, made worse by disease and starvation. They were wasting away. (Ackerly)

A treaty with the United States was concluded at Ft. Sumner on June 1, 1868. Some of these requirements included establishing a reservation, conditions of behavior, providing an Indian Agent and agency, required education for children, supplying of seeds, agricultural implements and other requirements, rights of the Navajos to be protected, establishment of railroads and forts, compensation to and arrangement of the return of Navajo to the reservation established by treaty. The Navajo agreed for 10 years to send their children to school and the US government to establish schools with teachers for every 30 Navajo children. The US government also promised to make yearly deliveries of things the Navajos could not make for themselves for 10 years. (Ackerly)

On June 18, 1868, the once-scattered bands of people who called themselves Diné, set off together on the return journey, the “Long Walk” home. This is one of the few instances where the U.S. government relocated a tribe to their traditional boundaries. The Navajos were granted 3.5 million acres of land inside their four sacred mountains. The Navajos also became a more unified tribe after the Long Walk and were able to successfully increase the size of their reservation since then, to over 16 million acres. (Ackerly)

The Navajo Nation has come a long way from the treaty of 1868, which established the tribe as an independent nation. Today the Navajo Nation is the largest Indian tribe in the United States, with reservation land covering a total of 17.5 million acres. In 1921, upon the discovery of oil, the US government created the first form of the Navajo Tribal Council a six-man business council for the sole purpose of giving consent to mineral contracts.

In 1936, the US Government issued the “Rules of the Navajo Tribal Council,” which formed the basis for the Navajo Nation’s government that remains in effect today with an annual budget of about 96 million dollars. One hundred and ten chapters comprise the local form of government where communities hold meetings in chapter houses and members vote on issues such as land use plans. In 1984, the Navajo Nation Council established a Permanent Trust Fund, into which the tribe deposits 12% of all income received each year.

Besides the income support of natural resources, the tribe is engaged in major development targeted toward health, education, economic development, and employment. Plans include improvements to its current transportation that can support job-creating projects while increasing services and benefits to the Navajo people.

The Navajo Nation is rich with scenic beauty, culture, and history. The Navajo people are world-renowned for their silver and turquoise jewelry and hand-woven rugs. Thousands of tourists each year are attracted to the reservation to enjoy the scenic wonders including Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly, Chaco Canyon, Hubbell’s Trading Post, and Shiprock.

Bibliography

Ackerly, Neal W. “A NAVAJO DIASPORA: THE LONG WALK TO HWÉELDI.” Tripod. June 1998. 01 May 2007 .
Durtschi, Al. “An Introduction to the Navajo Culturer.” Navajo Home Page. 7 Apr. 1997. Walton Feed, Montpelier, Idaho. 02 May 2007 .
“NATIVE AMERICAN LEGENDS.” Legends of America. May 2005. 02 May 2007

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