n 1860, because of complaints about Navajo raids
on mining camps and ranches in New Mexico, Col. Kit Carson was called in to U.S.
Army Headquarters by General James Henry Carleton. It was Carleton’s shortsighted
wish to put all the Navajos on a reservation and teach them the benefits of becoming
more like the white man. He wanted them to learn to grow crops, become Christianized
and civilized to fit into the white man’s society. Kit Carson, having made
friends with the Navajos, feared it would not be an easy task. Nor was
it. He finally resorted to a “scorched earth” policy where he burned
out villages, farm plots, peach orchards, killed livestock or took them for
his army, and literally drove 7,000 Navajos south to a barren piece of land
called the Bosque Redondo on the Pecos River.
Eventually the Navajos would call
this march “The Long Walk.” It was a grueling 400 mile trek from
the four corners area to a place called Ft. Sumner that was not good for hunting,
grazing sheep, farming, or much of anything. Many Navajo died from disease, lack
of proper food and clothing, horrible weather conditions on the way there, as
well as mistreatment by the army itself. The old ones were left on the side of
the trail if they could not keep up. Infants died in their mother’s arms
because the mothers had no milk for them.
At the reserve, the ones who survived
felt those who had died had the better end of it. The Navajo were not given the
farm implements needed to plow with, the seed to sow, suitable housing, or food
to replace what had been taken from them. They were not given guns or allowed
to hunt for game. There was no firewood available on the Bosque Redondo, and
the Navajo lived in squalor and want for the next four years. Finally, the government
relented and realized the experiment had not worked. Chief Manuelito, of the
Navajo tribe, was asked to sign a treaty that would allow them to return to their
homeland in the northwest corner of New Mexico.
Today the Navajo Nation extends into the states of Utah
, Arizona, and New Mexico , covering over 27,000 square miles of unparalleled
beauty. Diné Bikéyah, or Navajoland, is larger than 10 of the 50
states in America. They are an industrious people who raise sheep and goats,
weave marvelous blankets, and make beautiful turquoise and silver jewelry.
are a proud people and their young men even contributed to World War II by producing
a code for our troops from their own Navajo language that the Japanese could
not decipher. These men are now recognized as the famous Navajo Code Talkers,
who exemplify the unequaled bravery and patriotism of the Navajo people.
exicans called them Apaches—Enemy. They called themselves The People—Tinde'.
As long as anyone could remember, first the Spaniards, then the Mexicans had been at war with the Apaches. Neither side had any desire to change things. It was kill or be killed, steal or be stolen from, burn or be burned out, whenever they met. Wrongs on both sides ran too deep. It was a fight to extinction.
In 1853, the Mexican Government placed a bounty on Apache scalps. They paid twenty-five dollars for a child’s scalp, fifty for an Apache woman’s, and one hundred for an adult male’s. But who could tell from a scalp lock of long black hair the sex or age of the Indian scalped, or whether the scalp might even be that of a Mexican peon. Apaches knew that to the bounty hunter, any one—young or old, male or female—was fair game.
Then a new breed called Americans came into the West. They came in all sizes and colors, some good, some bad. At first they merely passed through the Arizona Territory in 1849 on their way to the California gold fields. They didn’t scare as easily as the Mexicans. Many could hunt and live off the land like an Apache. They trapped and traded, prospected and homestead, and looked like they planned to stay.
In the beginning, the Americans were too few in number to be considered a threat, and the Apache tried to get along with them. At one point, the Apaches had even hoped the Pindo-Lik-O-Yes or White Eyes would help them in their fight with the Mexicans.
Instead the United States made peace with Mexico and the two countries changed their boundaries. The Bartlett Commission of 1851 went through the New Mexico and Arizona Territory to draw the new line across the sands. Though they looked for it, the Apaches could never find this line. What was once Mexico’s had now become the property of the United States; but those to whom the land truly belonged, were never given a thought. No one asked their permission to hunt on their lands, kill their game, to plunder the earth’s bounty for ore or to ruin their way of life. They just did it.
Aided by the very nature of their terrain, the Apaches resisted the whites’ advance longer than did any other Indian nation. The years between 1861 and 1874 became known as the Cochise War. Other names became dreaded household words as well: Mangus Coloradas, Victorio, and Geronimo.
With only a few hundred warriors, the Apaches still held off five Civil War generals, five thousand trained troops and scouts, and cost the United States millions of dollars in men and material.
Anyone entering this arena in the year 1860 had to be very foolish.
Or very desperate!