Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Let's Talk About Old West Saloons

Saloons were known as watering holes, shebangs, cantinas, grogshops, gin mills, fandangos, and many more interesting terms. While there were those who spent a great deal of money and effort to make them as opulent as possible, there were those that were little more than crooked casinos, brothels, opium dens, and places that would have been better torn down. Many did attract outlaws, shady gamblers, con artists, men on the run, and the dregs of society that I have spoken of on other occasions. Yes indeed, there were saloons that preyed on the innocent and the naive in most cases.

Some travelers who entered saloons in mining camps in the California Gold Country during the Gold Rush were never seen again. Decades later their bones may or may not be found. Such a thing happened in Calaveras County, California, in the 1920s when a rancher digging post holes stumbled on a number of skulls. Later, it was found out that they were all murder victims. Young men mostly. They vanished. And no one knows who owned the saloon they were in when they were waylaid, robbed, and murdered.

Of course, the same thing happened in many places in the West. And of course, there were those rough and tumble saloons where patrons may have had to fight their way to the door to get out without being cleaned out or killed. And while brawls were common and gunplay in saloons was actually fairly rare, there were those who were rolled in an ally for everything that had.

Saloons were different and had different vices. Some were very violent while others took every precaution to ensure that they were not. There were notorious saloons where a bartender may slip someone a "Mickey Finn" to knock them out and rob them or Shanghaiing them by selling them to a waiting ship as was popular on the Barbary Coast of San Francisco. I have written in the past about the seedy sorts, the unemployed, the drifters, the bummers like the young Wyatt Earp who was a thorn in the side of local lawmen, those who were asked to leave told with a Vigilance Committee's necktie coaxing them to do so.

We all know of the prostitutes, the crooked gamblers, the cheats, the outlaws, the con artists, the wannabe tough guys who were like Doc Holliday who spun tales of how tough he was by boasting about the number of men he had killed. In Holliday's case, he made the dregs of society that hung around saloons believe that he had killed at least 16 men. And no, even though most towns that he was in over the years had newspapers, there are no stories of his killing anyone except for the story in the Tombstone Nugget and the Tombstone Epitaph about his killing Tom McLaury during what is now called the gunfight near the OK Corral.

So yes, we know that many saloons were in many cases just clip-joints and dives. Well, let's talk about the other side of the story when it comes to saloons. During the Old West, as surprising as it sounds, not everyone drank to excess, gambled their wages away, cheated someone, Shanghaied a traveler, or lost their claims or ranches on a hand of poker. While I can't say what the percentage of them were up-and-up, there were saloons that were more than just holes in the wall for hangouts for outlaws. The fact is, many were social centers where people just hung out and socialized. In contrast, a respectable saloon may position people to monitor their employees -- the same as what goes on today in modern casinos.

We all know that Mexican cantinas could be found in California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Texas, in the Indian Territory, and elsewhere when Americans first arrived on the scene. But saloons were a tradition that Americans brought West. And socializing in saloons is a tradition that goes back to when we were still England's colonies and men gathered in what was known as "public houses" or what we know today as "pubs."

Pubs are places that are licensed to serve alcohol for consumption on the premises. There were "private houses" or "private clubs," but "public houses" first came about in the late 17th-century as inns, alehouses, and taverns. So where did the term "saloon" come from? In England, a separate gaming or entertainment room, sometimes large enough for huge gatherings was called a "salon." A form of salon was a "large hall in a public place for entertainment" such as singing, gaming, or sports including billiards.

There is a story about an 18th-century pub that had a salon, a large section for entertainment, in it where the establishment also had a duck pond open to its patrons. The story goes that their duck pond was at the back of their building, and for a small fee, drinkers could shoot at the ducks. Sounds like interesting entertainment.

Americans took the word "salon" and changed it over time. It is believed that the first saloon West of the Mississippi River was established at Brown's Hole, Wyoming, in 1822. It was built to serve fur trappers. By 1841, the term saloon was much more widespread and pretty much evolved into its present-day meaning of a place where drinking, card games, billiards, singing, and dancing could be had. Saloons became specialized places of entertainment such as dance halls, gambling halls, card rooms, music halls, theaters having all sorts of acts including what became known as "variety shows." Some places offered stage acts such as minstrel shows, dramas, and comedies. All while patrons were served drinks and meals at their tables.

Saloons were built to attract men. While some started out only being able to accommodate a few men at a time, the ones that prospered grew over time. They catered to working men with money. They sought miners, soldiers, lumberjacks, businessmen, merchants, salesmen, clerks, blacksmiths, sailors, and every other sort of occupation depending on their location. If they were on the Barbary Coast of San Francisco, they catered to ship's crews, seamen, stevedores, shippers, and travelers. If they were in a boomtown, they targeted miners and merchants. Cattle town saloons flourished during the trail drives on cowhands and their money. Of course, saloons were just one of the many businesses that struck it rich during the cattle drives and the mining booms. Most made a lot of money until the boom went bust.

As for working ranchhands who lived and worked on a ranch near a town? After sitting a saddle all day during gatherings or doing one of the many tasks it takes to keep a ranch in shape, believe it or not, most cowhands were known to try to catch up on needed sleep. So no, cowboys didn't usually stray off their ranch and ride 10 or 20 miles just to have to ride back 10 or 20 miles to work before morning. Because of the distance from towns of most ranches, most cowhands stayed on their ranch until Saturday night or Sunday.

I was asked recently if saloons were all dirty seedy places on the frontier? Not all. Most may have started in a tent with water barrels holding up a few boards as a "bar" and maybe a single table, but the idea was to grow their business. Square, false-front, wooden structures, in the beginning, were a step up from the tents. But frankly, they used tent material as roofing. The idea was to keep the customers dry and content so that they would stick around and buy drinks. As for tents, they had dirt floors. Wooden buildings usually had floors made of wood, some even made sure they had crawl spaces so that they would be able to harvest spilled gold dust. And also, there were methods of stealing from the boss that we will go into some other time.

While it's said that the only thing good about early saloon offered was bad whiskey and a place to sit a spell, most tried to be clean well-lit friendly places. Yes, they tried to be friendly. And yes, I will be talking about that in a moment or two.

While most attempted to emulate the plush pubs and taverns found in the East, there were saloons completely unique and reflected the West. It's true, while there were places with fancy wallpaper and very plush, others adorned their saloons with buffalo heads, LongHorn cattle horns, antlers, and stuffed-game of all sorts and sizes. Of course, there were saloons with paintings of naked women behind the bar. But most actually placed mirrors behind the bar, and there was a reason for that. It was for the bartender's safety. Mirrors enabled a bartender to watch his back when he turned away from the customers and faced the register.

As for targeting customers? Saloons sprang up where the people were. The idea of some lone saloon out in the middle of nowhere was unheard of. And before someone writes to remind me about Judge Roy Bean's Jersey Lilly and how it sat in the middle of nowhere, let's remember that it didn't start out that way. 

Roy Bean arrived during the completion of the railroad through that area and erected a small tent saloon on railroad company land. He later built the famous wooden structure that we all know today. After the railroad workers left, he hung in there and used the saloon as his headquarters when he became an authorized Justice of the Peace and notary public. He called himself the "Law West of the Pecos." Of course, that is the other aspect of saloons that some folks forget about, as in most cases, because of their size and ability to hold large gatherings, whether it was in mining camps or in boomtowns, larger saloons were used as places to hold court proceedings. 

Saloons in cattle towns at the end of the trail catered to cowhands flush with cash coming off months on the trail. After a cowhand would get a shave, haircut, bath, buy new clothes, boots, hat, maybe a new saddle, and his horse, he would finally hit the saloons. Saloons near forts targeted soldiers and loved their paydays. Mining boomtowns attempted to get as much gold and silver out of the pockets of miners. And of course, they all attempted to squeeze the general public for as much as they could while their competitions did the same. As for saloons being safe, comfortable, clean, well-lit, friendly places, we forget that saloons did everything they could to make their places welcoming. An unwelcoming saloon died of lack of customers no different than they do today.

Saloons were business and huge investments. Because of that, we should remember that owners would provide security, but also attempted to entice and bribe local lawmen to hang out in their place so they would have a "badge" present. We've all heard the story of Wild Bill Hickok hanging out in the saloon gambling more than doing his job as a lawman. That was probably the reason he wasn't a lawman very long both times that he wore a badge.

As with any business out to make money off the public, saloon owners came up with novelty ideas like having a piano, barbershop quartet singing, small orchestras, and even offered free lunches to draw customers into their saloon. 

The "free lunch" was a gimmick to draw customers. Saloons offered a sandwich at no cost. The idea was that it would attract customers and increase revenues while also stealing customers from other saloons that didn't offer the same. For years, it was not uncommon for customers to enter a saloon, make themselves a sandwich with all the fixings, and have a beer for a nickel. 

Believe it or not, it was a tradition that was once commonplace in saloons throughout the West. Most saloons that offered a "free lunch" only required that the customer pays for one drink. The hope, and really the expectation, on the part of the owner, was that most customers would buy more than one drink. Of course, there was what most of us know as the "bum's rush." That was a practice of a barman or bouncer grabbing someone by the pants and shirt and tossing them out the door. It is what would happen when a vagrant entered a saloon, hoping to take advantage of a "free lunch" counter which was meant for drinkers only. Yes, there were freeloaders in the Old West as well. In those days, they would be forcibly removed from the premises.

Other than dealing with bums, trouble-makers, and freeloaders, building "Good Will" was not unheard of in the business world even back then. The free lunch was used as a way to build patronage and help establish a welcoming reputation. Saloon owners knew that "word-of-mouth" could kill their establishment. That's why saloons employed bouncers. That's what they did what they could to make their places enjoyable but not avoidable. Like most businesses today, owners were worried about their reputations and acted in ways so to not to push customers away. Frankly, it's a concept that seems lost on many businesses today. Some businesses today seem to be going out of their way to alienate their customer base.

In the first saloons, especially before the Eastern distillers started shipping the "good stuff" West, rot-gut poor-quality liquor, the stuff that had was potentially toxic, was everywhere. Known under dozens of different names including Cactus Juice, Bottled Courage, Snake Bite, Gun Oil, Firewater, Tanglefoot, Dynamite, Forty-Rod, Red Eye, Coffin Varnish, Tarantula Juice, Taos Lightning, or simply Bug Juice, most of the rot-gut whiskey was 100 proof and used the same formula of combining raw alcohol, burnt sugar, water, and chewing tobacco for that caramel color. To give it an extra "kick," some owners were known to cut a batch with ammonia, turpentine, cayenne, and even gunpowder.

The hazards of drinking rot-gut whiskey were not lost on those buying drinks. To stop from drinking the rot-gut whiskey offered in most places, customers were known to request mixed cocktail concoctions. While some were simply whiskey and water, others were fairly elaborate. One such cocktail was blackberry liquor and whiskey. Some say that concoction is known as a Mule Skinner. While real wine was popular, including Sangria, a popular drink known as Cactus Wine which was a combination of tequila and peyote tea.

As for beer? Beer on the frontier was served at room temperature since refrigeration was not invented yet. It's true. Unlike Americans today, no one back in the day expected their glass to be ice-cold. It was Adolphus Busch who introduced refrigeration and pasteurization of beer in 1880 with his Budweiser brand. Before refrigeration, saloon owners tried various ways of keeping beer as cool as possible. For example, in some places, beer kegs were stored in root sellers with the wine. Some saloons kept the beer in kegs stored behind the bar and far away from the woodstove. Some saloons actually made their own beer. This was especially true in German communities.

So now, if it was a place that picked up the reputation of serving food that made customers sick or serving "rot-gut booze" made in the backroom, then a place can go under from lack of people walking in the door. If a saloon was too seedy and gained a reputation as a "clip joint" where customers were cheated, customers stayed away. If it was a place prone to attracting badmen and outlaws and garnered a reputation of not being very safe, then customers stayed away.

Keep in mind that, like the public houses, the inns, and taverns in the East, these were social centers where people gathered. It was there that men discussed topics ranging from cattle prices to news events while trying to relax. If they didn't feel safe, secure, or comfortable, they went somewhere else -- no differently than we do today. Think about this, when was the last time you went to a place known for drug dealers and a criminal element or patronized a place known to have been closed down by the health department? When was the last time you decided to go to a place that you may have heard was known for trouble, had bad service, lousy food, or was filthy?

People are people and the fact is that life was not very different in the Old West in that respect. As for avoiding trouble, most did that for reasons of safety no different than we do today. And before you write to me to say that towns were limited to only one or two saloons, keep in mind that that wasn't the way it was in the Old West -- especially in railheads and boomtowns.

For example, I visited Tombstone, Arizona, in the late-1980s and was extremely surprised at how small it was. I remember being very surprised to find out that Tombstone had 20 saloons by 1880 which was just a year after Schieffelin struck silver there. But here's more, according to the Tombstone Chamber of Commerce, by 1881, "Tombstone was home to more than 100 saloons, a multitude of eateries, a huge red-light district, a larger popular of Chinese, newspapers, churches, schools, and one of the original Arizona community swimming pools, which is still being used today."

So really, the hard-working people of Tombstone had a choice of where they wanted to spend their money. Were there those who wanted to buck the tiger at a faro table? Absolutely. And as we know, there were saloons that had gambling, but not all did. As for someone wanting to gamble, they didn't have to go to some clip-joint that was known for cheating folks. By 1881, they had more than 100 others to choose from. So it's not as if they had to go to just one place to try their luck.

And if you're thinking that not all boomtowns had more than 100 saloons at their peak, most had a lot more saloons than most think. Some towns had less and some had more. For example, we've all heard of Dodge City, Kansas, in the 1870s had its famous Long Branch Saloon. But it's a fact that the Long Branch Saloon was just one of more than 20 other saloons in that town during Dodge City's rowdy days.

In the settlement of Leavenworth, Kansas, there were more than 150 saloons in the 1880s. As for the boomtown of Virginia City, Nevada, by the late 1870s, it had 30,000 residents and over 150 saloons. During the Alaska Gold Rush, Skagway is said to have had as many as 80 saloons in 1897. In Nome, Alaska, in 1901, there were over 46 saloons. It's no wonder Wyatt Earp's Nome's saloon didn't make it with that sort of competition.

If you look at which ones lasted the test of time. The clip joints, those shady holes in the wall, those places where good hard-working folks felt threatened and didn't patronize, they didn't last and died. Mostly, it was purely business. Most seedy places simply couldn't stay afloat if all they did was cater to the dregs of society when trying to stay afloat. And here's something else, for the most part, saloons were men's clubs. While one would find a saloon girl serving or cooking, or a "shady lady" attempting to ply their trade, women did not enter saloons as customers until after World War I.

So now, I hope that I've answered the question about saloons that many of you have put to me. While Hollywood would love to make us think that every saloon was the same and that they were all simply places filled with killers and card-cheats, that's not true. Not all saloons in the Old West were seedy joints, honky-tonks which was not what a classy place was called, or places where shootings took place routinely.

As I said earlier, when looking at the evidence of shootings in saloons, they were very rare. And frankly, that's the same reason why murders in the Old West made such big news, they were very rare and were seen as a cause for outrage. They were an affront to civilized behavior and people didn't put up with it. In reality, the town's gallows were no different than a saloons' spittoon. Both were used to keep folks civilized. One was used to keep badmen in check while the other was used to ensure folks didn't spit on the floor. 

As social centers, saloons were the place to go for a man to relax and hear the latest news and gossip. As I said before, brawls took place. But it was not unheard of for fistfights to spill outside into a street where the combatants could slug it out in the manure. 

Did the fights sort of flow that way? No. Saloons employed bouncers to make sure that such things were taken outside. Bouncers were known to bounce brawlers out the swinging doors using the same "bum's rush" they used on vagrants. Let's remember, saloon owners had an investment to protect. So instead of allowing brawlers to bust up the furniture, which was very expensive to replace, and bother the customers, brawlers were usually shown the door.

That was the real Old West.

Tom Correa

Monday, March 22, 2021

More Than Just A Coincidence

First, I'm sorry for not posting very much these days. Besides being busy trying to wrap up my second book, I've been on the mend lately. No, not COVID. Just aches and pains of pushing myself too hard digging post holes and repairing my stable. 

Instead of talking about Old West history, which seems to be what more folks are interested in these days, let me answer a letter to a long-time reader who wants to know if I gamble? I was writing an email back to answer her when I thought this might be a fun story to relate to you. It has to do with why I don't gamble. 

There are two Indian casinos relatively close to where I live. If either of them depended on my contributions to stay open, they'd close for certain. No, I am not a gambler by any stretch of the imagination. I've known people who were and are, but that's not me. 

Why not, you ask. Well, it has to do with a lesson that I was taught back in the early-1980s. I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and found myself with about $400 in my pocket and two weeks off work. I decided that I wanted to get out of Dodge, as they say, and do a few things that I put off doing. 

Because I had worked many extra hours, I found myself with time off and money to spend on myself. So what did I want to do? Go camping in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in a place called Hope Valley. The camping was great there, quiet and beautiful, and the fishing was good in the nearby lakes. But before going camping, I figured that I would take a quick trip to Reno, Nevada, about an hour away from Hope Valley. 

I had always wanted to try every game in a casino in a serious way. Frankly, I had never really been a gambler simply because I saw it as throwing away hard-earned money. But, there was that part of me that wanted to try my hand at some serious gambling if I ever had the money to do it. 

After arriving in Reno, I checked out Reno for a bit before I pulled into a gas station to top off my Jeep. I then found the casino that my friends recommended as being "lucky." Before going into the casino, I had one of those steak and eggs breakfasts for $2 that were so common back in the day. 

After lunch, I wandered into the slot machine area and played for a little while until I was let into a poker game. It was Five Card Draw. I had played a little poker in High School and the Marine Corps, while it was not difficult -- it was a lot more serious.

I was actually surprised that I was ahead at that point. After playing poker, I played roulette for a while. Roulette is a game using a spinning wheel with either 38 red and black numbered pockets. Before the wheel is turned, players bet on where the ball will land. The roulette wheel is spun in one direction while the dealer sends a ball round it in the other direction. I learned that trying to will a ball to land where you want it to land is a silly exercise. One's chance with a poker hand sure beats waiting for a small ball to land where you want it to.

After roulette, I sat at a Blackjack table. As most know, Blackjack's goal is to beat the dealer's hand without going over 21. Each player starts with two cards. To "Hit" is to ask for another card. One of the dealer's cards is hidden until the end. Face cards are worth 10. If you go over 21, you "bust," and the dealer wins regardless of the dealer's hand. While this was one of those games you learn as a kid and play at home, I played in the Marine Corps. It was on that day that I learned the finer points of losing gracefully.

I followed my Dad's advice about playing Keno during dinner. And believe it or not, I got a little lucky at Keno. After dinner, I found a friendly crap table that held on to my attention for quite a while. After that, I was back at the slot machines. The night sped by fairly quickly. I had been there for hours of playing all of the games. It was late, and surprisingly I wasn't loaded on the "complimentary drinks." 

In those days, casinos gave out "complimentary drinks" to loosen up their "guests." While to the public, those the visitors are referred to as "guests" -- most casinos referred to those there as "suckers." And really, I doubt that's changed over the years.

It was about when I was playing the slots when I realized that I lost a lot more than I made that night. I figured out later that while I made a few dollars at poker and Keno, I lost at Blackjack, the dice table, and the slots. 

Just so people understand something about those days. At the time, gas was about .60 a gallon in California and Nevada. Cheap motels were all over the place. In Reno, casinos put out a steak and eggs breakfast for $2 just to get folks in their doors. While things were cheaper back then, we certainly didn't make the hourly wages that people are making today. 

As for our money going further, the $400 that I arrived with was the equivalent purchasing power to about $1,500 today. Of course, those were the days before ATM machines when needing more cash. In those days, you had to cash a check if you wanted more funds. And really, checks couldn't be cashed 24 hours a day. 

So now, it was after two in the morning. I arrived to try every game that I could, and I did it with no real luck at doubling my money. While I wanted to try every game there, I really thought, like most who go to casinos, that I would be able to double my money or better. Well, it was now going on three o'clock in the morning, and I had maybe $40 left of that $400. So much for doubling my money. 

A gal came through to offer a complimentary drink, and I asked for coffee. She was nice and asked if I wanted another whiskey and seven. I told her that I was getting on the road and heading out. I remember thinking about how I had my camping equipment in my Jeep and how I did have enough gas to get me to Hope Valley to go camping and home later. My Jeep was also loaded with my groceries. I remember thinking, of course, if worse came to worse, I could find a bank to cash a check in the morning. I was getting ready to leave when I was stopped while walking by a Wheel of Fortune dealer. 

Also known as a Big Six Wheel, Big Wheel, Lucky Wheel, and a Money Wheel, a Wheel of Fortune is a big vertical wheel where a player bets on the number it will stop on. The odds are conveniently the same as the number. The top of the wheel stood about 7 or 8 feet in the air. It was divided into 54 equal segments separated by pins or spokes. Each segment was associated with a number that corresponded to a dollar amount. The game also used two different symbols in the segments and have different odds if a symbol is selected. For example, the symbols are $1, $2, $5, $10 and $20 bills. If memory serves me right, there were two special symbols, a joker and the casino logo. 

The $1 bills pay at odds of 1 to 1, the $2 bills at 2 to 1, the $5 bills at 5 to 1, and so on. If I remember right, the joker and the casino's logo segments paid at the odds of 40 to 1. I've heard of some casinos used to have their logo pay at odds of 45 to 1 or even 50 to 1, but I've never seen that. A player has less and less of a chance to hit the $5, $10, and $20 because only a few segments have those bills. There are only two of the 40-1 joker and casino logo on the whole wheel.

The wheel is spun by a dealer, and the winning segment is indicated by a pointer mounted on a flexible piece of rubber or leather, which also rubs against the pins to impart friction and slow the wheel down. 

The house advantage or its "edge," which is the proportion of the stakes that the casino expects to win on average, is one of the highest of most casino games. That's why the game has been around for so long. Let's be honest here, casinos don't build their huge casinos and hotels by losing. The odds are always in favor of the house. It has the edge. 

I was not naive to the fact that the percentage is always in favor of the house. I knew that when I was playing slots, dice, roulette, and Blackjack. 

The dealer was a nice guy standing next to the wheel. He stopped me to say that I had a few of the people there talking about me. I was surprised by his comment and asked what that was all about. I remember how he told me that "guests" usually come in for an hour or so and then leave. Some of the casino workers thought I may have been some sort of a gaming inspector because I had been there playing so many different games for so many hours. Some there thought I was checking on things. 

I laughed and told him that those types don't hang around all day drawing exposure to themselves. Inspectors are usually in and out under the radar. I told him that I had some time off and was going camping. I told him what my visit was all about and how I simply wanted to play as many games as I could afford to play -- if for any other reason just so I can say that I did. 

When he asked me how that was going, I admitted that I was almost broke. I also told him that I was loading up on caffeine before hitting the road. It was almost 3am, and the place was fairly deserted. The dealer asked me if I had tried his wheel before he arrived for work?

I told him that I hadn't. He asked me why not since it is one of the games? When I again told him that I was almost broke by then, he asked if I had $20 left. When I said that I did, he said that I should put it on the Joker. The 40-1 spot. Yes, he wanted me to bet half of what I had left on one of the spots with the worse odds. The very worse. 

I remember telling him that I thought that was crazy. And looking back on it today, I have no idea what I was thinking. The place was dead at that time of night. More people were cleaning up the place, dusting, and vacuuming the carpets than there was gambling at the time. The bartender was restocking, and the gal with my coffee just walked up when I placed a $20 bill on the Joker. It was a crazy bet.   

The dealer nodded while replacing my $20 note with a $20 chip. He then gave the wheel a pull and showed me his open hands. I sat there talking with the dealer while trying not to show how much I wanted it to hit. The wheel ticked away. Fast at first. Then slower. And then it stopped. 

Lights came on, a siren sounded, and the dealer nodded. It landed on the Joker, and the dealer very professionally counted out $800 in chips. He then pushed the chips toward me. 

I looked at him and said thanks. He smiled and told me, "You're welcome. You should get this cashed in before leaving. You are leaving, aren't you."

Do I think my talking with the dealer in the dead of the night when he was bored and no one was around had something to do with how that Wheel of Fortune stopped? I don't know. But, it has always felt like more than a coincidence.

Tom Correa

Sunday, March 7, 2021

The Long Walk 1864

Treaty of Bosque Redondo Signers

While many have heard of "The Trail of Tears," there was another relocation that many might not be aware of. That relocation was known as "The Long Walk" or "The Long Walk of the Navajo." And while it wasn't 1,000 miles on foot as was "The Trail of Tears," it was over 350 miles on foot.

The Navajo was forced to leave their homeland in "The Long Walk" to the Bosque Redondo reservation. It took place in the spring of 1864. And while it took place in 1864, it was only one of about 50 different forced relocations between 1864 and 1866.

The Navajo lands stretched from modern-day Arizona and into New Mexico. The Navajo were farmers that planted crops and, in reality, were ranchers who raised livestock. They had a very long history of raiding and trading with each other, including raiding and trading with the Apache. 

After the Mexican War ended in 1848, American homesteaders began to filter into the Navajo lands.
Of course, while there was no formal agreement in place as with a treaty to stop any hostilities from happening, problems did start around 1849 with Navajo attacks on American settlers. By 1850, things became so bad that the U.S. Army ordered Colonel Edwin Vose Sumner to establish Fort Defiance near present-day Window Rock, Arizona. Then Fort Wingate, originally called Fort Fauntleroy, near what is today Gallup, New Mexico.

Fort Defiance was built about 30 miles southeast of Canyon de Chelly in 1850. Troubles between the Army and the Navajo started when American soldiers and settlers began to take over land that had traditionally been used by the Navajo to graze their sheep and horses. The pastures used for Navajo grazing began being used by the soldiers' to graze their horses. 

By 1855, it didn't take long for those pastures to become over-grazed. It was then that the Fort's commander ordered the tribe to relocate their livestock somewhere other than on that pasture. Navajo leader Manuelito refused to comply with those orders. In response, the commander ordered his troops to kill Navajo horses and more than 100 sheep. No, things were not good between the Navajo and the Americans there. 

The situation escalated until the Navajo attacked Ft. Defiance. That attack was what started what became known as "The Second Battle of Fort Defiance" during the period known as the Navajo Wars.

On the morning of August 30, 1860, the U.S. Army garrison Fort Defiance was attacked. Navajo leaders joined forces and are said to have gathered almost two thousand Navajo, Ute, Apache, and Pueblo warriors to join in on the attack on Fort Defiance. 

The attack, which was supposed to be a surprise, was met with a force of 150 to 200 American soldiers of the 3rd Infantry who also used cannons. The soldiers are said to have formed in the center of the buildings, a lot like that which was called a British Square at the time. As for the use of cannons, it's believed that the Fort was forewarned of the surprise attack. This must have been the case since the Fort's commander had the soldiers ready themselves for the attack, positioned the cannons ahead of time. The result was that even though the American soldiers were vastly outnumbered, they repelled the attack. 

Before going on with this story, if the 3rd Infantry sounds familiar, it should. Today, the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Regiment, which is known as "The Old Guard," has the mission of providing full honor guard funerals at Arlington National Cemetery, providing for the dignified transfers taken place at Dover Air Force Base, providing honor guards for visiting dignitaries, and the wreath ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknowns. They also have another vital mission. Since 1948, a special platoon within "The Old Guard" is assigned as "Tomb Guards" to provide the 24-hour sentry protection of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. 

Back to the Navajo Long Walk

The Second Battle of Fort Defiance was one of the largest battles during the Indian Wars ever fought in Arizona. In 1861, the Civil War began, and as American troops were pulled to fight in the East, the Navajo saw that a chance to rid their country of soldiers and settlers. The result was more bloodshed and many rogue actions by American settlers who saw the Navajo as needing to be killed or removed.  

After years of hostilities, on October 31, 1862, during the Civil War, the U.S. Congress authorized the construction of Fort Sumner. In early 1862, even though the Civil War was going on and experienced Union commanders were needed in the East, the U.S. Army sent Major General James H. Carleton to the region to force the Navajo to Fort Sumner.

General Carleton initially justified building Fort Sumner to protect settlers threatened by Navajo, Kiowa, Mescalero Apache, and the Comanche from the Pecos River Valley area. At the same time as he created Fort Sumner, he also created the Bosque Redondo Reservation. That reservation is a 1,600 square-mile, 1,000,000 acre area, where over 9,000 Navajo and Mescalero Apaches were forced to live. That is, if Carleton could get them on the reservation.

Fort Sumner was charged with the internment of Navajo and Mescalero Apache Indians at nearby Bosque Redondo. The stated purpose of the reservation was for it to be a place where Indians could be self-sufficient by teaching the Navajo and the Mescalero Apache how to be farmers -- which they were already knew. General Edward Canby, who Carleton replaced, first suggested that the Navajo people be moved to a series of reservations and be taught skills to transition to life on a reservation, such as farming and raising livestock -- skills they already knew. 

I emphasize that the Navajo already knew how to farm and raise livestock to point out how little the U.S. government knew about Native American tribes at the time. While the federal government's policy was to treat each tribe as an independent nation, one can't help but look at the federal government's Indian policies as a "one size fits all" proposition. The federal government's actions assumed that all tribes are alike when it doesn't take a genius to understand how different the tribes were. 

As you've heard me say in the past, regarding their cultures, traditions, spiritual beliefs and ceremonies, societies, and even their languages, they are as different as Germany is from France. As with narrowminded people today who lump together Irish, English, Poles, Germans, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italians, as all simply "Whites," Americans at the time made the same mistake of lumping all of the various tribes together as simply "Indians" even though they too were not at all alike.

As for examples of how the Navajo differed from other tribes? The Navajo people, or the "DinĂ©," have an extended family structure that sets them apart from other Native American tribes. With all Navajo families, it's crucial to treat all members with love and respect. One can be shunned if one doesn't. This is how they keep their family units strong and supportive. 

In the Navajo culture, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins are considered part of your family unit. Cousins of the same bloodline would refer to each other as "brother" and "sister." When a new Navajo baby is born, that child belongs to the clan of their mother. When a Navajo marries, it has to be someone who is not in their clan -- even if they are not related by blood to this person, they still cannot marry them if they are from their clan. This is completely unlike other tribes. 

Unlike other tribes, the Navajo people lived in houses called "hogans," which were round, cone-shaped, multi-sided, or square-shaped. They were made with wood or stone walls and were packed with mud and soil. The doors of the "hogans" traditionally faced the East to welcome the rising sun, which was believed to promote good wealth and fortune. I have Navajo friends who tell me that hogans today are built for use in ceremonies.
The Bosque Redondo Reservation 

When the Bosque Redondo Reservation was first established, General James Carleton began a renewed effort to eradicate the Navajo and the Apache. Carleton had seen the Apache as easier to handle and ordered Col. Christopher "Kit" Carson to do whatever necessary to get the Mescalero Apache onto the reservation first before working on the Navajo. The Apache and the Navajo had survived several attacks by the U.S. Army. 

It is said that Carson knew that he couldn't defeat the Navajo without it being a prolonged conflict. Since starving a people into submission worked against the Apache, the Navajo were "rounded-up" in the same way. And with that, Carson began a campaign to destroy the Navajo homes, crops, and livestock. Reports agree that Carson's men "destroyed more than two million pounds of corn were burned." That "forced the Navajo to survive on nuts and berries." Starvation was the motivator that made many families, starving during the long winter months, turn themselves in to the U.S. Army. 

The final military standoff with the Navajo took place at Canyon de Chelly where they surrendered to Kit Carson and his troops in January 1864. Following orders, Colonel Carson burned their villages and destroyed their property. He then organized the Long Walk to the Bosque Redondo Reservation, which was already occupied by Mescalero Apache.

The Navajo Indians call their journey from their lands to the Bosque Redondo Reservation the "Long Walk." And yes, if you're wondering, more than 300 Navajo died along the way while making that horrible journey. 

The "Long Walk" started at the beginning of spring of 1864. Those making the month-long journey were never told where they were going or why they were being relocated. The distance itself was 300 miles of travel over hard, tough terrain. 

Many making the journey were walking exhausted, thirsty, malnourished, and starved. While some sources say there were only 8,000 Navajo and Apache that made that hellish journey, I believe the number is well over 10,000 men, women, and children were forced to make the "Long Walk" to the Bosque Redondo Reservation a little over 350 miles away. I believe this because, in April of 1865, the U.S. Army estimated that there were at least 9,500 Navajo and about 500 Mescalero Apache interned at the Bosque Redondo Reservation. 

We know that at least 300 hundred men, women, and children died making "The Long Walk." It's true. During that horrible ordeal, hundreds died of hunger and cold, while others drowned when they were forced to cross the Rio Grande during the spring floods. To simply say that the journey was difficult and killed several Navajo would be an understatement.  

Of course, the destination was no better than the journey. That brings us to something else, the Army only planned for 5,000 to be interned there. No, not twice that number. So to make matters even worse, when they arrived, they were given no wood for fires to cook on. They found the water bitter and the soil not good for growing crops nevertheless corn. Then to add insult to injury, what crops they did manage to grow were eaten by cutworms or devastated by hailstorms. 

This huge increase in population produced a significant lack of food for those being moved. Then in the summer of 1865, the corn production was not enough to feed the tribes on the reservation. And of course, the previous year, Carson's men destroyed corn which could have been confiscated and stored. But frankly, I can't help but wonder if anyone thought of that at the time. In reality, I doubt if anyone cared to consider that idea.

In 1867, someone realized that with insufficient food, poor to little water, and little to no firewood for the number of Indians living there, the Bosque Redondo was not suitable for a reservation. The Navajo endured for four years, during which time almost 25 percent of their population died of disease and starvation. And believe it or not, both the U.S. Army and the Indian Agents finally had to admit that those interned were dying. 

The reasons for the deaths were very obvious to anyone who wanted to see them. Those interned there had no clean water as it was full of alkali. The water from the nearby Pecos River caused severe intestinal problems, which meant that disease quickly spread through the reservation. Besides not having firewood to cook with, there was very little food.

Think about this for a moment. For the last few years, we've heard a lot about a "Deep State" which is defined as "a body of people, typically influential members of government agencies or the military, believed to be involved in the secret manipulation or control of government policy." My friends, we act as though such a thing as the government, a "Deep State," filled with bureaucrats carrying out their own agenda within our government is something brand new when it is not something new at all. 

Please understand, as with several of the reservations from their very onset, criminal behavior on the part of government bureaucrats took place. Whether it was a matter of crooked Indian Agents or some bureaucrat in the system sabotaging things by purposely dragging their feet to deliver needed supplies, such things took place. It was not unknown for cronyism and collusion to exist in the 1800s in government. The word "cronyism" evolved in the 19th century as a spin-off of "crony," which means "friend" or "pal." 

Such things were not new in the 19th century, the 20th century, or today. As with what happens during an administration with bureaucrats knowingly sabotaging administration policies, the same things happened back in the day for all the same reasons -- including bigotry, greed, ambition, and politics.

Whether we want to recognize it or not, it happened. Some people in the federal government dragged their feet getting needed food and supplies to reservations because of bigotry against "Indians" as a whole. Some drug their feet because of partisanship in a concerted effort to make whoever was in the Oval Office at the time look bad. 

I really believe that lives could have been saved if treaties were adhered to as agreed upon, but they weren't in most cases. And frankly, in many cases, treaties were not supported because they were stalled in the ratification process in Congress. In other cases, treaties were deliberately scuttled for political reasons. Sadly, many Native American tribes were starved while some partisan political bureaucrat tried to manipulate or control government policy while creating what newspapers called "failed Indian policies." 

As sad as it is, politics being what it has always been, greed and self-interest motivates people. In politics, it's all about making one side look good while consciously trying to make the other side look bad. They do it for money, favor, and position. They did it then as they do it today.  

If we look at why the treaty system ultimately failed, when it comes to our government's culpability in treaties failing, one can't help but see how more times than not, there was a hidden disinterest in "meeting our treaty commitments." Time and time again, I've read where after a treaty was signed, as well-meaning as most were, it was usually bureaucrats within our government who dragged their feet to carry out their job of fulfilling the promises made to those on reservations. 

History always blames those in charge. And while there are definite reasons for that, we should also note that the bureaucracy that drifts from one administration to another working in the system is also very much to blame for what doesn't get done. 

As for the Bosque Redondo Reservation, we know supplies never made it to those who were starving. We know that several Indian Agents there were stealing those supplies for personal financial gain. So, between horrid conditions and government bureaucrats dealing in criminal behavior, the Bosque Redondo Reservation was seen as a total failure by everyone. There was no hiding how horribly planned, executed, and supported it was.

When I stated earlier that tribes were no different from the Germans and the French regarding their history of having different cultures, languages, and waging war, we should understand that the Navajo and the Mescalero Apache had been enemies for what some say was a millennium. This hatred for each other and the reservations' confined conditions led to open fighting between the two tribes even there on the reservation. Of course, the Navajo outnumbered the Apache on the reservation more than 10 to 1. 

The conflict with the Navajo, the starvation, the criminal activity by the agents who everyone knew was stealing from the hungry there, the terrible conditions are why the Mescalero Apache finally had enough and left the reservation on their own in early November of 1865. The Navajo are said to have stayed longer, but in May of1868, they too were done and finally left. 

When the Navajo left in May of1868, even the federal government must have known what sort of fate they assigned them to. We know this because, though the Navajo were not allowed to leave until May 1868 when the Army finally agreed that the reservation was a complete failure, the federal government actually permitted them to return to their native lands.

In 1868, General Carleton was removed from command. In his place was General William T. Sherman, who took command and negotiated with the Navajo. With more than 25 percent of the Navajo people decimated since arriving on that reservation, the Navajo were no longer seen as a threat to American settlers. It is said that during negotiations, Navajo leader Barboncito was afraid that his people would be sent to Indian Territory, which is modern-day Oklahoma. So he negotiated with Gen. Sherman to allow them to return to their homelands. 

On June 1st, 1868, the Treaty of Bosque Redondo was signed by the federal government and the Navajo nation at Fort Sumner. Among some of the provisions are agreements that include establishing a "new reservation" on their traditional lands, restrictions on raiding settlers and other tribes, a resident Indian Agent who would be kept accountable for his actions, and compulsory American education for their children. They also agreed to receive a supply of seeds, agricultural tools, the establishment of railroads and forts, compensation to the tribe, that the rights of the Navajo people are to be protected, and the arrangements for the return of Navajo peoples to that "new reservation."

The Navajo agreed to send their children to American schools for ten years. The federal government agreed to establish schools with teachers and a classroom size of thirty Navajo children. The federal government also promised to give clothing, goods, and other raw materials that the Navajo could not manufacture for themselves -- for at least ten years.

"The Long Walk to Bosque Redondo" was hailed as a miserable failure. And from this, the Navajo Indian nation's sovereignty was finally acknowledged in The Treaty of Bosque Redondo of 1868. With that treaty, the Navajo were promised their own right to self-determination and self-rule. Of course, with settlers moving West, who knows if someone at the time wondered how long it would take before the Westward Expansion would change that. 

But then again, while some might think that this article only bashes our federal government for not living up to our end of treaties, we should keep in mind that the Navajo made and broke treaties. They did so with the Spanish and then the Mexicans. They did so with other tribes, including the Apache, the Comanche, the Pueblos, and the Ute Indians. They broke treaties out of self-interest no differently than others did. And as I said earlier, treaties didn't always stop hostilities from happening. 

By June 18th, 1868, the Navajo set off again. It was a journey home. That was their "Long Walk" home. And while I have been honest while painting a poor picture of how the federal government did things at the time, please note that this is one of the few instances where the federal government actually tried to remedy things by permitting a tribe to return to their traditional homelands. With the Treaty of Bosque Redondo, the Navajo nation was granted 3.5 million acres of land inside what they referred to as their four sacred mountains. So, after all of the turmoil, war, disease, and starvation, the Navajo returned home to rebuild their homes and lives. 

As a result of their second "Long Walk" to return to their homelands, the Navajo people became a more cohesive tribe. They successfully increased their "new reservation" to over 16 million acres over the years. Today the Navajo Nation is part of northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah, and northwestern New Mexico. Their land is the largest land area retained by any Native American tribe. Its area is larger than any one of the following states: West Virginia, Maryland, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island.

As for another small piece of trivia connected to this story, without the Bosque Redondo Reservation, Fort Sumner was closed and abandoned in 1869. It was later purchased by a wealthy New Mexico rancher, who was considered a cattle baron at the time. His name was Lucien Maxwell, and he renovated the fort's officers' quarters and rebuilt it into a huge 20-room ranch house. 

If the name Lucien Maxwell sounds familiar, it should. On July 14th, 1881, Sheriff Pat Garrett ambushed Billy the Kid and shot and killed him in Lucien Maxwell's home. That building is now known as the Maxwell House. Imagine that.

Tom Correa