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

1 comment:

  1. There was a TV mini series that was based on this called, "Dead Man's Walk" but it involved Gus McRae and Woodrow F. Call as Texas Rangers fighting Comanches. Lots of movies have been made about the "Long Walk". I plan on making one myself called, "Navajo: The Long Walk" about this event. I will also narrate the film. It is said that the Navajo women who went on the "Long Walk" took off their shoes and shuffled their feet in the sand to let others know where they were headed. This was important as it was helpful in locating the individual and also told them where to go and who to look for. This method also involved directions as to where the follower should go. The person would then follow the trail until they got where they were going. This in a way was like a compass or even today's GPS. Smart thinking on the Navajo. Where was this when I was in school? Hmmm.


Thank you for your comment.