First Contact with the Navajo – 1540

In 1493, the year after the discovery of the New World, Pope Alexander VI issued his famous Bull of Demarcation, in which Spanish explorers be gave to Spain all the undiscovered country of the Southwest lying beyond an imaginary line one hundred miles west of the Azores and the Cape Verde Islands. Upon this Spain based her claims to the New World.

Coronado Expedition Map

Coronado Expedition Map

Not until 1513 did European explorers venture into the interior of North America. Previous to this time they had merely touched upon the shores of the great western continent. The great beyond appeared to them dark, void, and impenetrable. Balboa in that year crossed the Isthmus of Panama, and six years later Cortez landed on the east coast of Mexico.
Don Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, Spanish Explorer, leads an expedition of soldiers from Mexico into the American southwest in search of gold. They arrive and discover the Hopis during the summer of 1540, where Navajos were already in the Hopi province.

Francisco Coronado

Francisco Coronado

The first recorded contact between Navajos and the Spanish invaders came in 1583 in the area of Dinetah.

An expedition led by Antonio de Espejo refers to the Querechos Indians near Mt. Taylor. The Spanish also at times referred to Navajos as “Apaches de Navajo,” leading to some confusion for future historians.

During this time and up to the recent past, Navajos were referred to as Apaches. At the time of the conquest, the word “Apache”, from the Zuñi “apachú” (enemy), their appellation for the Navajo, was used by the Spaniards to denote any hostile Indians.
Then the Spaniards named the Apache bands according to their traits or locale:

Mescalero, for the mescale gatherers, several tribes for the closest mountain,

“Apache de Jicarilla” for their baskets,

and the “Apache de Navaju” which they borrowed from the Tewa word – “Navaju” meaning “the arroyo with the cultivated fields.

The Navajo name for Spaniard is Nakai, meaning “those who wander around,” referring to the various expeditions that frequently came into Navajo country.
That the Navajos consider themselves the aristocrats of the southwest they tactily admit by calling themselves “Diné,” the People.

A Native American (Navajo) Family

A Native American (Navajo) Family

They are of Athapascan stock, and ethnologists are generally agreed that they came from the north, drifting into the area they now occupy less than a thousand years ago. In earliest historical times they were found wandering over what is now western New Mexico, eastern Arizona, and southern Utah and Colorado. Their present reservation, while much smaller than their original range, is in the same region.

Navajo legends in general bear out the supposition that they came from the north, except one very picturesque one which tells that the People came from the south, bringing their four sacred plants: tobacco, corn, squash, and beans.

Navajo Camp

Navajo Camp

They occupied all the country, but, finding the Pueblo people better fitted for agriculture, they generously gave them the valley lands and kept the high grassy uplands for themselves.

This legend has the great advantage of justifying the Navajo habit of appropriating the crops raised by the Pueblo people.

The Navajo also appropriated women when it suited him to do so, with the result that his race is probably a compound of all the southwestern Indian stocks, with accretions of Spanish blood, whatever racial amalgam the Spaniards had acquired in Mexico, and later additions from the American Army and American traders. What was most vigorous, most alluring, most enduring of all races the Navajo has apparently taken and made his own.

History of the Navajo

Ancient Navajo and Native Americans Migrations
First Contact with the Navajo – 1540
The Americans and the Navajo
The Mexicans and the Navajo
The Spanish and the Navajo
Navajo Long Walk to Bosque Redondo
Antonio el Pinto Chief of the Navajos


  1. Yuditj terminel says

    Im Yudith, from México. I love to READ about history. Its amazing knowledge, gives you TONS of perspective. Thank you for Sharing to the World

  2. drake hagen says

    Hey my name is Drake and I am from colorado and I just wanted to say that i love the information that is here there needs to be more history spread like this

  3. What’s up, constantly i used to check blog posts here in the early hours in the break of day, because i like to learn more and more.

  4. In Spanish term the word “Navaho” might mean people, but in Hebrew, it means farmers or people who till the soil. “Navajo” does NOT mean “sheep-stealers.” Navaho is a Hebrew term because of this. Dine’ is the original name used by the Navajo people. Dine’ means “people.” The traditional Navajo pronounces it as Naa-baa-ho but does not give it any definition, just that they were labelled with that name. The entire western hemisphere was found with peoples that were red color. There were no white or black or yellow peoples when the Europeans came to this side of the globe. That indicates that only one people migrated to the Americas probably by the Berean strait which may have been iced land close to 4400 B.C. My mother passed at the age of 84, who told me that her grandfathers told her that the Dine’ “came from out of the waters.” The North American continent was flooded with water and appeared like little dots of islands before the entire continent emerged. That puts the Native Indians settling on these lands somewhere around 4000 B.C. They look similar to the mongol of Siberia/ China territories. They are excellent horsemen and hunters. Navajo and Apache build their ancient hogan and shelters that look much like the tent-like structure build by Mongols today. The base dialect are also similar. So it is possible, Native Indians migrated through the Berean strait. As for the Anazassi ruins, I do not believe these are ancient Native Indian ruins or remains. I think these are remains of an ancient world from before the Great Flood also known as Noah’s Flood. You can find these types of ruins under the oceans around the globe. At one time, the world was one piece of land which divided into continents during the era Peleg. He was born at the time when the land divided up (Genesis to Numbers). There are evidence of these divides under the oceans around the globe. A mountain range spans from north Africa through the Middle East through Russia, which comes out to the Sierra mountains in America and ends in South America. It is one proof that there was one land piece at some point after Creation. Nothing is new under the sun. hmmmm

  5. Well, first of all and most important. The southwest as we know it today, as well as Mexico, Brazil, etc, was NOT a “NEW WORLD” as idiots usually define it. These places were already inhabited by Indiginious Tribes there fore “NEW” is NOT, appropriate. These people that arrived weren’t welcomed as previous group that arrived in the eastern Carribean islands. Most tribes were defined as “las Tribus Salvaho”, or “Savage Tribes” the Dine People by this time were intergrated with some of the Pueblo Tribes that lived along the Rio Grande, the Pueblos identified The Dine people as “Na Ba hi Dine”, they were not slaves to the Pueblos, but rather ‘inlaws’ that intermarried into the tribes, as “inlaws” one is expected to work and help with labor in the family that he/she married into, The Spanish people, saw this and assumed these people were “slaves”. Jest thot I share my culture.

  6. what do u mean

  7. I’m a Nav-uh-ho, Navajo, & Dine. (The People)
    It was so interesting reading about My history, I never knew the pre-history of My People.
    I was doing a research on The word “Nav-uh-ho” & who named The Dine People, because I was told that the correct way to “Navajo” is “Nav-uh-ho” which means “Sheep Stealers” in Mexican. So I got curious & started researching the subject. That’s how I came across this page. Very Interesting reading material, powerful & moving. I would like to learn more about The People. Everything on The Nav-uh-ho Timeline, The past, present, & future.

  8. Robbie Courtenay says

    Hello, my name is Robbie Courtenay and I am contacting you on behalf of the Yolngu community of Galiwin’ku in Arnhem Land Australia. The Yolngu people are the traditional owners of this remote area of the Northern Territory, Australia and the oldest living culture alive today. During the 1980’s (Possibly around 1983-85) a group of Yolngu musicians called Soft Sands band were invited to the Navajo Festival to perform. One of the band leaders name was Frank Djirrimbipilwuy Garawirrtja. Not only did they perform some of their songs but also danced traditional Bungul (ceremony) One of the surviving members of Soft Sands mentioned that some photo’s and maybe some film was taken of this event. I am contacting you in the hope that we could try to get copies of this event for the purpose of an Archive here in Galiwin’ku and for a documentary on Soft Sands (and other pioneering bands of the era.) Any assistance concerning this event would be greatly appreciated and if any one has any information please feel free to contact me on my email- Thankyou