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.
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.
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.
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.
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