Navajo Long Walk to Bosque Redondo

The procession from Fort defiance in Navajo land to Fort Sumner 300 miles away, began on March 6, 1864, with 2400 Navajos.

They had walked every mile of the way enduring the freezing temperatures hunger and other scornful jeers of the soldiers as well as death that accompanied them as they traveled.

Navajo Women and Men at Fort Defiance

Navajo Women and Men at Fort Defiance 1873 – National Archives

Every step they took send them for they traveled farther and farther away from their beautiful homeland. A homeland that was no longer theirs.
They cross the Rio Grande River on to unfamiliar surroundings where the mountains in the canyons in the beautiful rock formation like those they were accustomed to seeing in their country were nonexistent.

The Navajos were be willed or at this and it only made them feel the great loss of their beautiful homeland even deeper. During their journey to their cruel destination at Fort Sumner 197 Navajos lost their lives.

Indian captives at Issue House, Bosque Redondo Era, Fort Sumner, New Mexico-001

Indian captives at Issue House, Bosque Redondo Era, Fort Sumner, New Mexico

On March 20 of the same year 800 more Navajos began the same long journey to Fort Sumner, leaving their beloved homeland behind. Most of them women, old men and children suffered the severe snowstorms the freezing temperatures in the hunger.

On this and succeeding journeys many Navajos parodist of cold hunger and illness.

Eventually 8000 Navajos arrived and were captives at Fort Sumner.

 Counting Navajos at Bosque Redondo

Counting Navajos at Bosque Redondo

The US government had hoped that in a new home far from the enemies the Navajos could give up their belligerent ways and could begin a new way of life as farmers. The government also had high hopes of educating the Navajo people.

Few preliminary plans were made by the US government to initiate their goals. There was much disorganization and uncertainty in knowing what to do with the Navajos. Once they arrived at Fort Sumner.

Many unforeseen problems developed. There are not enough tents, blankets or food to go around. Many Navajos had to dig small holes in the ground and had to look for what ever materials they could find to build roof over a whole used as a protection.

The area around Fort Sumner was desolate dry and flat and it had little water or natural resources. Navajo men had to walk 12 to 15 miles just to find where they needed for cooking and heat. Drought, rodents and poor irrigation systems contributed to the loss of crop.

Although the government issued rations and other supplies these were not enough many Navajos were freezing and starving to death. After the short time the Navajos became weary, distraught and felt hopeless. They were sure evil spirits were causing their misfortune. Medicine men refused to hold ceremonies.

Maneulito family at Bosque Redondo,Fort Sumner

Maneulito family at Bosque Redondo,Fort Sumner

They felt that the gods of Navajo land were far were too far away to hear them. The Navajos were just living from one day to the next. Not sure of the future destination. They lived this way for several years suffering hardships and bad luck became their way. The US government also grew weary for their supplies were dwindling. There was little food, water and less wood for cooking and heat.

Initial goals for the Navajos had dissolved. Their only concern at this point was to keep the Navajos alive on the bare necessities. They could give them. The idea for relocating the Navajos proved to be a poor one. A resolution had to be made.

After months calculation he discussed it among the US officers at Fort Sumner, a decision was made. The Navajos would be sent to Oklahoma. Their water would and good farmland was plentiful.

When the Navajos for of the plan they were very angry. They did not want to be sent away again. They wanted to go back home. Home to their beautiful lands. Home to their sacred gods who they could watch over them.

The US government took the Navajos feelings into consideration. They knew that if they force the Navajos to relocate again it would only open doors to more problems. Navajos would remain on the reservation by force and not by choice.

Once again the US officers consulted and discussed how to resolve the matter. After some time they had made a decision. The Navajos would be sent to their native homeland only if they agreed to keep the peace with their neighbors and not to oppose the building of the railroad.

They would have to send their children ages 6 to 16 to schools. The Americans in return would give the Navajos back the land described in the treaty along with tools and see small cash payments and stock. They also promised to protect the novel holes from the white and Indian enemies.
Reluctant at first to promise to conform to the white man rules the Navajos eventually agreed.

Navajo Treaty Singers

Treaties were signed by all the Navajo leaders on June 1, 1868.

The Navajos began their long journey homeward. However unlike the first journey they made this time there was joy, hope, anticipation and excitement in their hearts for this time there were going home.

In mid-June, a 10 mile caravan rolled away from Fort Sumner. The summer walk was very much different from the winter marches for and a half years before.

By the time the joyful Navajos reads Fort defiance their native homeland was a desert with no signs of likelihood. Despite all the terrible hardships of the 300 mile removal and the hard life at Fort summer the Navajos had arrived. Their way of life their religion and the Navajo traditions had not changed much during therefore not half years stay at Fort Sumner.

This question of their way of life would be an issue in years to come. White Americans would use the treaty to force the novel to Navajo children into classrooms where they would be taught to live the white American way. The Navajos would resist the change. The Navajos did not gain a sense of unity from their experiences at Fort Sumner. The tribe now shared a few things in common; an ugly memory of a difficult time the joy of returning home and a deep belief that they should now keep what was their.

Source:  We Shall Remain: Utah Indian Curriculum Guide