The Americans and the Navajo

1848 – 1868  Americans and the Navajo

Mexico and the United States of America signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on February 2, 1848 ending the Mexican War. Mexico, having lost the war, was forced to give up half of its homeland that included Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California.

Navajo Chief Manuelito with his brother Chief Cayetanito

Navajo Chief Manuelito with his brother Chief Cayetanito 1865

The Navajo homeland was part of this vast trade of land. Navajos now come under the hands of the U.S. government instead of a distance Mexican authority

The Diné people, had previously been under a distant Mexican authority. Now they were forced to negotiate with the American authorities for their own land and water, as the U.S. Army’s horses and mules were using the Navajos’ best water sources and grazing lands.

After the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, the U.S. government took over lands in New Mexico and faced the problem of making peace with the Navajos. Raiding had become a way of life for the Navajos. The raiding which the Navajos carried out against the Pueblo and Mexican villages was done for dependent food needs, material goods and captives to sell, or use as slaves. The killing of Pueblos or Mexicans except in some instances of revenge, was entirely incidental acquiring goods and animals.

The U.S. government sent General William Kearney to Indian country to try to settle the disputes and raidings. He found the various ‘Pueblos from Taos to’ Zuni as well as the Mexican people.anxious to all themselves with the White Americans for a vigorous war against the Navajos. The General did not want war.

He thought the Navajos were a united tribe and went out to have the Navajo leaders sign a peace treaty.  Treaties were signed but not carried out for the few leaders, such as Zarcilla Largo, and Narbona who did sign, did not have power over. the whole Navajo nation.

Earlier treaties had been signed with the Ute Indians to the north of Navajo country and these were kept, allying the Utes with the White Americans. Raids by various Navajo clans continued in much the same way as before the treaty. During the next three years, five military expeditions were launched into Navajo country to control Navajo raiding. These expeditions were often guided by “enemy” Navajos, Utes, Zunis and other Pueblos. These expeditions were not successful and the raiding In 1849, at the mouth of Canyon De Chelly, Colonel Washington I, found three Navajo leaders who’ were again willing to talk peace.

And at Chinle another treaty was signed. Although· this treaty was ratified by the United States Congress it too, was not honored. and raids continued as before. The war department and the Territory of New Mexico together decided that the Navajo raids could not be settled with treaties and that direct forcible control of the Navajos would have to be undertaken.

A military post of four companies of cavalry, one of artillery, and two of infantry was established. The site ,in the heart of Navajo country but west or the area of the heaviest concentration of Navajos, and later came to be called’ Fort Defiance.

The Navajos’ regarded this as an invasion of their country but at first they offered to direct resistance to the companies of soldiers permanently stationed at the Fort Indian agents were sent into Navajos country by the Department of the Interior. The first worked out of Jemez, but,in 1853, the second one established himself at Sheep Springs northwest of Fort Defiance, and went to work to persuade Navajo leaders to be peaceful.

He had great success with Zarcilla Largo who continued to, be a power among many Navajos. Another Indian agent, Henry Linn Dodge, brought a Blacksmith to his agency and began teaching the navajo how to work with metal.

Dodges personal, efforts with’ Navajo Leaders resulted in a period of peace. In 1850′ Dodge was killed by Apaches on a trip to the South and trouble developed between ,men of the Army post and Navajos in the area.

In 1858, the Post commander regulated a large area of grazing land solely for the use of any horses. Navajo sheep and horses were’ now excluded from what had long been an important pasture. To enforce the regulation, which the Navajos regarded as a ruthless appropriation of land, Navajo horses and sheep found on the pasture were shot. This cause more hostile feelings among the, Navajo.s and a Negro slave belonging to the post commander was, killed in retaliation.

Zarcilla Largo, who was regarded by the soldiers as a “head chief” of the Navajos, was ordered to give up the murderer. He tried to settle the ‘matter in accordance with Navajo custom, by paying blood money but this was refused, and the post commander set out to punish the Navajos for not complying with-his order.

During the negotiations Sarcillos Largos, a “young chief, of great sagacity and boldness, stood up and replied to the American Commander (Doniphan) said: ‘Americans! You have a strange cause of war against the Navajos. We have waged war against the New Mexicans for several years. We have plundered their villages and killed many of their people, and made many prisoners. We had just cause for all this. You have lately commenced a war against the same people. You are powerful. You have great guns and many brave soldiers. You have therefore conquered them, the very thing we have been attempting to do for so many years. You now turn upon us for attempting to do what you have done yourselves. We cannot see why you have cause of quarrel with us for fighting the New Mexicans on the west while you do the same thing on the east. Look how matters stand. This is our war. We have more right to complain of you for interfering in our war, than you have to quarrel with us for continuing a war we had begun long before you got here. If you will act justly, you will allow us to settle our own differences’.”

Three successive expeditions marched against the Navajos with no results except the killing of a few peaceful Indians. Finally, another treaty was signed by a group headed by a man called Herrero. The White Americans appointed him head leader in place of Largo. This treaty as the others, had no effect, and throughout the year 1859, the soldiers continued their campaign to stop Navajo raids:

The expeditions covered the whole territory lived in by Navajos, from Zuni northward to the San Juan River and from Mount Taylor westward to Marsh Pass. Navajos were impressed with the fact that the White Americans had enlisted the aid of all neighboring Indians, enemy Navajos, Utes, ,Zunis, Hopis and other Pueblos, to act as scouts for them but no surrenders were made by Navajos and raids continued. Despite the show of White American ” strength, the reaction of the majority of the Navajos was not to sue for peace,but rather to drive the Americans out of their country.

Invasion of the Navajo territory at Fort Defiance was resented, and trouble with the troops there festered hatred. Navajos leaders, like Herrero and others who had once tried for peace, now joined forces for an attack on Fort ,Defiance. In April 1860, attack was made by the Navajo war leaders “and carried out with a force of more’ than two thousand warriors armed more with bows and arrows. The artillery of the soldiers proved to be too much for the Navajos and after a two hour battle many were badly injured or killed.

The attempt made by the Navajos to drive the White Americans out  of their territory ‘failed, and the raiding continued. After the attack on Fort Defiance, the raiding spread as far east as Santa Fe and as far south as Zuni, the renewed vigor of the raids led New Mexicans to organize for retaliation. In, a short time they took one hundred Navajo prisoners, mostly women and children as slaves. It was reported about this time that there were as many as five to six thousand Navajo slaves living with families in the New Mexico villages.

Although they were defeated at Fort Defiance, it began to appear to the Navajos that the White Americans were weakening. In 1861, the  Fort was abandoned and troops were withdrawn except for a small force at Fort Fauntleroy (later to: be known as Fort Wingate).

The U.S. Civil War was drawing the attention of the government elsewhere and for two years it appeared to ‘the Navajo War leaders that they were succeeding in their attempts to get rid of the White Americans.

However, as Union troops gained control of the New Mexico territory,ra determined effort was launched to keep open the lines of communication with the far west. This resulted in an order to destroy at all costs’ the Navajo threat to white settlers.

More 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