Navajo History

Navajo History – Long before the theory of the ‘land bridge from Asia to North America across the Bering Strait’, Navajo elders told their own story about their own origin. The Navajo (DINE’) creation is the story of their origin through a series of emergences through a series of different colored worlds.

Accounts vary as to the exact number and colors of the worlds, for example, black, then blue, then yellow, then glittering, all of which lead up to their final emergence in the present world.

Although raiders and plunderers since known to history, the Navaho cannot be designated a warring tribe, for however courageous they may be, their lack of political integrity has ever been an obstacle to military organization. They never have had a tribal chief, properly so called, while their many leading men could never command more than a small following.

Manuelito, who was acclaimed head-chief in 1855 at the conference with Governor Meriwether for the purpose of negotiating a treaty, probably had a greater following than any other Navaho in historic times, but he could never have relied on a majority of the warriors of his widely scattered tribe.

Although divided into many bands, like the Apache, the Navaho, unlike them, were not engaged in ceaseless depredation, their sporadic raids having been conducted by small parties quite independent of any organized tribal movement. They preferred rather to follow a pastoral life.

With their large population, had they possessed the Apache’s insatiable desire for war and a political organization that permitted concerted action, the subjugation of the Southwest would have been far more difficult than it proved to be.

While the statement is made that the Navaho were never a warlike people, it must not be presumed that they never caused our Government trouble. Those familiar with the Navaho admire their energy, industry, independence, and cheerful disposition, and their ability to attack the problems of life in a way that no other wandering tribe has exercised.

Navajo History Timeline

Pre-Columbus· To 1491

  • 12,000-6,000 B.C.- Ice-Age Paleo-Indian hunters in Monument Valley Area
  • 6,000 B.C – 1 A.D. – Archaic hunter-gatherers in the Monument Valley Area
  • 1300 A.D. – The Anasazi Indians lived in the Monument Valley area before they disappeared. Archaeologists have recorded more than 100 ancient Anasazi sites and ruins dating before 1300 A.D.
  • 1100–1500 A.D. Distinctive Navajo culture emerges. Believed to have been born to Earth centuries earlier, a distinctive Navajo culture takes hold in the Four corners area of the Colorado Plateau.
  • 1300s A.D. San Juan Band Paiutes frequent the area as temporary hunters/gatherers
  • They name the Monument Valley area Valley or Treeless Area Amid the Rocks.

Spanish Era – 1492 – – 1820

  • 1581-1583 A.D. First Spanish contact with Navajos
  • 1774 A.D. Navajo drive Spanish settlers from eastern regions off their land
  • 1805 A.D. Massacre at Canyon de Chelly — Spanish soldiers kill more than 100 Navajo women, children, and elders hiding in a cave

Mexican Era –  1821 – 1847

  • 1851 A.D. U.S. Army established Fort Defiance near Window Rock

Navajo Wars· 1848 – 1868

  • 1863 A.D Scorched Earth Campaign conducted by Kit Carson against the Navajo. Captives are force-marched on the Long Walk to Fort Sumner, 350 miles east in New Mexico, and many died. One group, led by Hoskininni, fled from Monument Valley. Kit Carson, in pursuit, named Agathla Peak ¡§El Capitan¡¨ because of its imposing rock formation.
  • 1868 A.D. Treaty of Bosque Redondo creates a Navajo Reservation

Rez Beginning· 1869 – 1927

  • 1906 A.D. John and Louisa Wetherill start trading post at Oljato
  • 1921-1927 A.D. Navajo Tribal Council created — Navajo communities are organized into chapters
  • 1923 A.D.  Harry Goulding established a trading post, still in operation today

Stock-Reduction · 1928 – 1940

  • 1933 A.D. Roosevelt appointed a Commissioner of Indian Affairs, who advocated a system of livestock reduction to alleviate soil erosion problems, in conflict with the importance of livestock to the Navajo
  • 1935 A.D. Navajo reject the Indian Reorganization Act because it is identified with livestock reduction

Coming Out · 1941 – 1969

  • 1942-1945 A.D. Marine Navajo Code Talkers in World War II — Navajo Marines use their language as a battlefield code, which the enemy is unable to decipher
  • 1951 A.D. First woman elected to Navajo Tribal Council
  • 1961 A.D. The Navajo Tribal Museum established at Window Rock
  • 1968 A.D. Navajo Tribal Council declares the reservation the Navajo Nation, also adopts Navajo flag
  • 1968 A.D. Navajo Community College, the first Native-operated college, opens

Self-Determination · 1970 – Present

  • 1986 A.D. Navajo Tourism Department established
  • 1990 A.D. Due to Government reform, the first Navajo president elected was Peterson Zah
  • 2000 A.D. President Clinton approves Congressional Medals for World War II Code Talkers
  • 2008 A.D.  50th Anniversary of MVNTP
  • 2009 A.D.  First hotel opens within the MVNTP

With the Indian, as well as with civilized man, honesty may be interpreted in various ways. If one should leave his camp equipage unprotected in a tent, it would be entirely safe from all except the renegade, already recognized by his people as a thief. But if one should turn his back and later find that his horse had been run off by a Navaho in the hope of being rewarded for returning it, the tribesmen of the raider would regard him as one whose cunning should be emulated.

For a long period prior to the acquisition from Mexico of the territory now forming the northern portion of Arizona and New Mexico, which, since first known, has been occupied in part by the Navaho, the tribe had been in the habit of making raids on the New Mexican Indian pueblos and the white settlements along the Rio Grande, chiefly for the capture of livestock, although both Indians and Mexicans also were taken and enslaved. The Mexicans lost no opportunity to retaliate, with the result that scattered throughout their villages in the valley of the Rio Grande there were more captives of Navaho blood than there were Mexican prisoners among the Navaho tribe;

but in the matter of sheep, cattle, and horses, the Navaho were far ahead in the game of thievery, and even boasted that they could easily have exterminated the Mexicans had they not needed them as herders of their stolen flocks.

In consequence, bitter enmity early arose between the Mexicans and the Navaho, which reached its height about the time Col. Stephen W. Kearny took possession of the territory in behalf of the United States in 1846.

In the year named a military expedition was sent into the Navaho country for the purpose of making a treaty of peace and friendship with this marauding tribe; but this treaty, like several others that followed, was soon broken, and the raids continued as before.

In 1858 the troubles arising from the plunderings became especially severe and led to several other expeditions, but with little result. The problem became a serious one in 1861, when the Civil War necessitated the withdrawal of troops from the frontier, leaving the way open to the devastation of the country by the Navaho and Mescaleros, until General Carleton, who assumed command of the military forces in New Mexico in 1862, formulated a policy to thoroughly subdue the Navaho and to transfer them to the Bosque Redondo, on the Rio Pecos in New Mexico, where Fort Sumner had been established, and there hold them as prisoners of war until some other plan could be devised.

His plan was successfully carried out. By the spring of 1863 four hundred Mescaleros were under guard on the new reservation, and by the close of that year about two hundred Navaho prisoners had either been transferred thither or were on the way. Early in 1864 Col. Kit Carson led his volunteers to the Cañon de Chelly, the Navaho stronghold, where in a fight he succeeded in killing twenty-three, capturing thirty-four, and compelling two hundred to surrender.

The backbone of the hostility was now broken, and before the beginning of 1865 about seven thousand, later increased to 8491, were under military control within the new reservation. But the Bosque Redondo proved unhealthful and disappointing as a reservation, while its maintenance was costly to the Government.

A treaty was therefore made with the Navaho in 1868, one of the provisions of which was the purchase of fifteen thousand sheep to replenish their exterminated flocks. In July 7304 Navaho, the remainder having died or escaped, arrived at Fort Wingate on the way to their old home, where they have since lived in peace and prosperity.

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