The Spanish and the Navajo

History of the Spanish and the Navajo

The first account in history of the Spaniards arrival in the Southwest dates back to 1540 when Coronado and his expedition came in search of gold and riches. Unsuccessful, they returned to Spain empty handed.


The Spaniards succeeding visit to the Southwest had other intentions. They wanted to resettle, indoctrinate and civilize the Indians by converting them to Catholicism. Through their efforts they wanted to teach the Indians a better way of life.

The Spaniards did, indeed, meet one objective. They took the best farm lands and resettled in Indian territory. Their second objective failed. Although Missions were established and Indians did attend services, they were not converted to Catholicism. The third objective was met to an extent. The Indians absorbed the Spanish culture and. used it to their,advantage, but they did not let the Spaniards influence their beliefs and philosophy of life.

Spanish and the Navajo

When the Spaniards arrived in the Southwest, they brought with them domestic animals such as cows, horses, and sheep. They also brought with them guns and tools, which were all new to the Indians.

The presence and depredations of the Spaniards were to totally change the world of the Navajos. Within ten years after the arrival of the Spanish colonists in 1598 the Navajos had obtained sheep, cattle and horses from pueblo Indians who escaped from the Spaniards, taking the cattle, horses and sheep they were tending with them, and sought refuge among the Navajos.

The first impression the Indian had of the Spaniards was ‘that they were Gods.
Later, their impression changed dramatically when the Spaniards settled on their best farm lands and left their families homeless, and used Indians as slaves and servants. Those who served as slaves learned many of the Spani~h ways.
They learned how to build’ adobe homes using molds . They learned to grind wheat to make bread, as well as how to ride horses and care for domestic animals. At the same time the Spaniards learned from the Indians. They were introduced to foods made from corn and corn meal.

This went on for many years and the Indians grew weary. They resented the Spanish invaders. They wanted them out of their territory. They no longer wanted any part of them. So in 1680, all the Indian tribes acted together to drive the Spaniards out; and this they did.

After 1700 the Spanish found the Navajo to be an ever growing scourge because of their raids and alliances. The tribe always managed to be at peace with some tribes, while it fought and raided others. They feared only the Utes, who had learned war in the Plains area. Once the Plains tribes acquired the horse, they developed Indian warfare into an art. The annual efforts of the Spanish to break up alliances and outwit the Navajo are reported in the letters of the Spanish governor de Anza, 1777-87. (Thomas, 1932). These efforts were fruitlessly continued until, in 1846, the United States relieved the Spanish of the Southwest and their Navajo problem.

By the end of the 1700’s the Navajos had drifted farther west into the Canyon de Chelly area. New settlements were established. By 1776, the region lying between the Rio Grande Pueblos and the Hopi village was known to the Spaniards as “Providence of the Navajos” and a new way of life for the Navajos began.

By this time, the Navajos had acquired thousands of sheep and horses they were more mobile and they could farm to a greater extent and their tribe was growing in number.

In 1800, Antonio Pinto died. He was a Navajo leader who was Instrumental to some extent in keeping the peace between the Spaniards and Navajo. After his death the Navajos relied heavily on raiding the villages of New Mexico for sheep and horses. The Spaniards raided for the purpose of acquiring captives as laborers and household, servants, and by this time hundreds of Navajo women and children were living in Spanish homes as servants.

Hostilities grew deeper and deeper and the Navajos rebelled by not only raiding the Spanish settlements, but other Indian tribe settlements as well. The other Indian tribes appealed to the Spaniards for help and in 1818 a treaty was signed by one band of Navajos·whom the Spaniards had defeated once before.

The Treaty failed because once again there was no one leader for all the Navajo clans. Raiding continued for several more years. The Navajo way of life was greatly influenced by the Spaniards during this period.

Navajos remained free from all military, political, and ecclesiastical control. They continued to acquire items of Spanish material culture through their systematic harassment of the settled Spanish and Pueblo villages but their social and political organization remained unchanged.

More about Navajo History:


Navajo family in Monument Valley 1960’s

Navajo family sitting on ground by tree. Monument Valley, 1960's.

Description Navajo family sitting on ground by tree. Monument Valley, 1960’s.

Subject American Indians (Native Americans: Navajos
Geopolitical place Navajo Indian Reservation
Rights management Digital Image © 2008 Utah State Historical Society. All Rights Reserved.
Source donors Utah Petroleum Council
Photo Number No. 14431

The Four Navajo Sacred Mountains

Mount Blanca (Tsisnaasjini’ – Dawn or White Shell Mountain – East
Mount Taylor (Tsoodzil – Blue Bead or Turquoise Mountain) – South
San Francisco Peaks (Doko’oosliid – Abalone Shell Mountain) – West
Mount Hesperus Dibé Nitsaa (Big Mountain Sheep) – Obsidian Mountain – North

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