The Mexicans and the Navajo

Mexicans and  Navajo History 1821 – 1848

Mexico declared independence from Spain.
Treaty of Cordova between Spain and Mexico dated August 24, 1821, and in the Mexican Declaration of Independence, proclaimed September 28, 1821. The capital was kept in of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

 Santa Fe New Mexico 1848

Painting of the Mexican capital in  Santa Fe New Mexico 1846


The Mexicans became the bitterest enemies of the Navajo. The former were the mixed-blood descendants of the Spanish and the Indians. Spanish and American accounts report with horror the slaughter by Mexicans of Navajo who came peacefully to trade, or the slaughter of innocent Mexican traders by the Navajo. No matter what the case, a war of reprisal was necessary–either to steal what had been left behind, or to avenge murder.

The Mexicans were forced to abandon several cities because of the Navajo attacks; and generally it was conceded that the Navajo were better warriors than the Mexicans. Eaton (1854), an American officer, sorely maintained that the Navajo were not good warriors, but that they seemed so because the Mexicans were cowards. The Mexicans called the Navajo their slaves, and scornfully declared that they furnished them (the Mexicans) with good weavers, whom they could sell to the Spanish at a high price. The Navajo stole the Mexicans’ sheep, but refrained from completely annihilating the enemy because, so they said, they wished to leave a few as shepherds to raise more flocks for the Dene.

The Navajo stole hundreds of slaves from the Mexicans and the native tribes. In turn they also lost some of their tribesmen to Mexican raiders. Intelligent and industrious Navajo women who knew how to weave were highly prized. A beautiful and healthy girl of eight was sold for as high as $400 worth of horses and goods. Poor people frequently sold orphans or their own children for a horse or an ox. It was once estimated that there were from 2000 to 3000 Navajo working as slaves in Spanish or American families (Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Report of 1867:325 ff.). Children born to the Navajo women who were Spanish slaves had the rights of citizens and free men.

The Navajo treated their slaves well, although there was no hesitation in killing them when ritual duties required the sacrifice. Two slaves were given the duty of preparing and burying a corpse, after which they were killed on the grave. Slaves were sometimes adopted into a family; they married Navajo, and their descendants might form a new clan. That “slave” clans existed, the Navajo admit, but no one will acknowledge that his clan was founded by captives. (Reichard, 1928:15; Ethnologic Dictionary, 1910:424).

1846 June 21 – The “Army of the West” consisting of 1648 men and commanded by Colonel Stephen Watts Kearny, was mobilized of regulars and volunteers at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and departed that place on this date for Santa Fe where, in a bloodless coup, New Mexico, then in possession of Mexico, came under the dominion of the United States. Included in the army were Colonel Alexander William Doniphan and Major Edward Vose Sumner, figures later prominent in the destiny of the Navajos.
Aug 15 – At Las Vegas, Kearny addressed the populace from one of the housetops, saying, in part: “ … I have come amongst you by orders of my government, to take possession of your country, … Henceforth I absolve you from all allegiance to the Mexican government, and from all obedience to General Armijo. He is no longer your Governor; … I am your Governor …

Aug 18 – Kearny and his Army of the West entered Santa Fe at 6 p.m., occupying the capital of New Mexico without “ … firing a gun or shedding a drop of blood”

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
The peace treaty signed in 1848 in Guadalupe Hidalgo between the U.S. and Mexico that ended the Mexican–American War .
It gave the United States the Rio Grande boundary for Texas, and gave the U.S. ownership of California, and a large area comprising New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Wyoming and Colorado.

First Contact with the Navajo – 1540

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.

Coronado Expedition Map

Coronado Expedition Map

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.

Francisco Coronado

Francisco Coronado

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.

A Native American (Navajo) Family

A Native American (Navajo) Family

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.

Navajo Camp

Navajo Camp

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