Kristy McCaffrey writes contemporary and award-winning historical western romances. She likes the peculiar, the fascinating, and the scientific; animals and the outdoors; her husband and children; history, symbols, and mythology. Grab a cup of tea and hang out by the fireside. Let's travel together.
Thursday, March 31, 2016
The Navajo: The Long Walk
By Kristy McCaffrey
The "Long Walk" was the incarceration of the
Navajo Indians at Bosque Redondo—near Ft. Sumner in New Mexico Territory—from
1864 to 1868, after which they were released and allowed to return to their
lands in northern Arizona Territory.
James H. Carleton
In 1862, Colonel James H. Carleton asserted the authority of
the Federal government within the Arizona territory. He designated himself
military governor, contending that Arizona was in a chaotic state with no civil
officers to protect life and property. He acted swiftly and harshly against
Confederate sympathizers as well as desperadoes. Soon promoted to Brigadier
General, Carleton spent the next four years attempting to subdue the Indians of
New Mexico and Arizona. Practicing a policy of extermination, he felt that the
lines of communication to the increasingly valuable west coast needed to remain
open. This mostly affected the Apache Indians in southern Arizona.
Because of the treachery of both the military and the
Apache, no one could be trusted, and extermination and ejection from the land
was practiced on both sides.
During this time, the Navajo became more aggressive. Due to
troop removal to aid the Civil War in the east, they believed they were
defeating the white man. In 1863, Colonel Kit Carson was appointed by General
Carleton to organize an expedition against them. Carleton notified the Indians
that they had until July 20, 1863, to surrender and go to the Bosque Redondo
Reservation in New Mexico. If they refused, every Navajo male capable of
bearing arms was to be killed. The Navajo didn't take the threat seriously.
With 700 troops at his command—along with Ute Indian scouts
who were eager to fight and were highly effective in tracking the Navajo, whom
they considered their enemy—they managed to kill or force into surrender all
Navajo outside of their stronghold, Canyon de Chelly. A small number managed to
escape and flee south. All means of livelihood for the Navajo were destroyed—cornfields
torn up and thousands of sheep slaughtered and left to rot in piles. Carson
managed to break the spirit of the Navajo. So began "the Long Walk."
The Long Walk wasn't a single event. From 1863 until 1866,
well over 50 treks took place from northern Arizona to Fort Sumner in New
Mexico. Sometimes there were just a handful of individuals, other times there
were hundreds. The trip took several different routes, beginning in the Fort
Wingate area (New Mexico), heading toward Albuquerque, and then branching south
to the Bosque. If the Navajo survived the journey, they faced utter desolation
at the Bosque. It was flat, barren, and the nearby water in the river alkaline.
They were incarcerated with Mescalero Apaches, an old enemy,
leading to inevitable clashes. They also suffered repeated attacks from the Comanche.
The soil was unproductive and couldn't support them, forcing the government to
provide them with rations. A smallpox epidemic further demoralized the Navajo
in 1865, costing more than 2,000 lives.
In a rare move, the War Department concluded that the Navajo
could not be self-sustaining on the Bosque. In 1868, the Navajo were permitted
to return to a defined portion of their homeland, and they were provided with
liberal federal assistance to help them gain their footing again.
The Long Walk inflicted enormous suffering and trauma on the
Navajo, and is still spoken of today. But it also focused the spirit,
dedication, and loyalty that the Navajo have to their lands and their culture.
Today, they are the largest federally recognized Native American tribe in the