The Long Walk – The Navajo’s Trail of Tears
In the early 1860s, Americans of European descent began settling in and around Navajo lands, leading to conflict between the US and the Navajo. Believing that the Navajo were causing unrest in the area, Brig. Gen. James Carlton, commander of the Department of New Mexico announced his plan to relocate them to a desolate area close to Fort Sumner. His plan was to assimilate them to “white America”, by teaching them to farm, instructing them in Christian virtues and educating their children.

In 1863, he dispatched forces to Navajo lands to burn their crops, destroy their food supplies and their hogans (traditional Navajo homes), poison their water and kill their livestock. By late 1863, thousands of Navajo had been starved into submission and surrendered.

In 1864, the forced exile of thousands of Navajo from their homelands to an encampment in Bosque Redondo, in what is commonly known as the Long Walk of the Navajo began. The Long Walk was actually a series of marches over four different routes between Fort Defiance and Fort Sumner, ranging between 375 and 425 miles. The Navajo were never told were they were going and many wouldn’t survive the journey. Having been starved into submission many started the journey exhausted, malnourished and without proper clothing. The American army was not kind to them along the way, reportedly shooting them if they complained of being sick or tired, it’s also said that if a Navajo woman went into labour, she was shot and killed. Hundreds died on route.

The Navajo that made it to Bosque Redondo were held there at gunpoint by the US Army, 9,000 Navajo men, women and children cramped into an area just 104 km2. To make matters worse, there was not enough food for all of these people, their corn crops were plagued by armyworms, the Pecos River flooded, destroying irrigation systems, they were constantly raided by the Comanches and the brackish water of the Pecos caused intestinal problems and disease ran rampant. A census taken in May 1868 set the total population of Bosque Redondo at 7,304, meaning at least 2,000 Navajos died during what they refer to as this “fearing time”.

On June 1, 1868, the Treaty of Bosque Redondo was signed between the US Government and the Navajo people, granting them the right to return to their ancestral lands. The treaty included the creation of a reservation, restrictions of raiding, the implementation of a resident Indian Agent and agency, compulsory education for children, the supply of seeds, protected Navajo rights and compensation to tribe members. The Navajo were granted 3.5 million acres of land between their four sacred mountains, just a fraction of their former lands.
Nov 22, 2016
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