Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Long Walk, the 450-mile journey the Diné (Navajo) took from Hwééldi (Fort Sumner) to the heart of the Navajo Nation, the area around Window Rock, Arizona. The Diné started their travels home after the signing of the Naaltsoos Sání–also known as the Treaty of Bosque Redondo and the Treaty of 1868–between the Navajo Nation and the United States, signed on June 1, 1868 at Ft. Sumner, New Mexico.
In 1863, soldiers in the United States Army rounded up 500 Mescalero Apache (the N’de) and ca. 10,000 Navajo and drove them across Arizona and New Mexico to the Bosque Redondo Reservation. There are many theorized reasons for the U.S. government to move the Navajo on to a reservation; one explanation is that the United States wanted the land and the Navajo and Apache were in the way. Whatever the reason, on the journey, one in four (or 20%, depending on your source) Navajo died of causes related to the conditions which the Navajo and Apache experienced. Many died of starvation, dehydration and exposure; family oral histories tell of elders and the ill being shot and dying along the way (Oral History Stories of the Long Walk, p. 35, 47, 87). Although the soldiers gave the Navajo food, they gave food then unfamiliar to the Navajo: bacon, coffee, white flour, which in many cases the Navajo did not know how to cook. The food made them ill, and sometimes killed them (Oral History, 47). When the Navajo and Apache were settled on Bosque Redondo, they tried to plant corn; however, thanks to droughts, poor irrigation systems and more than one infestation of worms, the crops failed repeatedly. There is no list of the names of the Navajo who died; there is only an estimate. (All the Mescalero Apache escaped Fort Sumner to the Sacramento Mountains.)
In 1868, the Navajo and Apache had endured five years of hard treatment; many Navajo escaped as quickly as they could throughout their five years at the reservation, despite the dangers of the attempt. The U.S. General James Carleton recognized that he “was unable to keep his promise to protect, feed and house them at Bosque Rodondo.” He was also criticized for the phenomenal costs of running the reservation and was eventually removed from his post. Dr. Jennifer Denetdale (Diné), historian, stated that the Navajo feared their removal to then-Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), and that Navajo women pushed for a treaty that stipulated the Navajo returned to their homeland. Barboncito, Manuelito, and Ganado Mucho took leadership roles in making the treaty with General William T. Sherman and Colonel Samuel F. Tappan, which was signed there on June 1, 1868. Soon after, on June 18, the Navajo began their long return on foot. The provision in the treaty that the Navajo send their children aged 6-16 to school is the stipulation mentioned most in all their oral histories, probably because it caused the greatest concern. Other key provisions were the requirement that the Navajo would not interfere with railroads crossing the country, and the establishment of the Navajo nation lands. In the end, though, the Navajo got to go home to their four sacred mountains.
As the 150th anniversary arrived, the Navajo Nation organized a run that retraced the long route home, held a ceremony to prepare for the arrival of the treaty, and, with the loan of the treaty from the National Archives, exhibited the document at the Navajo Nation Museum. This milestone occasion provides a good chance to look back and remember what they survived, to be proud of their ancestors’ strength and determination, and to look forward to a bright future. This is a good chance to educate our children as well. Many Navajo believe that this is a part of their history best not spoken of or remembered. The Navajo Vice President Jonathan Nez said: “A lot of our people are hesitant to talk about this because there was pain and suffering, but there’s a larger story here, a different perspective we need to think about. As Navajos, we want to know who we are.” The Navajo Nation Museum has the theme of the anniversary commemoration printed across a banner: “Perpetuate Diné way of life through resilience.”
If you’d like to study the treaty and think about that different perspective, take a look at the Library’s copy of the treaty, pictured here. The Law Library also has a reprint copy. Listed below the pictures is a short bibliography of historical accounts of the Long Walk. It’s a chapter in history that most Americans do not cover in school.
E99.N3 B744 2002 Bruchac, Joesph. Navajo long walk : the tragic story of a proud people’s forced march from their homeland.
E99.N3 N359 Navajo Stories of the Long Walk period. [Prepared under the supervision of Ruth Roessel.]
E99.N3 O73 1991 Oral history stories of the Long Walk = Hwéeldi Baa Hané / by the Diné of the Eastern Region of the Navajo Reservation ; stories collected and recorded by the Title VII Bilingual Staff.
E99.N3 P374 2005 Parsons-Yazzie, Evangeline. Dzání yázhí naazbaa ̉= Little Woman Warrior Who Came Home : a story of the Navajo Long Walk .