The Navajo Long Walk to Bosque Redondo

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Navajo Captivity at Bosque Redondo.

The Navajo Long Walk to Bosque Redondo was the first attempt to institutionalize the Native Americans to a land reservation by the United States government. Between the years of 1864 to 1866, the scattered Navajo tribes, situated in their ancestral homelands of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico, were forced to march a distance of over 400 miles on foot to Bosque Redondo, near Fort Sumner, New Mexico. In total, some 54 individual marches were conducted in an attempt to move the full Navajo population over this two year period.

It was the government in Washington that devised this relocation plan as a means to quell the continual hostilities between maundering bands of Navajos with American settlers and Army troops within the southwest. Instead of dealing with the issue at its source, i.e., realizing that the much of the conflict was driven by multiple broken peach treaties and injustice to the Navajos, the federal government believed the final solution was to resettle the entire tribe to a completely different part of the country - one that would also be presumably out of the way – from the teaming American settlers, migration to the west.

The first Long Walk marches were begun in the spring of 1984. Groups of Navajos were rounded up by the United States Army and driven over the arid desert region of the southwest. It was recorded that even if you were physically young and strong, the walk was daunting enough, especially considering the Army did not provide you with provisions, or sympathy along the way. If you were middle aged and older, the march was devastating. It is estimated that 200 Navajos died during the nearly 3-week long journey.

The reservation at Bosque Redondo, situated on the Pecos River in southern New Mexico was initially planned to handle 5,000 Navajos, but by the time the Long Walk marches were completed, the land was forced to contain nearly 10,000 resettled Navajos. In addition to the over populating the land, the natural environment also proved to be limiting. An infestation of insects, and seasonal flooding of the river, easily destroyed growing crops along the Pecos River, thus stifling any ability of the Navajos to live off of the land.

By 1868, the internment camp at Bosque Redondo was viewed as a failure. Initially thought of as the grand scheme for containing the Native Americans on set aside reservations, Washington relinquished in favor of the Navajo people to return to their ancestral homeland in eastern Arizona. On June 18th 1868, the Navajos set off again on the Long Walk home to their original lands, where 3.5 million acres were set aside for them within the boundaries of their four sacred mountains. Today, the Navajo reservation encompasses over 16 million acres.

As a testament to the will and strength of the Navajo people during the Long Walk and the hardships that were experienced during this period of time, Howard Gorman, a Navajo and historian summed it up by saying,

“As I have said, our ancestors were taken captive and driven to Hweeldi (the Navajo name for Bosque Redondo), for no reason at all. They were harmless people, and even to date, we are the same, holding no harm to anybody. Many Navajos who know our history and storuy of Hweeldi say the same.”

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