158 years on from the Long Walk of the Navajo, the wounds of the past are not forgotten
In the spring of 1864, thousands of Navajo People were removed from their homelands and forced onto The Long Walk. The four-year internment they would face at the conclusion of the walk marked the darkest period of Navajo history and the beginning of a generational trauma that echoes into the present-day.
Pictured above: Diné women and children gathered at Bosque Redondo 1864-1868. Photograph from the Collection of John Gaw Meem. Credits to the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives and the National Museum of the American Indian.
While the decade preceding the 1860s had been characterized by war in the Southwest between encroaching US forces and Navajo (Diné) warriors, military incursions into Navajo lands increased amidst the Civil War. In 1863, then-territorial governor of New Mexico General James H. Carleton ordered a military campaign to drive the Navajo out of their traditional lands. Overseeing this campaign was Colonel Kit Carson and his 1st New Mexico Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, who invaded the Canyon de Chelly in Diné lands on January 12th, 1864. The troops set fire to hundreds of acres of trees, crops, and hogans (traditional Navajo dwellings), slaughtered livestock, poisoned water wells, and killed Diné men, women, and children as they swept through the Canyon.
With little choice, thousands of Navajo living in the region were forced to surrender to Carson and his regiment and walk to the Bosque Redondo Reservation, located hundreds of miles away in New Mexico. Throughout the spring of 1864, large groups of Navajo continued to be sent against their will to Bosque Redondo, referred to in the Navajo language as Hwéeldi. Hundreds died of exposure, murder by US forces, and other causes during the journey, which came to be known as the Long Walk of the Navajo.
Pictured: A US Army guard stands armed over a group of Navajo imprisoned at Bosque Redondo, 1864-1868. Photo credits to the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.
Those who had been forced onto the Long Walk were held at a prison camp on the Bosque Redondo Reservation from 1864 to 1868 by US soldiers. Conditions on the reservation were dire for the Diné and the hundreds of Mescalero Apache whom had also been forced into the camp- almost a third of the over 8,000 Navajo held there had died before the tribe was able to return to their homelands in 1868. According to Navajo oral tradition, it was the Diné women at Bosque Redondo who were able to convince camp commissioners to allow their people to return home.
Pictured: The Bosque Redondo Memorial at Fort Sumner, New Mexico. The architecture of the building was inspired by Apache tipis and Navajo hogans. Photo credits to Friends of the Bosque Redondo Memorial.
Though 158 years have passed since the start of the Long Walk, its impact persists for Navajo people. Researchers have explained that the challenges of poverty, addiction, and mental health crises faced by Diné communities today are rooted in the generational trauma of the Long Walk. But in spite of these challenges and the painful memory of the Bosque Redondo era, the legacy of the Long Walk also calls to mind the resilience of the Navajo people as they stood strong against the attempted eradication of their land, their culture, and their lives.
Additional resources on the Long Walk of the Navajo, the Bosque Redondo era, and the modern-day impact of the Long Walk listed below.
On the history of the wars leading up to the removal of the Navajo from their traditional lands, the Long Walk, and the Bosque Redondo era:
A brief history of the Long Walk from Partnership with Native Americans (PWNA):
“Long Walk: Tears of the Navajo” a documentary from PBS Utah and the Bosque Redondo Memorial:
Virtual exhibits from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian on the Long Walk and the Bosque Redondo Reservation: https://americanindian.si.edu/nk360/navajo/long-walk/long-walk.cshtml
“The Navajo Nation's Own Trail Of Tears” from NPR:
On the legacy of the Long Walk and the resilience of the Navajo Nation today:
“Impact of the Long Walk Still Felt 150 Years Later” from Arizona Public Radio:
“150 Years After the Long Walk” from New Mexico Magazine:
“The Navajo Nation Treaty of 1868 Lives On at the American Indian Museum” from Smithsonian Magazine:
“Hwéeldi at 150” from the Navajo Times: https://navajotimes.com/reznews/hweeldi-150/
This blog post is a part of our Reconciliation through Education series. To learn more about this and other issues related to the Tipi Raisers mission, email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up for our newsletter.
Sources for this blog post include: Resources on this topic from the National Museum of the American Indian, Indian Country Today, NPR, Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA), Arizona Public Radio, Smithsonian Magazine, New Mexico Magazine, the Navajo Times, and the Encyclopedia of Indian Wars: Western Battles and Skirmishes, 1850-1890 by Gregory Michno.
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