Navajo Attacks, Surrender and Reservations

In the first volume of this work, the expedition against the Navajos down to December 25th, 1858, when the last treaty was made with them, has been recited. There only remains now to give the history of the expeditions under the directions of General Canby and General Carleton by which the tribe was finally subdued.

In 1859, war again broke out, and in 1860, the Navajos attacked Fort Defiance. Finally General Canby made a long campaign against them, leading his troops in person. After General Canby’s campaign against the Navajos, when the soldiers were employed to repel the Texas invasion, the Navajos, as well as the Apaches, rode roughshod over the country. This was in the winter of 1861 and the spring and summer of 1862. The Navajos and Apaches in 1862, when General Canby was relieved by General Carleton, were united in war against the Americans.

General Carleton, in his testimony in 1865 before the Committee on investigation into Indian affairs, says:

“The Indian difficulties in New Mexico, since the treaty with New Mexico, have obliged the United States to keep in that territory a force whose average strength has been at least three thousand men, employees and all reckoned in. This covers a period of eighteen years. A large proportion of these troops have been cavalry, the most expensive arm in the military service, especially in New Mexico, where forage is very expensive. The horses required as remounts for this cavalry have to be brought across the plains from the States at great risk and expense. Sometimes large numbers have been stampeded en route and have never been heard from since. Many die before they reach this country. Those which arrive here it takes at least a year to acclimate, and after this the loss of horses by death, by being broken down, and lost on scouts, and killed in action, and stolen by Indians, is enormous, compared with losses of cavalry horses in any other country. The same holds true of mules, more numerous necessarily than cavalry horses, by reason of the extent of country over which supplies have to be hauled to subsist and clothe the troops.”

In reference to the peonage system, the General says:

“The number of Indians, men, women and children, who have been captured or bought from the Utes, and who live in the families of the Territory, may be safely set down as at least three thousand. So far as my observation has gone, the Mexicans treat them with great kindness. After a while they became conversant with the language, became attached to the families they live in, and very seldom care to run away. If they should attempt to run away, I believe they would be captured by the owners. They are held as servants; as ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water. ‘ These servants do not intermarry much with the Mexicans, just the women bear children from illicit intercourse. The offspring of this intercourse are considered peons. The Indians upon the reservation, if properly cared for by the military commander, run no risk of being stolen or attacked.”

The Navajos inhabited a wide expanse of country, portions of which, by nature, were almost impregnable to attacking forces. Their complete subjugation, their removal from their native haunts, and the gathering in of the tribe so that they could be placed upon a reservation, became an absolute necessity. With this object in view, General Carleton organized an expedition against them under Colonel “Kit” Carson.

It was composed of two thousand picked men from the Coloradans and Californians.

At that time the Navajo reservation was supposed to be very rich in minerals, and General Carleton suggested in one of his communications to the Government, that the opening up of this rich mineral country, would more than reimburse the Government for the expense attending it. In speaking of the Navajos, he says:

“They have no government to make treaties; they are a patriarchal people. One set of families may make promises but the other set will not heed them. They understand the direct application of force as a law; if its application be removed, that moment they become lawless. This has been tried over and over again, and at great expense. The purpose now is, never to relax the application of force with a people that can no more be trusted than the wolves that run through the mountains. To collect them together, little by little, on to a reservation, away from the haunts and hills and hiding places of their country; there to be kind to them; there teach their children how to read and write; teach them the arts of peace; teach them the truths of Christianity.”

The Navajos were given ample warning of General Carleton’s intention. He personally notified some of the chiefs, and sent messengers to others informing them that unless before the 20th day of July, 1863, they came in and surrendered, “after that day every Navajo that is seen will be considered hostile, and treated accordingly.”

A few Navajos accepted the proffered terms and against the others the troops were kept operating from Forts Stanton, Craig, Canby, Defiance and the post of Los Pinos. Prowling bands of Navajos appeared in all directions. They went everywhere in their expeditions. One band of one hundred and thirty warriors penetrated the Mescalero country, and, passing north, drove off cattle and sheep from the Bosque Redondo. They were pursued by a few troops and some Mescaleros, and the property was retaken, with other stolen goods. Orders were given to the soldiers everywhere to kill every male Navajo capable of bearing arms, wherever he might be found. Women and children were to be captured and held as prisoners. These orders were often repeated in their prosecution. The following, issued to Colonel Rigg, commanding at Fort Craig, on August 4, 1863, is a sample of the general instructions:

“I have been informed that there is a spring called Ojo de Cibolo, about fifteen miles west of Limitar, where the Navajos drive their stolen cattle and ‘ jerk’ the flesh at their leisure. Cannot you make arrangements for a party of resolute men from your command to be stationed there for say, thirty days, and kill every Navajo and Apache they can find? A cautious, wary commander, hiding his men and moving about at night, might kill off a good many Indians near that point.”

These orders were harsh, and, to the refined ear, may seem the very essence of cruelty and barbarism, but it was the only course to pursue in order to bring about a permanent peace with the Navajos. Separated in small bands, they were constantly on the move through a country with which they were thoroughly acquainted, and in this way they were able to avoid the soldiers for whom they kept a vigilant watch. After a few weeks of this desultory fighting, the soldiers were stimulated to a further activity by the offer of twenty dollars for each good horse turned over to the quartermaster’s department, and one dollar for each sheep.

Colonel Carson’s force was the principal one operating against the Navajos, he having taken the offensive from Fort Canby, but although he was known as the greatest Indian fighter of his time, his energy and activity never for a moment being questioned, yet, during the summer of 1863, the results attained were not important. Carleton consoled the Colonel with the hope that “As winter approaches you will have better luck.” But with the approach of winter the success of the expedition was not in accordance with the expectations, so it was decided to attack the Navajos in the Canyon de Chelly, which was their greatest stronghold. Colonel Carson was ordered to prepare for this movement, which was to be made in January, 1864. The Canyon de Chelly was the home of only a small portion of the tribe. There was not sufficient grass to support the flocks of a larger tribe, but it was a place remarkable from the fact that it was naturally impregnable. A general description of this Canyon at that time is to be found in Dunn’s “Massacres of the Mountains,” and is as follows:

“The Canyon de Chelly is one of the most remarkable works of nature in the United States.

The Rio Chelly may be found, not very accurately traced, on any fair sized map of Arizona in the northeastern corner of that territory. Its headwaters are in the Sierra Tunicha of Northwestern New Mexico, and it flows thence almost due west, for some thirty miles, then swings abruptly to the north, and empties into the Rio San Juan near the northern line of Arizona. The line of its western flow indicates the position of the Canyon, which extends throughout that district, the northward bend of the river being just beyond its mouth. The main canyon is counted as beginning at the union of three small streams, each of which has a canyon of its own. They are the Cienega Negra (Black Meadow) or Estrella (Star) on the southeast, the Palo Negro (Black Timber) or Chelly Creek, on the east, and the Cienega Juanica or Juanita, on the northwest. The most easterly entrance used by the Indians is near the head of Chelly Creek; by it, the bottom of that stream is reached above the junction of the others. It is not accessible for animals. The Cienega Negra enters it about three miles below the head of the Chelly proper, and the Juanica half a mile lower. At places above the entrance of the last named stream the chasm is so narrow that one might almost leap across it, but the beholder involuntarily recoils from the dizzy view of over one thousand feet of unbroken descent to the yellow floor beneath. About half a mile below the Juanica there is another descent, where the wall of the canyon, there only seven hundred feet high, is broken and sufficiently sloping to permit a zigzag descent to pack animals. Below this point the walls increase in height to fifteen hundred feet, and the width of the canyon from two hundred to three hundred and fifty yards. The next approach is by a side canyon that enters on the south side, about eleven miles below the Juanica; it is commonly known as Bat Canyon, but the Indians and the Mexicans call it Canyon Alsada, or Canyon of the High Rock, from a natural obelisk, one thousand feet high, with a base of one hundred and fifty feet, that rises majestically at the mouth of the Canyon, a hundred feet distant from the wall. This needle leans so much that it seems about to topple over. The Alsada entrance is the one commonly used in approaching from Fort Defiance, and the trail is cut deep in the sandstone by thousands of feet of men and animals that in past generations have followed it. The descent here is along ledges on the canyon wall, so narrow that animals are always driven ahead, for fear they may slip and carry the owner over. Occasionally, below this point, there are lateral openings in the canyon walls, but none of them extends more than a few hundred yards back, and there is no other entrance until about three miles above the mouth where the Canyon del Trigo (Wheat Canyon), enters from the north. Below the Trigo, the walls sink rapidly, and the canyon opens out into a rolling country, barren and unprepossessing.” Colonel Carson started from Fort Canby on January 6, 1864, with a force of three hundred and ninety officers and men for the mouth of the Canyon. Before starting, he sent Captain Pfeiffer, with one company, to operate from the eastern end. His command was three days marching from Fort Canby to the Pueblo Colorado on account of snow, a distance usually accomplished in one day. The supply train, which started on the 3rd, had taken five days to make this distance of twenty-five miles, and had lost twenty-seven oxen. He left a part of the train at the Pueblo Colorado, and pushed on to the Canyon, which he reached on the 12th, about six miles above the mouth. On the night of the 11th, Sergeant Andres Herrara, with fifty men, was sent out upon a scouting expedition. The following morning, this party found a fresh trail, and, following it rapidly, overtook the Indians just as they were entering the Canyon. They killed eleven, captured two women and two children, with one hundred and thirty sheep and goats. On the 13th, Carson divided his force into two commands, one, under Captain Barney, was sent up the north side of the canyon, and the other, under Captain Carey, accompanied by Carson himself, moved up the south side with a view to ascertaining the topography of the country, and the position of the Navajo if they had undertaken to make a stand. The latter party captured five wounded Indians at the scene of Herrara’s fight. On the 14th they returned to the mouth of the canyon and found Pfeiffer there he having marched successfully through the canyon without any casualty to his command. He had killed three Indians and brought in nineteen women and children.

Three Indians, under a flag of truce, entered Carson’s camp and asked if they might come in with their families and surrender. They were told that they could provided they came in before ten o’clock the next morning, but not later. About sixty came in by the appointed time and acceded to the terms of surrender and removal to the Bosque. Carson says: “They declared that, owing to the operations of my command, they are in a complete state of starvation, and that many of their women and children have already died from this cause. They also stated that they would have come in long ago, but that they believed it was a war of extermination, and that they were equally surprised and delighted to learn the contrary from an old captive whom I had sent back to them for the purpose. I issued them some meat, and as they asked permission to return to their haunts and collect the remainder of their people, I directed them to meet me at this post (Fort Canby) in ten days. They have all arrived here according to promise, and many of them, with others, joining and travelling in with Captain Carey’s command. This command of seventy-five men I conferred upon Captain Carey at his own request, he being desirous of passing through this stupendous canyon. I sent the party to return through the Canyon from west to east, that all the peach orchards, of which there are many, might be destroyed, as well as the dwellings of the Indians.” About three thousand peach trees were destroyed in the canyon; and one hundred and ten Navajos came in with Carey’s command. On January 23rd, Colonel Carson reported the results of the expedition as follows: “Killed 23; captured 34; voluntarily surrendered 200; captured 200 head of sheep.”

In his report of January 23rd, 1864, of this expedition Carson says:

“But it is to the ulterior effects of the expedition that I look for the greatest results. We have shown the Indians that in no place, however formidable or inaccessible in their opinion, are they safe from the pursuit of the troops of this command, and have convinced a large portion of them that the struggle on their part is a hopeless one. We have also demonstrated that the intentions of the government towards them are eminently humane, and dictated by an earnest desire to promote their welfare; that the principle is not to destroy but to save them, if they are disposed to be saved. When all this is understood by the Navajos, generally, as it soon will be, and when they become convinced that destruction will follow on resistance, they will gladly avail themselves of the opportunities afforded them of peace and plenty under the fostering care of the government, as do all those now with whom I have had any means of communicating. They are arriving almost hourly, and will, I believe, continue to arrive until the last Indian in this section of the country is en route to the Bosque Redondo.”

Carson’s prediction was verified by subsequent events. The Navajos surrendered so fast that General Carleton’s resources were taxed to the utmost to support them. By February 20th, seven hundred and fifty had surrendered at Los Pinos, and been forwarded to the Bosque. On February 24th, sixteen hundred and fifty surrendered at Fort Canby, and on the same date thirteen hundred more were reported from Los Pinos. By March 11th fifteen hundred more had come in at Fort Canby, and General Carleton notified Carson that he could not take care of more than one additional thousand. By July 8th there were six thousand three hundred and twenty-one at the Bosque, and a thousand more at Fort Canby. The war was evidently ended; Fort Canby was ordered abandoned in August and the troops were sent into Arizona.

The number of Navajos had been underestimated by General Carleton. Carson maintained that there were at least twelve thousand, and, according to subsequent statistics, he was right, but Carleton insisted that there were not more than eight thousand. The greatest number ever at the Bosque Redondo was between nine and ten thousand. The remainder of the nation lurked in their old haunts or fell back to the desert regions of Arizona and Utah to avoid the troops. New Mexico offered to relieve the Government of a portion of the heavy expense of caring for the exiled Navajos by a system of binding out, but the offer was declined and the Navajos were all sent to the Bosque where, at that time, were also gathered a number of Mescalero Apaches. These two tribes had been enemies; their customs differed; the Mescaleros were bolder warriors, but were far inferior in numbers. Tribal jealousies were aggravated by petty aggressions and hectoring. The Apaches accused the Navajos of trampling down their crops, and otherwise annoying them. The reservation authorities made the matter worse by removing the Mescaleros from the land they had been cultivating, and giving it to the Navajos. The Mescaleros then claimed the fulfillment of the promise to them of a reservation in their own country, and when this was refused, they went without permission, and began hostilities. The fitness of the Bosque Redondo for these Indians has been a subject of great controversy.

“Agriculture at the Bosque did not result successfully; the crops usually promised well enough, but something always spoiled them. One time it was drought, another cut worms, another bad irrigation or overflows, or hail storms. The Indians were, of necessity, a great expense to the government. The cost of feeding them for seven months, March to September, inclusive, in 1865, was $452,356.98. The cost for the year previous to this time averaged higher than this, but the exact figures cannot be given, on account of the large amount of stores transferred from other departments and not reported as to value. All this time it was well known that they could support themselves in their own country. The principal cause of their helplessness in their new home was that they were a pastoral, not an agricultural people. In their own country their chief food is goats’ milk and the roots of certain herbs of wild growth. Their flocks had been largely destroyed during the war. Tradition puts the number of sheep killed by soldiers at fifty thousand, but the Navajos say that the Utes and Mexicans stole the greater part of them. The Bosque did not afford grazing facilities for the sheep and goats they still had, and these gradually decreased in number. It has been proven since then that they can and will take care of themselves, very easily, if they can get ample pasturage; and unless stock raising is to be considered a less civilized pursuit than agriculture, there is no reason why any forcible attempt should be made to change the natural bent of their industrial instincts.

“The head of the opposition to the Bosque was Dr. Matthew Steck, a well known settler in New Mexico, at that time Superintendent of Indian Affairs. He favored giving the Mescaleros a reservation in their own country, as had been promised them, and opposed the removal of the Navajos to the Bosque. He advocated his views in New Mexico, and when he found he could do nothing there, he went to Washington to secure the same ends. Carleton complained bitterly of this attempted interference with his plans, and insisted upon the enforcement of the ultra-human policy; that is, on compelling the Indians to do what the white man in authority – in this case himself – may think to be best for them. He said: ‘Dr. Steck wants to hold councils with the Navajos! It is mockery to hold councils with a people who are in our hands, and have only to await our decision. It will be bad policy to hold any councils. We should give them what they need, what is just, and take care of them as children until they can take care of themselves. The Navajos should never leave the Bosque, and never shall if I can prevent it. I told them that that should be their home. They have gone there with that understanding. There is land enough there for themselves and the Apaches. The Navajos themselves are Apaches, and talk the same language, and in a few years will be homogeneous with them. “He was proven to be mistaken as to the two tribes becoming homogeneous; whether he was wrong in other respects is a question about which people will differ; in brief, it is simply the question whether the concentration policy is the right one – whether it is better to place Indians where they do not wish to be, oblige them to do things which they do not wish to do, and force them to abandon the pursuits by which they had formerly supported themselves. General Carleton also accused Mr. Steck of acting from interested motives, but he did not specify in what regard. “In the winter of 1864-65, the Navajos at the Bosque were reduced to terrible straits through the destruction of their crops by cut worms. There was want all through that portion of the country from various causes. Neither the War nor the Indian Department was able to relieve them adequately. There was no relief from natural sources, for the acorns, cedar berries, wild potatoes, palmillas and other roots, mescal and mesquite, on which they could rely in their old home in times of famine, were not found in the Bosque. Cattle and sheep were issued to them for food, ‘head and pluck’ and the blood of the slaughtered animals was ordered to be saved to make ‘haggis and blood puddings’ for the orphan children. To add to their distress, these people, who make the most serviceable blankets in the world and usually have plenty of them, were destitute, by the ravages of their enemies, of both blankets and clothing. They had no houses, and, as substitutes, holes were ordered to be dug, in which they might be sheltered from the wind. In spite of all his efforts and ingenuity, General Carleton knew that they must suffer, and, on October 31, 1864, he directed the commandant at Fort Sumner to explain his good intentions to the Indians. ‘Tell them,’ he said, ‘to be too proud to murmur at what cannot be helped. We could not foresee the total destruction of their corn crop, nor could we foresee that the frost and hail would come and destroy the crop in the country; but not to be discouraged; to work hard, every man and woman, to put in large fields next year, when, if God smiles upon our efforts, they will, at one bound, be forever placed beyond want, and be independent. Tell them not to believe ever that we are not their best friends; that their enemies have told them that we would destroy them; that we had sent big guns there to attack them; that those guns were only to be used against their enemies if they continue to behave as they have done. ‘

“With all his good intentions, General Carleton was inexcusable, under analogy of the laws that are daily administered in every state and territory of the Union. There is no excuse known for the failure under such circumstances. When a man is restrained of his liberty, or deprived of any right, for the purpose of benefiting him, there is no extenuation except he be in fact benefited, or, at least, not injured. Good intentions never excuse a wrong; and though, as a war measure, placing the Navajos at the Bosque may be justified, keeping them there against their will, in time of peace, is clearly an infringement of natural right. Our Government must actually benefit the Indians by the reservation system in order to justify itself. Still, General Carleton stuck to his theory, and said that if the Navajos were moved from the Bosque at all, they ought to be sent to Kansas or the Indian Territory. In 1865 the worms destroyed the crops again, and, on July 18, after giving directions for husbanding all food, Carleton instructed the officer in command: ‘You should tell the Indians what a dreadful year it is, and how they must save everything to eat which lies in their power, or starvation will come upon them.’ The Indians had been slipping away from the place in small parties since midwinter of 1864-65, and in July a large party, under Ganado Blanco (White Cattle) broke away forcibly, but they were pursued and driven back. In August Carleton concluded to let the few Coyotero Apaches on the reservation return to their own country, as they desired. In the summer of this year a commission, consisting of Senator Doolittle, Vice President Foster and Representative Ross, visited New Mexico, and made a full investigation of the Indian affairs there, but nothing resulted from it.

“In 1865 Felipe Delgado succeeded Mr. Steck as Superintendent; he was in harmony with General Carleton, and reported that, ‘It is fair to presume that next year their (the Navajos) facilities will be greater,’ etc. He had the good sense to recommend the purchase of sheep for them. In 1866 the crops failed again – this time, as Superintendent A. B. Norton, and their agent reported, from bad seed, improper management, and overflows of the Pecos. There were reported to be 7000 Indians on the reservation, and the cost of keeping them was estimated at $1,500,000 annually. In 1867 the crops failed, from bad management and hail storms, as reported; the Comanches attacked and robbed the Navajos several times; and many of their horses died from eating poisonous weeds. There were 7300 Indians reported as on the reservation, and their property had become reduced to 550 horses, 20 mules, 940 sheep, and 1025 goats. In 1868 Superintendent Davis reported: ‘The Navajos were located several years ago upon a reservation at the Bosque Redondo by the military, and after expending vast sums of money, and after making every effort for more than four years to make it a success, it has proved a total failure. It was certainly a very unfortunate selection for a reserve; no wood, unproductive soil, and very unhealthy water, and the Indians were so much dissatisfied they planted no grain last spring, and I verily believe they were making preparations to leave as the Apaches did.’

“Fortunately for all concerned, General Sherman and Colonel Tappan, Peace Commissioners, reached New Mexico in May, 1868. They satisfied themselves that the Navajos would never become self-supporting or contented at the Bosque Redondo, and, on June 1, entered into an agreement with the tribe by which they were to be removed to their former country. The reservation then given them was included between parallel 37° of north latitude, and a parallel drawn through Fort Defiance, for north and south line, and parallel of longitude 109° 30′, and a parallel drawn through Ojo del Oso, as east and west lines. The Indians were to receive five dollars annually, in clothing, for each member of the tribe, and ten dollars for each one engaged in farming or mechanical pursuits. Each head of a family was entitled to select one hundred and sixty acres of land, if he desired to hold in severalty, and in such case he was to receive one hundred dollars in seeds and implements the first year, and twenty-five dollars for each the second and third years. Buildings of the value of $11,500 were to be erected, and the Navajos pledged themselves to compel all their children between the ages of six and sixteen to attend school. A separate schoolhouse and teacher was to be provided for every thirty pupils; $150,000 was to be appropriated at once to the Indians, part of which was to be expended in the purchase of 15,000 sheep and goats and 500 cattle, and the remainder to be used for the expenses of their removal, and in such other ways as should appear most beneficial.

“Under this liberal treaty the tribe was removed in 1868, and since then there has been a continuous improvement in their condition. They had very bad luck with their crops for several years, but their herds increased steadily. By 1873, they were reported to have 10,000 horses and 200,000 sheep and goats. In 1872 an Indian police force was organized at the agency, on recommendation of Captain Bennett, and placed under control of Manuelito, their war chief, providing, for the first time in their history, for a control of offenders by tribal authority. It was discontinued in 1873 for a short time, but was soon put in force again, with beneficial results. A few years later the Indians abandoned it on account of the small pay given to the policemen. About fifteen men are now employed, and they appear to be all that are needed. In 1876 the Navajos were reported as self-supporting, notwithstanding they had lost 40,000 sheep by freezing during the past winter. In 1878 their agent said: ‘Within the ten years during which the present treaty with the Navajos had been in force, they have grown from a band of paupers to a nation of prosperous, industrious, shrewd and (for barbarians) intelligent people.’ They were reported at that time as numbering 11,800, and owning 20,000 horses, 1500 cattle, and 500,000 sheep; they were tilling 9192 acres of land, and obtained ninety-five per cent of their subsistence from civilized pursuits. “In fact they were increasing so rapidly that there was an urgent call for more room, and, as there was desert land to spare in all directions, it was given to them. By executive order of October 29, 1878, there was added to their reservation the land between the northern line of Arizona parallel 110° of west longitude, parallel 36° of north latitude, and the western line of the reservation. Still there was a call for more land, and on January 6, 1880, they were given a strip fifteen miles wide along the eastern side of the reservation, and one six miles wide along the southern line. In the latter year, three windmill pumps and fifty-two stock pumps were put in at different points on the reservation, which have stopped much of their wandering in search of water, and added greatly to the value of their grazing lands. Their march of improvement has not stopped, and in 1881 the nation, estimated at 17,000, cultivated 15,000 acres of land, and raised 220,000 bushels of corn and 21,000 bushels of wheat; they had 35,000 horses and 1,000,000 sheep. In 1884 the reservation was extended west to 111 30′, and the northern boundary was made the Colorado and San Juan Rivers. By this addition, the reservation enclosed the Moqui Pueblo Reservation on two sides, and the agencies for the two have been consolidated. This order, increasing the reservation by 1,769,600 acres in Arizona and Utah, was supplemented by one taking away 46,000 acres in New Mexico; the reservation as now established includes 8,159,360 acres, mostly desert land.”

The foregoing is taken from Dunn’s “Massacres of the Mountains,” published in 1886.

The Navajos, from the time they were restored to their old camping grounds, were never afterwards hostile to the whites, but were self-supporting in every particular.

Notes About Book:

Source: History Of Arizona Volume 2, By Thomas Edwin Farish, 1915, Printed and Published by Direction of the Second Legislature of the State of Arizona, A. D.

Notes about Online Publication: This manuscript has been ocr’d and heavily edited. Many of the Native American words have been reproduced as clearly as online publication will allow us, but not all are exactly the way they were in the original work. The structure of this manuscript has been changed to allow better online presentation.

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