The Navajos

The Navajos, when Arizona was taken over from Mexico, were the most populous tribe of Indians. They occupied what is now the northwestern portion of New Mexico, and the northeastern portion of Arizona. For years they had been in a constant state of warfare with the Mexicans, and, to some extent, with the Zunis and Moquis. They were a virile race, further advanced in civilization, and the arts of civilization, than any of the Apache tribes. They were a pastoral people, and to some extent, an agricultural people. Their dwellings then, as now, consisted of rude conical huts of poles, covered with brush and grass and plastered with mud, which were called hogans. On account of their nomadic habits and certain superstitions, which cause the destruction of their hogans at times, they refused to construct more substantial buildings. They are of a more peaceful disposition than the other Apache tribes, not being dependent upon game for their livelihood. At the time of the American conquest, they possessed about 200,000 sheep, 10,000 horses and many cattle. Their chief crop was corn, of which they sometimes raised as much as 60,000 bushels in a year. In 1855 it was estimated that they had 5,000 acres under cultivation. They irrigated very little, but secured crops by deep planting, the corn being placed about eighteen inches under the surface, and earing out soon after it came above the ground. In addition to corn, they raised wheat, peas, beans, melons, pumpkins and potatoes, and had numerous peach and apricot orchards.

They dressed much more comfortably than other Indians. The men wore a double apron coat, like a shortened poncho, opened at the sides and fastened about the waist by a belt. It was of woolen cloth, and frequently much ornamented. The legs were covered with buckskin breeches, close fitting, adorned along the outer seams with brass or silver buttons, which extended to the knee, and were there met by woolen stockings. The feet were covered with moccasins, and often leggings, reaching to the knees, were worn. The attire was finished by a blanket thrown over the shoulders, as a mantle, and a turban or leather cap, surmounted by a plume that gave it the appearance of a helmet. They formerly carried a lance and a shield, which, with their costume, gave them the appearance at a distance of Grecian or Roman warriors. The costume of the women was a sleeveless bodice loose above, but fitting neatly at the waist, a skirt reaching below the knees, and moccasins, in summer; in winter they added leggings and a blanket. The bodice and skirt were usually of bright colors, the latter terminating in a black border or fringe. The costumes of both sexes have become more or less nondescript of later years, but many still retain their ancient fashions. They manufacture all their clothing, including their blankets. The blankets have been the wonder and admiration of civilized people for many years. They are very thick, and so closely woven that a first class one is practically water proof, requiring four or five hours to become soaked through. The weaving, which is all done by women, is very tedious, two months being consumed in making a common blanket and sometimes half a year for a fine one. They are worth from fifteen to a hundred dollars, varying with the quality of the wool and the amount of work put upon them. They formerly manufactured cotton goods also, importing the cotton balls from Santa Fe, according to Senor Donancio Vigil, but this has been discontinued for many years. They make some pottery, similar to that of the Pueblos, from whom they probably learned the art. They have numerous silversmiths, who work cunningly in that metal, and these have made remarkable advances in the art of late years, since they have added modern tools to their kits. They are singularly imitative, and will acquire a practical knowledge of any kind of work in a very short time.

“Their superstitions are peculiar. They never touch a corpse if possible to avoid it. If a person dies in a hogan, they either burn it, or pull out the poles and let it fall on the body; if on the open plain, they pile stones over the corpse and leave it. In consequence they do not scalp or mutilate their victims, and, in fact, have little pleasure in killing, though they have a Spartan admiration for adroit thievery. They have a great aversion to the hog, and neither eat its flesh nor permit it to live in their country. This, with a few other peculiarities, has caused some to insist on their Israelitish origin. They are averse to bear meat also, on account of some religious scruple, and seldom kill the animal except it be in self-defense.” (Dunn’s ‘Massacre of the Mountains.”)

Their treatment of women is entirely different from that of other Indian tribes. The women, in their system of government, are the equal of the men. The equality of sexes is fully respected. The manage ceremony is very simple, consisting of eating a meal together, and the tie is as lightly severed when either party wearies of it. The women hold their property independently, and in case of divorce there is an equitable division of the community property, and the children go to the mother. Incompatibility of temper is a most excellent ground for separation. A woman is never entirely free until she is married, after which she is well treated and escapes the drudgery which is usually the lot of Indian squaws. The greater part of the outdoor work is done by the men, the women looking after the domestic affairs. Man and wife eat together, and, oftentimes, the man, in travelling through the country, carries the papoose.

The women seem to give especial care to the sheep. The flocks are looked after by young girls, who employ their leisure moments in spinning a yarn that i used for manufacturing the blankets. These are the shepherdesses, and the sheep are never disposed of without their consent. In fact, no bargain is ever made by a Navajo without consulting his wife or wives. The husband never strikes his wife, and if she abandons him, he solaces his grief by killing some member of an adjoining tribe or other outsider, which makes everything pleasant again.

The women, unlike the other Apache tribes, are unchaste, and indulge to a great extent in free love. They are tall, straight and well formed. Being well treated they are in looks and personal appearance far above the average squaw. As a rule, the women are more healthy than the men, probably due to their outdoor exercise as shepherdesses during their youth.

At the time of the American conquest, the Navajos were supposed to number from twelve thousand to eighteen thousand and from two thousand to four thousand warriors. Their government was without any controlling power. Each individual, to a great extent, was a law to himself. Some of bad disposition, lived a vagabond life, supporting themselves by plunder, stealing from their own nation as well as from others, and there was no power to restrain them, for if an attempt was made to punish the culprits for stealing, they could defend themselves with their arrows, and were free to pursue their evil ways.

The patriarchal form of government was established among them. A man had absolute control over his children while they lived with him, but when once a man became a warrior, he was independent and his own master, and when married, the woman became her own mistress. Chiefs were made and unmade without ceremony, and the pledges of a chief had little weight, either while he was in office or afterwards. Every man was his own master, and, by virtue of being a warrior, exercised entire liberty of action. If he made a reputation in war, or acquired great riches, he became known as a chief. The head chief was the war chief; he had no authority in time of peace, and could not compel the surrender or punishment of a man of influence among his followers. This lack of government was the source of much trouble to the Americans, who were obliged to consider them as a tribe and treat with them on that basis. When a treaty was broken, it was necessary for them to treat with the tribe in demanding satisfaction, but they were unable, as a tribe, to make the reparation demanded. Another source of trouble was the bad feeling between them and the Mexicans. For centuries the two races had been at war, and as neither was over scrupulous in their dealings with each other, they were continually in conflict. After the Navajos had passed under American dominion, the blame for this is placed upon one or the other as writers favor or oppose the Indians, the fact being that each robbed and abused the other at every opportunity. The Mexicans took the larger number of captives, but the Navajos stole the most property, and, when compelled to make restitution, invariably returned their poorest animals.

The Navajos were never dangerous as warriors. Their predatory excursions do not compare in brutality with those of the other Apache tribes. The unfriendly relations between the United States and the Navajos began with the occupation of New Mexico by General Kearny, who, by his annexation, assumed the protection of the New Mexicans from the Indians. His visit was short, but long enough for him to receive a taste of the predatory warfare which had existed between the two races for centuries. While on a visit to the settlements below Santa Fe with a detachment of troops, the Navajos raided the valley, and, in sight of this command, drove off a large number of horses and cattle, a part of which belonged to his command. An expedition under Colonel Doniphan was sent in October against them, but did not return until after Kearny had left for California. The result of this expedition was the bringing together of about three-fourths of the Navajo nation at Ojo del Oso (Bear Spring), and a treaty was made with them without any hostilities, but the treaty amounted to little, for the stealing went on as usual after the soldiers left the country.

In 1847 Major Walker marched against them with a force of volunteers, and penetrated their country as far as the Canyon de Chelly, but did not even succeed in making a treaty. In 1848, Colonel Newby, with a large force of volunteers, entered their country, and made another treaty, which was promptly broken on his departure. In 1849, Colonel J. M. Washington marched against them with seven companies of soldiers and fifty-five Pueblo Indians. He was accompanied by Antonio Sandoval, chief of a band of about one hundred and fifty Navajos, who ever remained friendly to the Americans, and by Francisco Josta, Governor of the Pueblo of Jemez. This expedition was formed because, since their last treaty, the Navajos had stolen 1070 sheep, 34 mules, 19 horses and 78 cattle, carried off several Mexicans, and had murdered Micento Garcia, a Pueblo Indian. The Navajos were found on the Tunicha, a tributary of the San Juan, where Norbona, Jose Largo, and Archuletti, three of their chiefs, met Colonel Washington and Agent Calhoun in council. They agreed to meet at the Canyon de Chelly to form a permanent treaty, and were about to separate, when one of the stolen horses, owned by a Mexican volunteer then present, was noticed in the possession of the Indians, and a demand for it was made. The Navajos refused to surrender it and Colonel Washington directed that one of their horses should be seized in its place. This attempt being made, the Navajos fled and were fired on. Narbona, their head chief, was killed and six others mortally wounded. The command moved on to Canyon de Chelly, which they reached September 6th. The following morning, Mariano Martinez, who represented himself as the head chief, and Chapitone, the second chief, with a number of their people, came into camp and sued for peace. It was granted on condition that they give up the stolen property, and surrender their Mexican captives, and the murderers of Garcia. They gave up three Mexicans and a part of the stolen property, agreeing to deliver the remainder in thirty days at the Pueblo of Jemez. The canyon heretofore had been considered impregnable, but Colonel Washington on this expedition, made a careful survey for a distance of nine and a half miles above its mouth, and found that the impression concerning it was erroneous. His command returned by the way of the Pueblo of Zuni, which is about seventy-five miles south of the Canyon. The Navajos did not deliver the property at Jemez, but a party of that tribe arrived at the settlements before the troops returned and ran off a large herd of mules within sight of Santa Fe. Shortly after this, Chapitone, the second chief, was killed by Mexicans near Cibolette.

Not with standing all their past experiences with the Navajos, and the knowledge that no treaty obligation was binding upon them, Colonel Sumner, afterwards a Union General in the Civil War, and Governor Calhoun, in 1851-52, met a large party of warriors and chiefs at Jemez, and proposed another treaty. The Indians, at first, ridiculed the proposition, but finally agreed to ratify the treaty with Colonel Washington, which they said Martinez and Chapitone had no authority to make. This treaty was continually violated during the same winter, and in the spring of 1852, Colonel Sumner marched against them, but being unable to bring on a general engagement, he employed his time in building Fort Defiance.

The fort was located “in the heart of their country, sixty miles north of Zuni, fifteen miles south of the Canyon de Chelly, fourteen miles from the Laguna Negra (or Negrita), a deep and cool lakelet of dark water, much frequented by the Navajos, and three miles east of the present line of Arizona. It is in the highlands about the sources of the Rio Puerco of the West, at the base of a rocky range, which rises five hundred feet or more above the surrounding table land, known as the Bonito Hills. Through these hills breaks the Cañoncito Bonito (Pretty Little Canyon), an abrupt gorge with perpendicular walls, and at its mouth is the fort. The Canyon is half a mile long, averaging one hundred yards in breadth, with a level grassy floor. Near its head are two springs that feed a little stream which supplies the fort. This place and several valleys of the vicinity had for a long time been favorite haunts of the Navajos. The fort was simply a group of barracks, stables and offices around a parade ground, 300 by 300 yards in extent. There were no stockades, trenches, block houses, or other fortifications. The buildings were principally of pine logs with dirt roofs, though a few of them were of adobe. There was one stone building for the officers.”

In 1853 Colonel Sumner was succeeded by General Garland in command of the military, and Governor Lane by Governor Meriwether, shortly before which Romano Martin was robbed and murdered by the Navajos, who refused to surrender the murderers when demanded. The new Governor, after a talk with the chiefs, extended a general amnesty, and matters proceeded as usual. In 1854 a soldier was killed at Fort Defiance by a Navajo. Major Kendrick, the officer in command, demanded the offender with such sternness, that the Indians concluded that something must be done. They agreed to surrender the guilty party, and a day was appointed for his execution by hanging. The Indians, strangely enough, asked the privilege of doing the hanging, which was granted to them, and, on the day appointed, they came forward and hung the alleged murderer in the presence of the troops. Two or three years later it was learned that the man executed was a Mexican and that the murderer, who was a man of influence among them, was still living.

Governor Meriwether met the Navajos at Laguna Negra in 1855 for a talk. Sarcillo Largo, the head chief, declared that his people would not obey him and resigned his office at the council, whereupon the chiefs elected Manuelita to the position. A treaty was agreed upon, the Indians promising to surrender offenders and keep within certain reservation limits, except that they had the privilege of gathering salt at the saline lake near Zuni. This treaty was not ratified by the Senate of the United States, but that was immaterial because plundering went on just as if the treaty had never been made.

These outrages, for the most part, were made by a small portion of the Navajo tribe, and the real offense of the nation was in sheltering the wrongdoers and exercising no control over them, the truth being that while the great majority of the Navajos were peaceable from natural inclination and the necessities of an agricultural and pastoral life, the warlike and vicious members exercised their inclination to plunder at will.

Early in 1858 a prominent Navajo had difficulty with his wife. She went to a dance instead of accompanying him on a visit as he desired. The husband repaired to the baile and, tearing almost all the clothing from her body, “reduced her costume,” says the writer, “to an ultrafashionable style.” This was as far as he could pursue in the direct course of coercion under the Navajo customs. The next thing for him to do was to kill some outsider. On July 12th he went to Fort Defiance with the avowed intention of selling two blankets that he carried with him. He was there for three or four hours and sold one of the blankets to a camp woman, when Jim, a Negro boy belonging to Major Brooks, the post commander, passed to the rear of the camp woman’s quarters. As he came out on one side with his back turned to the Indian, who had jumped on his pony in the meantime, the Indian let fly an arrow which passed under the Negro’s shoulder blade, and penetrated his lung. The Indian fled at once and from the effects of this wound Jim died in three or four days. The day following the attack on the Negro, the head chief was sent for, and the surrender of the assassin demanded. Under various excuses, action was postponed from time to time until July 22nd, when the chief was notified that the murderer must be produced within twenty days. Preparations for a campaign were made and Indian Agent Yost came up from Santa Fe to act in conjunction with the military. He was escorted by Captain McLane and a dozen men, and, at Covero, was joined by Captain Bias Lucero with his company of Mexican scouts, fifty in number. As the party approached Bear Spring on August 29th, they found an encampment of the Navajos and attacked it. Firing was kept up until six Indians were killed, and several wounded, when Captain McLane was struck in the side by a ball and fell. It was supposed at the time that he was mortally wounded, but he afterwards recovered, the ball having struck a rib and glanced off. Part of the command charged and captured twenty-five ponies and a number of blankets, and the party then proceeded to Fort Defiance, where Colonel Miles arrived two days later, and took command. September 1st, Juan Lucero, a Navajo chief, came into Major Brooks’ camp, and asked if the Major were not satisfied with the injury done the Indians at Bear Spring, but was informed that he was not, and would not be until the murderer was surrendered, dead or alive. A blockhouse was built on the hill east of the fort, as an additional defense, the garrison being comparatively small. The Indians being satisfied that compliance with the demands of the commanding officer was the only thing to be done, Sarcillo came in and promised to surrender the murderer. Sandoval, the friendly chief, made desperate efforts to keep on good terms with both parties. Every day he would announce his discoveries; first, the murderer was at Ojo del Oso, then in a cave near Laguna Negrita, now he had fled to the Sierra Tunicha, and on the morning of September 6th, he announced that the murderer had been caught in the Sierra Chusca on the preceding day. Soon thereafter Sarcillo Largo arrived and stated that the murderer had been desperately wounded and died during the night. Could he have a wagon to bring the body in? This was denied him, but a mule was furnished him, and after much delay and display, the corpse was produced. Everyone in the garrison who had known the offender was called to identify him, and each one unhesitatingly testified that this was the body, not of the murderer, but of a Mexican captive who had often visited the post. The surgeon also gave his opinion that the wounds on the corpse had been inflicted that morning. All of this was afterwards substantiated by the Indians themselves, but at the tune the chiefs were unanimous in their declaration that the body was the one called for. Colonel Miles declined to hold any council with them and active hostilities were prepared for.

On the next morning Colonel Miles, with three companies of mounted riflemen, two of infantry and Lucero’s scouts, entered the Canyon de Chelly, and, on the 11th, marched through the lower half of the canyon, meeting with no material resistance, but occasionally killing or capturing an Indian. When camped for the night in the canyon, the Indians gathered on the heights above and began firing at them. The attack did no harm, for the walls of the canyon were so high that the arrows lost their force and dropped horizontally to the ground. It was thought better, however, not to take any risks.

The father of the leader of the attacking party was among the prisoners who had been taken, and notice was given to him that he would be hung if the firing did not stop. He communicated his danger to his son, who withdrew his warriors, and left the command in peace. The next day they reached the mouth of the canyon, where Nah-risk-thlaw-nee, a chief, came in under a flag of truce, but was informed that there would be no peace until the murderer was surrendered. The soldiers then moved southwest twelve miles, to the ponds where the principal herds of the vicinity were pastured. Here six thousand sheep were captured. The Indians attacked the pickets on the morning of the 14th but were driven off after wounding four men, one mortally. The same day a bugler was killed, having wandered away from the command. The troops returned to the fort on the 15th having killed six Indians, captured seven, and wounded several, bringing with them six thousand sheep and a few horses.

Captain John P. Hatch, with 58 men, on the evening of the 25th, started for the ranch of Sarcillo Largo, situated nine miles from the Laguna Negra. Marching all night they approached the Indians early in the morning, through an arroya which crossed their wheat fields, getting within two hundred yards of their hogans before they were discovered. About forty Navajos, all armed with guns and revolvers, hastily assumed the defensive. Captain Hatch, when within fifty yards, dismounted his men and opened fire. The Indians emptied their rifles and revolvers and retreated, leaving six dead; the wounded, including Sarcillo Largo, escaped. The command captured fifty horses and a large number of robes, blankets, etc. All they could not carry off they piled upon the wheat stalks near the houses, and burned. The Indians neither killed nor wounded any of the soldiers, due to their being unaccustomed to firearms. With their bows and arrows they certainly would have inflicted more injury. The Indians had just purchased their arms for war with the Americans, and were ignorant of their use. These arms were supposed to have been furnished by the Mormons, whose settlements joined those of the Navajos on the northwest.

September 20th, 1859. Captain J. G. Walker reported from Port Defiance that he had met a party of Pah-Utes, eighty miles west of the Canyon de Chelly, while exploring the San Juan River, who said that they had been sent out to invite the Navajos to a great council of Indians, at the Sierra Panoche, for the purpose of a union against the Americans. Sierra Panoche is a mountain southwest of the Calabasa Range, and eighty miles east of the Colorado River. The Mormons had agreed to furnish all needed arms and ammunition for a general war against the United States. Captain Walker says: “That this report is substantially true I have every reason to believe, as the Pah-Utahs to confirm their story, exhibited several presents from the Mormons, such as new shirts, beads, powder, etc. I was further confirmed in this opinion by meeting, the next day, a deputation of Navajos on their way to Sierra Panoche, to learn the truth of these statements, which had been conveyed to them by a Pah-Utah whom I saw in the Canyon de Chelly afterwards, who had been sent as a special envoy from the Mormons to the Navajos. He had in his possession a letter from a Mormon bishop or elder, stating that the bearer was an exemplary and regularly baptized member of the church of the Latter Day Saints.’ This report was confirmed by the Indian agent at Fort Defiance, the Indians in that vicinity having been visited for the same purpose, during Walker’s absence, by an Indian who said, the Mormons had baptized him’ into their church, and given him a paper certifying that he was a Latter Day Saint, and a good man.”

On the 29th Colonel Miles, with another scouting party of three hundred men, again entered the field. The first day, in the Chusca Valley, about twenty miles northeast of the fort, they captured nine horses and one thousand sheep. On the 30th a detachment of 126 men, under Captain Lindsay, was sent back to the camp of Ka-ya-ta-na’s band on a laguna fifteen miles distant. The detachment reached their destination about three o’clock in the morning and found the place deserted. The detachment followed on the trail of the Indians, and, at daybreak, discovered them in a deep canyon, the descent to which was very difficult. As the soldiers were making their way down in single file, the foremost having just gained the bottom, three Indians rode up. With exclamations of astonishment and alarm, they turned and fled to warn their people. However, about a dozen men succeeded in reaching the bottom, and, with this handful, Captain Lindsay charged down the canyon. After a hard ride of five miles, they succeeded in overtaking the Indians and headed off their stock, amounting to seventy horses and four thousand sheep. On a wooded knoll in the canyon, Captain Lindsay held the stock with his handful of men until the remainder of his command came up. The property in the camp which had been deserted, consisting of blankets, robes, and other supplies, was all destroyed. In this action the Indians lost eight men killed; the troops four men killed, and one wounded. A series of expeditions were kept up, giving the Indians no time to rest. On October ith, Major Brooks conveyed a number of trains towards Albuquerque, and circled through the Navajo country from Ojo del Gallo, in the western edge of the Rio Grande Valley. They had one engagement with the Indians in which 25 of the Indians were reported killed or badly wounded. On the morning of the 17th, 300 mounted Navajos attacked the post herd. They succeeded in killing two men and driving away sixty horses and mules. On the 18th Colonel Miles started in pursuit with a force of 250 soldiers and 160 volunteer Indians. The Indians were to be paid by a small ration and whatever they could capture, and their cupidity prevented a general engagement with the Navajos, but one hundred horses were captured from Manuelita’s band, and their houses were destroyed. Lieutenant Howland, with 20 soldiers and forty of Bias Lucero’s Mexicans, on the 23rd marched south from the fort to Colites Mountain. He surprised the ranch of the chief, Ter-ri-bo, next morning, capturing 16 women and children, four men, including Ter-ri-bo, ten horses and twenty goats and sheep. An extensive expedition was then planned and was being carried out, when the Navajos sued for peace, and, on the 4th of December, an armistice was granted that gave the Navajos an opportunity to treat.

A treaty was made, with satisfactory conditions to all parties on the 25th of December, 1858. Eastern and southern limits of the territory of the Navajo nation were fixed which they were not to pass, except that Sandoval and his band retained their former location. Under this treaty, they were to make restitution and indemnification for depredations on citizens and Pueblo Indians, since August, 1858, by returning the property taken, or its equivalent in domestic animals, and for the future, the entire tribe was to be held responsible for the wrongs committed by any of its members, and reprisals were to be made from any flocks if satisfaction was not promptly given. Mexican, Pueblo and Navajo captives were to be surrendered if they desired to return to their own people. The surrender of the assassin of the Negro boy Jim was waived, it being represented that he had fled the country and was beyond their control. The right of the United States to establish military rule within Navajo territory was recognized, and, finally, the Navajos were urged to establish a form of government, either under a head chief, or some central power, which could act in all matters for the tribe. This treaty lasted nearly five months, but was broken before the Senate of the United States could ratify it.

This closes, for the present, the invasions of the Navajo territory by the Americans. The next occurred several years later, and will be treated later on in this history.

Notes About Book:

Source: History Of Arizona Volume 1, 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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