Los Nabajos

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Of all the interesting Indians of the Far West none are more interesting than the Navahos. The name is a Spanish one, in their orthography Nabajos or Navajos, and signifies ponds or small lakes. Their country, which abounds in these, most of them full in the rainy season and dry the remainder of the year, was originally called Navajoa, and the Indians, in the old New Mexican records, were called “Apaches de Navajoa,” which has gradually given place to the present form. The Apaches proper call them Yu-tah-kah, and they call themselves Tenuai or “men,” a title which nearly all the American tribes take to themselves in their respective languages. Their home, from our earliest knowledge of them, has been in the northwestern corner of New ‘Mexico and the northeastern corner of Arizona. It may, in a general way, be described as lying between parallels 35 and 37 of north latitude and 107 and 111 of west longitude; or east of the Moqui villages, north of Zuñi, west of the divide between the Rio Grande and the Pacific slope, and south of the Rio San Juan. Across it, from southeast to northwest, is a ridge of high land which takes a mountainous shape at the northern end. It is there known as the Sierra Tunicha; farther south as the Chusca; still to the south and cast as the Mesa de Lopos; and terminates at the southeast as the Sierra San Mateo. In the southern part is a low range called the Zuñi Mountains, and in the northwest a more rugged chain known as the Calabasa (Calavaser) Mountains.

The country is partially drained to the north by the San Juan, of which the Chelly and Chaco are the principal tributaries; on the southwest the drainage is to the Colorado Chiquito, by the Rio Puerco (Hog River) of the West and Cottonwood Fork. Much of it is not drained at all, the surface water gathering in ponds during the wet season and passing off by evaporation. The higher land presents a succession of high peaks, sterile valleys, timbered tablelands, and fields of lava, with an occasional oasis. The lower lands have a yellowish composite soil, without croppings of sandstone, gypsum, and some coal. It is readily washed, converting the face of the land into a series of mesas (tablelands) separated by arroyos and cañons, with now and then a streamlet, to which the ground imparts a color varying from a rich cream to a dark buff. These are all called rios, though elsewhere they would be called brooks. In the rainy season, they at times develop suddenly into raging torrents, sweeping away dams and other obstructions, and then as quickly subside to their former feeble state. The vegetable growth is chiefly the wild sage or artemisia, with a fair allowance of cactus, and a sprinkling of pines, cedars, and piñons. On the mountains are some extensive forests of pines of large growth, with scrub oak, and rarely the valley of some mountain brook shows a fertility of soil and luxuriance of vegetable growth that makes it a paradise, as compared with the hot, dusty, dreary deserts about it.

The Navahos are well formed, of good countenance, and light colored, as compared with the average Indian. It has been claimed by some savants that they are a degenerated Pueblo people, an idea which has also been advanced in regard to the Nez Perce, the Natchez, and some other tribes that showed a marked degree of civilization, but, with due respect to the authors of the idea, there is little ground for the belief. The surest test of origin is language, and the language of the Navahos identifies them, as well as the Apaches and Lipans, with the Athabascan family of British America. Neither of these three southern tribes has any traditional account of occupying the old pueblos or casus that are found in their country, and the buildings themselves show a gradual decay, through centuries, without repair or occupancy. The dwellings of the Navahos, which they call hogans, are rude, conical huts of poles, covered with brush and grass, and plastered over with mud. They refuse to make any more substantial buildings on account of their nomadic habits and certain superstitions, which cause the destruction of their hogans at times. With these facts in view, it is far more probable that there was an emigration of Athabascans from the North, and a partial adoption of the customs of the people they conquered, than that there was an emigration from the South, of a civilized race, which has fallen back into complete savagery, while, at the same time, the remainder of this Southern civilized race has retained all its civilization except the dwellings, that constituted its most desirable feature. The Navahos are of a more peaceful disposition than their cousins, the Apaches and Lipans – even more so than their timid relatives, the Tinn6 of the North. They devote their time to pastoral and agricultural pursuits almost exclusively. At the time of our conquest they possessed about 200,000 sheep, 10,000 horses, and many cattle. Their chief crop was corn, of which they sometimes raised 60,000 bushels in one year; it was estimated that they had 5000 acres under cultivation, in 1855. 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 consequence of which their fields present an unfamiliar appearance to an American. 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 woollen cloth and frequently much ornamented. The legs were covered with buckskin breeches, closefitting, adorned along the outer seams with brass or silver buttons. They extended to the knee, and were there met by woollen stockings. The feet were covered with moccasins, and often leggings, reaching to the knee, 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 watertight, 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 on them. They formerly manufactured cotton goods also, importing the cotton bolls from Santa Fe, according to Señor Donancio Vigil, but this has been discontinued for many years. They make some pottery, similar to that of the Pueblos, of whom they probably learned the art. They have numerous silversmiths, who work cunningly in that metal, and these have made remarkable advances in art of late years, since they 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. Perhaps some future sage may see in it evidence of relation to Bismarck. They are averse to bear meat also, on account of some religious scruple, and seldom kill the animal except it be in self-defense.

The most striking characteristic of the Navahos is their treatment of women. The life of an Indian squaw, ordinarily, is one of drudgery, with very few pleasures to relieve its monotony. She is so completely a slave that her husband has the right not only of selling but also of renting her. She does all the work, while her husband looks after the amusements for the family. In occasional instances women hold higher positions, but it is usually through some gift of prophecy or other “medicine” power; this is especially the case with the tribes of Oregon and Washington. There have also been a few tribes that admitted women to the council. William Penn mentions a council at which several women were present, and among them one, to whom remarkable deference was paid, known as “the ancient wise woman.” He asked them if this were their custom. They replied that ” it was, and that they never decided on any important matter without consulting their women, and that some women were wiser than some men.” The Mohawks paid unusual attention to the opinions of the squaws, but with them their councils were held separately. In some tribes women have attained the supreme command, and in others, where they cannot become chieftainess, they may have the right of naming the chief. Thus, Catharine Brant, widow of Joseph Brant, the Mohawk chief, named two successors in office to him. With the Navahos there is an equality of sex which is a close approximation to the “woman’s rights” doctrine. The husband has no property in the wife, though he has invariably to pay her parents for her when he marries. The marriage ceremony consists simply in eating a meal together, and the tie is as lightly severed as made, when either wearies of it. The women hold their property independently, and in case of divorce an equitable division of goods is made, the children going with the mother. Incompatibility of temper is an excellent ground for separation. It is much on the principle of the French social system, where a woman is not free until she is married.

In consequence, women are well treated, and escape much of the drudgery that falls commonly to the lot of squaws. The men do the greater part of the outdoor work, and the women look after the affairs of the house. If a Navaho wants his horse saddled, he does it himself, if he has no peon. Man and wife eat together. Stranger still, it is a common thing in their country to see a man carrying a papoose – an extremely rare condescension in other tribes, though sometimes seen among the Utes and Shoshonees. The women appear to have a special interest in the sheep. The flocks are looked after by the young girls, who employ their leisure moments in spinning a loose yarn that is used for the filling of blankets. They make very pretty and romantic shepherdesses. The sheep are never disposed of without the consent of the women; in fact, a Navaho never makes a bargain of any kind without consulting his wife or wives. They never strike their women. If a man quarrels with his wife, or she becomes careless of his wishes, or abandons him, he solaces his grief and assuages her anger by killing some gentleman of an adjoining tribe, or other outsider, which makes everything pleasant again. The doctrine of “free love” goes with “woman’s rights” in their case. None of the women are chaste, and the nation has been badly infected with venereal disease, but they claim to be nearly rid of this, through the efficacy of their treatment, which consists of a decoction of herbs taken internally, an ointment made from a peculiar kind of clay, and sweat baths. In consequence of their better usage the women are much above the average squaw in looks. They are tall, straight, and well formed. As a rule they are healthier than the men, which is probably due to their outdoor exercise as shepherdesses in youth. Their treatment of women is the result of their religion. Their only god, Whai-la-hay, is a woman, and, according to their tradition, she taught them to weave blankets and mould pottery. Hence they are grateful to the sex. Besides, after death, the Navaho shade has to fight his way through a guard of evil spirits and get across a great water, neither of which he can do without the assistance of Whai-la-hay, and that they do not receive unless they have treated their women well. There appears to be some connection between this goddess and Ari-Zuña, the sun-maiden, the beloved of Montezuma, who figures more or less extensively in the different religions of Mexico. In calling her their only god, I mean the only one of a beneficent disposition. They have a masculine devil, called Chin-day, to whom they devote much attention in endeavors of propitiation. They also repair at stated seasons to a mountain in their country, called Polonia, for the purpose of worshipping the spirits of their ancestors, who are supposed to have a certain subordinate power.

Another characteristic of the Navahos was their form of government, or, rather, their lack of government. When they came under our control they numbered about 12,000, of whom 2500 were warriors, but notwithstanding their numbers, and the extent of country they occupied, they had scarcely any central controlling power, and what power there was, was on a democratic basis. The patriarchal form of government obtained among them, a man having as absolute control over his children, while they lived with him, as of his slaves, but, once a warrior, a man was his own master, and once married, a woman was largely her own mistress. Head chiefs were made and unmade with little ceremony, and the pledges of a head chief appeared to have little weight, either while he was in office or afterwards. Every man had personal liberty of action, by virtue of being a warrior. If he distinguished himself in war, or acquired riches which enabled him to maintain a following, he became known as a chief. The head chief was really a war chief, with no perceptible authority in time of peace, and neither he nor any other governing power of the tribe could compel the surrender or punishment of a man of any influence among them. On account of this lack of executive power, there was no enforcement of law and little law to enforce. Religious scruples were the chief restraining power. Some men, from a naturally bad disposition, became vagabonds, and lived wholly by theft, plundering their own nation as well as others. Of these the remainder appeared to be in perpetual dread, without any power of restraining them. Major Backus once asked a Navaho chief how they punished their people for theft. ”Not at all,” he replied. “If I attempt to whip a poor man who has stolen my property, he will defend himself with his arrows and will rob me again. If I leave him unpunished, he will only take what he requires at the time.”

This lack of government was the source of all their troubles with the Americans. We were obliged to consider them a tribe and to treat with them on that basis. When a treaty was broken it was necessary to treat them as a tribe in demanding satisfaction, but they were unable as a tribe to make the reparation we demanded. There were two other causes that prevented any lasting peace for many years. One was that they thought they outnumbered us. The reason they gave for this belief was that, in the beginning, a beaver dug a hole in the earth, from which there came five whites and seven Navahos, ergo, they are the more numerous. It required a score of years to satisfy them that figures could lie in regard to population. The other was hostile feeling between them and the Mexicans. The two nations had fought for centuries, and, as neither of them was afflicted with honesty, they were continually in conflict after they passed under our control. The blame of this is put on one or the other, as writer favor or oppose the Indians. The fact is, that each robbed and abused the other at every opportunity. When it came to reparation, it is reasonably certain that the estimates of damage done by the Navahos, especially as to the amounts of stock stolen, were generally exaggerated; and it is equally certain that, in the restitutions which the Indians were compelled to make, they culled the worthless animals from their herds to return. The Mexicans took the larger number of captives; the Navahos stole the more property. The territorial records from the time of our occupation to January 1, 1867, show the New Mexican losses from all Indian tribes to have been 123 persons killed, 32 wounded, 21 captured, 3559 horses stolen, 13,473 cattle, and 294,740 sheep, of a total value of $1,377,329.60; or an average of 6 killed, 1 captured, and $70,000 worth of stock stolen annually. The Apaches, Comanches, and Utes were, of course, responsible for a share of this, but the Navahos came in for at least one third of it. What does not appear on the records, and it is very essential for showing the burden of guilt, is how much the Mexicans stole from the Navahos. The fighting between them was not serious. The Navahos are not dangerous as warriors, although they have been so represented in the diseased literature of frontier life. The idea, so far as it had any basis, came from the Mexicans, and was due not so much to the bravery of the Indians as to the cowardice of their foes.

The relations of the United States with the Navahos begin with the occupation of New Mexico by General Kearny. The general, by his “annexation,” assumed the protection of the New Mexicans from Indians, and gave them frequent promises, in public and private, to that effect. He did not remain there long enough to discover that a feud of centuries was not to be disposed of abruptly, but he did receive a taste of their predatory warfare. While visiting the settlements below Santa F^, on the Rio Grande, with a detachment of troops, the Navahos swooped down on the valley, in sight of the command, and drove off a large number of horses and cattle, a part of which belonged to the command, before the troops could reach them. An expedition was sent against them under Colonel Doniphan, in October, but it did not return until after Kearny had left for California. It entered the country of the Navahos in two columns; one, under Major Gilpin, took the route up the Chama, by way of Abiqui, down the San Juan, and over the Sierra Tunicha; the other, under Doniphan, went up the Puerco of the East and spread over the country in three commands, gathering up the Indians as they moved. About three fourths of the Navaho nation were thus brought together at Ojo del Oso (Bear Spring – Ojo, literally “an eye,” is commonly used by the Mexicans to signify a spring instead of the purer Spanish fuente or manantial) and a treaty was made with them without any hostilities. The stealing went on as usual as soon as the soldiers were out of the country. Early in the following spring (1847) Major Walker marched against them with a force of volunteers, and penetrated as far as the Cañon 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 Navahos, who ever remained friendly to the Americans, and by Francisco Josta (Hosta, the Lightning), Governor of the Pueblo of Jemez. The cause of the expedition was that since their last treaty the Navaho had stolen 1070 sheep, 34 mules, 19 horses, and 78 cattle, carried off several Mexicans, and murdered Micento Garcia, a Pueblo Indian. The Navahos were first found on the Tunicha, a tributary of the San Juan, where Narbona, Jose Largo, and Archuletti, three of their chiefs, met Colonel Washington and Agent Calhoun in council. They agreed to meet at the Cañon 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 Navaho refused to surrender it, and Colonel Washington directed that one of theirs should be seized. At the attempt the Navahos fled and were tired on. Narbona, who was then head chief, was killed, and six others were mortally wounded. The command moved on and reached the Cañon de Chelly on September 6, On the following morning, Mariano Martinez, representing himself as head chief, and Chapitone, second chief, with a number of their people, came into camp and sued for peace. It was granted, on condition that they gave up the stolen property and surrendered their Mexican captives and the murderers of Garcia. They gave up three Mexicans and part of the stolen property, agreeing to deliver the remainder at the Pueblo of Jemez within thirty days. The cañon was explored for a distance of nine and a half miles above its month, and it was learned that the previous idea of an impregnable fortress in it was erroneous. The command then returned by way of the Pueblo of Zuñi, which is situated seventy-five miles south of the cañon. Not only was the property not delivered at Jemez, but a party of Navahos hurried to the settlements before the troops returned, and ran off a large herd of mules from within sight of Santa Fe. Shortly afterwards, Chapitone was brutally murdered by some Mexicans, near Ciboletta.

Not discouraged by past experiences, Colonel Sumner and Governor Calhoun met a large party of warriors and chiefs at Jemez, in the winter of 18512, and proposed another treaty. The Indians ridiculed the proposition at first, but after an exciting council they agreed to ratify the treaty with Colonel Washington, which they said Martinez and Chapitone had no authority to make. The treaty was violated continually 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. This was the most effective stroke made against the Navahos for years, and had a perceptible effect in restraining them. It was located in the heart of their country, sixty miles north of Zuñi, fifteen miles south of the Cañon de Chelly, fourteen miles from the Laguna Negra (or Negrita), a deep and cool lakelet of dark water, much frequented by the Navahos, and three miles west 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 Canon), an abrupt gorge with perpendicular walls, and at its mouth is the fort. The cañon 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 fertile valleys of the vicinity had long been favorite haunts of the Navahos. The fort was simply a group of barracks, stables, and offices around a parade ground, 300 by 200 yards in extent. There were no stockades, trenches, blockhouses, or other fortifications. The buildings were principally of pine logs with dirt roofs, though a few of them were of adobes. There was one stone building for the officers.

In May, 1853, Romano Martin was robbed and murdered by Navahos. The murderers were not surrendered when demanded by Governor Lane, and a campaign was being prepared for, when Colonel Sumner was relieved by General Garland and Governor Lane by Governor Meriwether. The new governor extended a general amnesty, after a talk with the chiefs, and matters proceeded much as usual. In 1854 a Navaho killed a soldier at Fort Defiance. Major Kendrick, the officer in command, demanded the offender with such sternness that the Indians concluded something must be done. The chiefs agreed to surrender the guilty party, and a day was appointed for his execution by hanging. Rather strangely, the Indians asked the privilege of doing the hanging, which was granted to them, and on the day appointed they brought forward and hung the alleged murderer in the presence of the troops. It was learned two or three years later that the man executed was a Mexican, who had been a slave among them for many years, and that the murderer, who was a man of influence among them, was still living. In 1855 Governor Meriwether met with the Navahos, for a talk, at Laguna Negra. Sarcillo Largo, their head chief, represented that his people would not obey him, and resigned his office at the council, whereupon the chiefs elected Manuelita to the position. The council proceeded quite boisterously, but a treaty was agreed on, 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 Zuñi. Presents were then distributed, as is usual at treaties, a custom that may account for the great readiness of the Navahos to make them. This treaty was not ratified by the Senate, but that was immaterial, for the plundering went on just as if the treaty were in full force. It is but just to say, however, that these depredations were claimed to be – and to a very large extent certainly were – the acts of a small portion of the tribe. The real offense of the nation as a whole consisted chiefly in shielding the wrongdoers and exercising no control over them. The result was that while the mass of the nation was peaceable from inclination and the necessities of a largely agricultural life, the warlike and vicious members were exercising their violent ardor at will, and the force of American resentment was held in light esteem.

In the early part of July, 185S, a Navaho of prominence and influence had a difficulty with his wife. He desired her to accompany him on a visit, instead of which she went to a dance. Her husband repaired to the baile and reduced her costume to an ultrafashionable style, by tearing every stitch of clothing from her. This failed to bring her to a sense of her conjugal duty, and it was about as far as Navaho customs permitted him to go in the way of direct coercion. The usage of the nation presented, as his next proper step, the killing of some outsider. He went to Fort Defiance on the following morning, July 12, with the avowed intention of selling two blankets that he carried with him. He was there for three or four hours, and had just sold one of the blankets to a camp woman (an American compromise between a sutler, a laundress, and a vivandiere), when Jim, a Negro boy belonging to Major Brooks, the post commander, passed to the rear of the camp woman’s quartet’s. He said nothing and did nothing to the Indian, nor had he ever before seen him. As he came out on the other side, with his back turned, the Indian, who meantime had jumped on his pony, let fly an arrow that passed under his shoulder blade and penetrated his lung. The Indian fled at once. The boy, without making any outcry of any sort, undertook to pull the arrow from the wound, but broke it near the end, leaving the head in his body. The surgeon was unable to extract it, and four days later Jim was dead. On the day after the assault, Sarcillo Largo, former head chief, was sent for, and the assassin demanded. Excuses were made and action postponed from day to day, until, on July 22, Sarcillo and Huero (Juero or Huerero, literally, the Blacksmith – named Huero Miles by the soldiers on account of the analogy of his position to that of Lieutenant colonel D. S. Miles, recently placed in command in that district) were summoned, and notified that they must produce the murderer within twenty days.

Preparations for a campaign were kept up, and Indian Agent Yost came up from Santa Fe to act in conjunction with the military. He was escorted by Captain McLane, with a dozen men, and, at Covero, was joined by Captain Bias Lucero with his company of Mexican spies, fifty in number. As this party approached Bear Spring (Ojo del Oso), on August 29, they found an encampment of Navahos at that point and attacked it. The spring lies to one side of the travelled road and is approached through a valley, about two hundred yards wide, on either side and at the extremity of which rise steep hills, covered with pine trees. Down this the troops advanced and opened fire at long range, while the Indians deployed on both sides, under cover of the timber that skirted the valley. The 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 that he was mortally wounded, but he afterwards recovered, the ball having struck a rib and glanced off. A part of the command charged, and captured twenty-five ponies and a number of blankets, and the party then proceeded onward to Fort Defiance, where Colonel Miles arrived two days later and took command. On September 1, Juan Lucero, a Navaho chief, came to the fort to see if Major Brooks were not satisfied with the injury done to the Indians at Bear Springs, 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 were now satisfied that something would really be done, and Sarcillo came in and promised to surrender the murderer. Sandoval, the friendly chief, made a desperate effort to keep on good terms with both parties. Every day he would rush breathless to the fort and announce his discoveries; now the murderer was at Ojo del Oso; now he was in a cave near Laguna Negrita; now he had fled to the Sierra Tunicha. On the morning of September 8, he announced, with great haste and bustle, that the murderer had been caught in the Sierra Chusca on the preceding day. Soon after, Sarcillo Largo arrived, and stated that the murderer had been desperately wounded and had died during the night. Could he have a wagon to bring the body in?  He could not; but a mule was famished him, and after much delay and display, a corpse was produced. Everyone in the garrison who had seen 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 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 time, the chiefs protested 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 went on a scout with three companies of mounted rifles, two of infantry, and Lucero’s spies. They entered the Cañon de Chelly on the 11th, and marched through the lower half of it, occasionally killing or capturing an Indian, but meeting with no material resistance. When they camped for the night, in the cañon, the Indians gathered on the heights above and began tiring at them. The attack did no harm, for the walls of the cañon were so high that the arrows lost their force and dropped horizontally on the ground, but it was thought better not to take any risks. Among the prisoners taken was the father of the leader of the attacking party, and to him notice was given that he would be hung if the firing were not stopped. He communicated his peril to his son, who withdrew his warriors, and left the soldiers in peace. On the next day they reached the mouth of the cañon, and were much relieved to be out of a place where the Indians could have done them, much damage, if they had known how. At the mouth of the cañon, Nak-risk-thlaw-nee, a chief, approached under a flag of truce and proposed peace, but was informed that there could be no peace until the murderer was surrendered. The command then moved to the southwest twelve miles, over the Sierra de Laguna, a range of red sandstone hills, to the ponds where the principal herds of the vicinity were pastured. Here six thousand sheep were captured, and the troops camped, as they had been doing, in the cornfields of the Indians. In the early morning of the 14th the Indians attacked the picket of the herd, but were driven off after wounding four men, one mortally. On the same day a bugler wandered away from the command and was killed. 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.

On the evening of the 25th Captain John P. Hatch, with fifty-eight men, started for the ranch of Sarcillo Largo, which was situated nine miles from the Laguna Negra. They marched at night, and approached the Indians earl; in the morning, through an arroyo that crossed their wheat fields, getting within two hundred yards of their hogans before they were discovered. About forty Navahos, all armed with guns and revolvers, hastily assumed the defensive. Captain Hatch brought his men within fifty yards of them, dismounted, and opened fire. The Indians stood gallantly until they emptied their rifles and revolvers, and then retreated, leaving six dead; the wounded, including Sarcillo Largo, escaped. There were captured fifty horses and a large number of robes, blankets, saddles, etc., of which all that could not be carried off were piled on the wheat stacks, near the houses, and the whole burned. Strangely enough, the Indians neither killed nor wounded any of the soldiers, which was due to their being unaccustomed to firearms. With their bows and arrows they would certainly have inflicted more injury. The Indians had just purchased their arms for war with the Americans, and had not yet learned to use them. Where did they get them? The cloven foot of Mormonism is again apparent; Utah was the only possible furnisher. The Mormon settlements joined the Navahos on the northwest, and the Saints extended their hands in fellowship to them as to other Indians. A year after this fight their criminal dealings with the Navahos were shown beyond question. On September 20, 1859, Captain J. G. Walker reported from Fort Defiance that he had met a party of Pah-Utes, eighty miles west of the Cañon de Chelly, while exploring the San Juan River, who said that they had been sent out to invite the Navahos 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 various 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 Cañon 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 went out on another scout, taking three hundred men, as before. On the first day they overtook a party of Indians with their herds, in the Chusca Valley, twenty miles northeast of the fort, and captured nine horses and one thousand sheep. On the night of the 30th, a detachment of one hundred and twenty-six men, under Captain Lindsay, was sent to attack the camp of Ka-ya-ta-na’s band, which was at a laguna fifteen miles distant. The detachment reached the pond at about three o’clock in the morning, found the Indians gone, and followed on their trail. At daybreak they discovered them encamped in a deep cañon. The descent 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 quick exclamations of astonishment and alarm, they wheeled their horses and fled to warn their people. There were but a dozen men down, but seeing that no great advantage could be gained without a sudden rush. Captain Lindsay boldly charged down the cañon with this handful. After a hard gallop of five miles they succeeded in overtaking the Indians and heading off their stock, amounting to seventy horses and four thousand sheep. Captain Lindsay took station, with his little band, on a wooded knoll in the cañon, and held the stock till the remainder of his command came up. The property in the camp which had been so hastily deserted, consisting of blankets, robes, and other supplies, was all destroyed. The Indians lost eight men killed; the troops four killed and one wounded.

Thus a series of expeditions was kept up, leaving the Indians no time for repose. On October 4, Major Brooks convoyed a number of trains towards Albuquerque and then circled through the Navaho country from Ojo del Gallo, in the western edge of the Rio Grande Valley. They had one engagement, in which, it was reported, twenty-five Indians were killed or badly wounded. On the morning of the 17th the post herd was attacked by three hundred mounted Navahos, who succeeded in killing two men and driving away sixty-four horses and mules. On the 18th Colonel Miles started out with two hundred and fifty soldiers and one hundred and sixty volunteer Zuñi Indians, who were to be recompensed by a small ration and what they could capture. The cupidity of the Zuñians prevented an engagement with the Indians, but one hundred horses were captured and the houses of Manuelita’s band were destroyed. On the 23d Lieutenant Howland, with twenty soldiers and forty of Bias Lucero’s Mexicans, marched south from the fort to Colites Mountain. At daybreak of the next morning he surprised the ranch of the chief Ter-ri-bio, capturing sixteen women and children, four men, including Ter-ri-bio, ten horses, and twenty goats and sheep. An extensive expedition in two columns was then planned and was being carried out, when the Navahos sued for peace, and, on December 4, an armistice was granted to give them an opportunity to treat.

On December 25, 1858, a treaty was made, with conditions satisfactory to all parties. Eastern and southern limits were fixed which were not to be passed by the Navahos, except that Sandoval and his band retained their former location. They were to make indemnification for depredations on citizens or Pueblo Indians, since August, 1858, by returning the property taken or its equivalent in sheep, horses, or cattle. For the future the whole tribe was to be held responsible for the wrongs committed by any member, and reprisals were to be made out of any flocks, if satisfaction were not promptly given. All Mexican, Pueblo, and Navaho captives, who desired to return to their people, were to be surrendered. The assassin of the Negro boy, Jim, being represented to have fled out of their country and beyond their power, his surrender was waived, but they agreed not to permit him to return under any circumstances. The right of the United States to send out military expeditions and establish posts in their country was formally recognized. Finally, the Navahos were earnestly urged to appoint either a head chief or some central power which could act for the tribe. This treaty lasted nearly five months, being broken hopelessly before the Senate had an opportunity to ratify it. It marks the close of the hostilities occasioned by the murder of the boy Jim, an important epoch in Navaho history.

Before leaving the subject, it may be well to correct an oft repeated error connected with it. It has been said that the murder of Jim was in revenge for the killing of some cattle, some days prior, by the soldiers, but this is not true. The commander of the post had selected certain convenient grazing grounds for the post herds, and these the Indians had been ordered to keep away from, for the reason that there was no more grass than was needed for the post, and to avoid annoyance from the mixing of the herds. Manuelita refused to obey this order, and defiantly stated that he would pasture his cattle on these grounds. He was informed that if he did they would be shot. He drove them in and they were killed. This matter was smoothed over, and the Indians were visiting the post as usual, for some time before Jim was murdered. The murderer had nothing to do with the cattle, and, according to the Indians themselves, committed the crime solely on account of his trouble with his wife. He gained his point, for she accompanied him, as he had desired, when he returned to their camp with information of what he had done. He secured his domestic happiness and the tribe paid for it.



MLA Source Citation:

Dunn, Jacob Piatt. Massacres of the mountains: a history of the Indian wars of the far West. Harper & brothers, 1886. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 31 July 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/los-nabajos.htm - Last updated on Sep 25th, 2013


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