Tuesday, October 30, 2012

30 Day eBook Project


I will be trying something new in November. In addition to writing articles, blogging, and my usual obsessive study of history, I am going to write an ebook. 
Each year, many of my friends participate in the NaNoWriMo project, trying to write a novel in 30 days. I've tried this project and found it is too much for me. In addition to my usual writing assignments, it happens during the month of November when I usually take a week off to spend with family. 
My friend and fellow writer, Angela England, founder of the website The Untrained Housewife, is hosting a different program this year where writers will support each other during the month of November as they produce an ebook. 
The program is based on England's book 30 Days to Make and Sell a Fabulous ebook, which is easy to follow and a much lighter project than the 30 day novel. 
If you're interested in the ebook trade, I suggest you take advantage of this opportunity and join me during the month of November as I piece together an ebook on a Wild West theme. I hope to see you on the forums!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Navajo Long Walks, the Bosque Redondo, and the Long Walks Home



Navajo prisoners of Kit Carson on the Navajo Long Walk to the Bosque Redondo.

The story of the Long Walks of the Navajo is a story of great drama, pain, and sadness. It is the terrifying and traumatic story of 53 forced marches that occurred from 1864 to 1866, the tragic deaths of over 2000 Navajo that occurred during these marches, and their eventual incarceration at the Bosque Redondo near Fort Sumner, New Mexico. It is a story that defined the future of the Navajo people and will always remain an important part of their collective history, a complicated story with a beginning that is difficult to trace as it involves a complex style of communication and continuous breakdowns in communication, a cycle of retaliatory raids, treaties, broken treaties, and more raids.

The story begins with the people themselves. The Navajo, or Dine, lived in a pastoral society. They were sheepherders, raised livestock, and lived in large family groups. They had great respect for their elders, the leaders of their family groups.

According to the Bosque Redondo Memorial, they lived in large homes, called hogans. Their grazing land was lush, rich, and surrounded by mountains and canyons, with wide, flowing rivers. Their land was in what is now Arizona and western New Mexico, including the mineral-rich Canyon de Chelly, which will become more important later in this story. It was bordered by four mountains that the Navajo considered sacred. It was not always a peaceful environment. They lived through droughts, floods, wildfires, and other natural disasters and learned to survive. They survived so well that eventually they needed to expand to more areas to accommodate their growing sheep herds.


Canyon de Chelly circa 1873.

Unfortunately, their search for land for expansion created ongoing conflicts with the Apache, Comanche, and Ute tribes; it coincided with the arrival of the Spanish in the 1600s; and in the 1800s, clashed with the Anglo-European settlers and their beliefs in Manifest Destiny, the belief that a "dominant culture had the God-given right to spread across a continent, regardless of any preceding culture."

It was an interesting, though violent way of life for the Navajo, Comanche, Apache and Ute who lived in this area. They often made treaties, traded goods including their intricate weaving, lived in peace, then raided, retaliated, and lived in times of war. When the Spanish arrived, this way of life continued. The Spanish naturally wanted the best land for their own crops and livestock. They established numerous settlements in northern New Mexico in the 1600s, with remnants that exist to this day. Santa Fe, New Mexico is the oldest capital city in the United States! The Spanish also participated in the same established cycle of raids, treaties, trades, then more raids.

In the mid-1800s, life for the Navajo went rapidly downhill. Tension between the Navajo, the Spanish, the Americans, and particularly the American military reached an all-time high when their leader, Narbona, was scalped on August 30, 1849, during a clash with the American military. As you'll recall, the Navajo lived in family groups, not communally, but Narbona came from a well-respected and wealthy family and he was viewed as a leader of his people and their negotiator. He was also a highly-respected military leader, particularly in his younger years. In 1822, 24 Navajo heads of family were massacred at Jemez Pueblo while traveling to a peace conference to the newly formed Mexican government. In 1835, Narbona led a successful ambush of the Mexican enemies at a pass, now known as Narbona Pass, in retaliation. This, of course, led the American military to view him as a rebellious fighter, while the Navajo considered him a respected leader.

The clash in views could only lead to more conflict, though there were also treaties. Remember, there was a pattern in place of raids, treaties, trades, broken treaties, raids. After the establishment of Fort Defiance in Arizona and Fort Wingate in New Mexico, the Navajo and the United States signed treaties in 1849 reducing the amount of Navajo land, then the Bonneville Treaty of 1858, reducing the land even further, and another in 1861. Each of these treaties was eventually broken with constant clashes between the two parties.

To make matters worse, in 1854, the Santa Fe District Court ruled that there was no such thing as Indian land in New Mexico, which allowed anyone who wanted to move onto Indian land and declare it their own, an act that seemed to beg for total chaos.

It is at this point that the story becomes one as old as history itself, a story of attempted genocide.

To say that there was extreme prejudice against the Navajo and other Indian tribes is an understatement. This prejudice made them particularly vulnerable to raids and attacks from the Spanish, Americans, and U.S. military. The soon-to-be General James H. Carleton arrived in New Mexico shortly after the Confederate Army was chased from the land. Carleton was eager for a fight, eager to prove himself and found an easy mark with the Navajo. He used his political connections wisely and was appointed Commander of the Military in New Mexico. President Lincoln approved the establishment of a new fort near the eastern border of New Mexico and Texas and Carleton named it Fort Sumner after his mentor. Carleton sold Lincoln on the idea by claiming the fort would offer additional protection to settlers in the Pecos River Valley, but his intention was to use the land as a reservation, which was essentially a prison for Indians.

At precisely the same time in history when the slaves were set free, the Native American Indians were imprisoned.

There were a few incidents that may have inspired Lincoln to believe he had no choice but to remove and incarcerate the Indians, including the Minnesota Massacre, which I will expand on in my next post. Surprisingly, as much as I have read about Old West history, I knew very little about this event until I started preparing for this post, and the Minnesota Massacre was extremely influential to the feelings and fears American Settlers held toward Native America Indians.

In 1862, when most able-bodied men were fighting in the Civil War, the Sioux in Minnesota, for reasons historians still to this day have trouble understanding, decided to rise up against the local settlers. Four young braves, returning from a hunt, found some hen eggs and one decided to take them home. Another brave pointed out that the eggs did not belong to him. The first brave threw the eggs on the ground and stated, "I am not afraid of the white man," and to prove this, he murdered the owner of the nearby home, his wife and daughter and two neighbors. When the young men returned to the reservation and admitted what they had done the tribal council met to decide a course of action. They decided they had two options, they could turn the braves over to the military or start a war. They decided to start a war that lasted for nearly a month.

They massacred many families in cruel and torturous ways, most of them women and children, teachers and missionaries whose husbands were fighting the war. One young boy, 11-year-old Merton Eastlick, whose story is told in The Old West: The Indians by Benjamin Capps, witnessed the brutal murder of his father and two brothers. His wounded and desperate mother placed his sister in his arms and the boy walked 50 miles to save the child and find help. Surprisingly, the mother, son, and baby all survived. Others were not as lucky. Eventually, 450 settlers were murdered and 2000 Sioux surrendered to the military. Two Sioux chiefs--Shakopee and Medicine Bottle--escaped to Canada, but they were soon identified, drugged, and returned to Minnesota strapped to dog sleds. Of the 392 Sioux accused of murder, 307 were sentenced to death.


Survivors of the Dakota Wars taking refuge in the prairies. 

The situation between the Indians and the U.S. military had reached an impasse and the U.S. government decided the best course of action was "removal and incarceration." According to The Old West: The Indians, it was decided that reservations would be the ideal situation, moving entire tribes to designated areas of land, but not the land with rich soil and minerals where the Indians once lived. Reservations were not originally intended to be prisons, though they eventually did resemble such facilities, in fact, it was expected that Indians would need to leave the reservations in search of game, but some came to resemble prisons, prisons as bad as those used during the American Civil War, and Fort Sumner was one of them. Fort Sumner and the Bosque Redondo Reservation were actually considered an "experiment" by the government, a particularly cruel experiment that failed.

Carleton had already moved 400 Mescalero Apache to the Bosque Redondo, promising them food sources and protection from raids. In fact, according to the Bosque Redondo Memorial, Carleton's original intention was to accommodate only the Mescalero Apache. The plan was to teach the Mescalero Apache to work as farmers, but they were a nomadic tribe, unfamiliar with living in one place for long periods of time, and their situation, along with that of the Navajo, their enemies, who would soon join them, gradually went from bad to worse. The camp and reservation was built to accommodate 5000 people. Eventually, more than 10,000 Apache, Navajo, and American soldiers would inhabit the reservation and Fort.

This is where Christopher "Kit" Carson enters the story. Carson was a well-known scout, trapper, guide and soldier serving under Carleton's command when Carleton made Carson a Colonel. Colonel Carson was head of the 1st Cavalry of New Mexico Volunteers. In the summer of 1863, Carson, his men, and his Ute spies and scouts marched into the high plateau country intent on driving the Navajo from the rugged desert east to the Bosque Redondo. According to Capps' The Old West: The Indians, Carson suggested to Carleton that the Ute scouts be allowed to keep some of the captured Navajo for slave labor as payment for their work in tracking the Navajo down, but Carleton vetoed this idea.


 Christopher "Kit" Carson

Carson established a partial camp at Fort Canby on the border of Arizona and New Mexico and another at Pueblo, Colorado. Then he began what is now known as the most infamous act of his career, the scorched earth campaign, burning all food sources. On their first mission, they burned 70 acres of corn, harvested 15 acres of wheat that the fed to the animals, burned an additional 50 acres of corn, captured several Navajo where they worked in their fields along with 43 horses and mules and over a thousand sheep and goats. This was the test run. Within the next month they destroyed every crop of wheat, beans, pumpkin, "and hundreds of acres of the finest corn ever seen." The Navajo were completely unprepared, working in their fields or on their homes, and yet, they were afraid to surrender. They were afraid that the true intentions of the U.S. government was to completely destroy their people, and they weren't far off in this guess. Carson and his men continued his scorched earth campaign far into the fall, destroying everything in their path, including fruit trees, anything that might provide sustenance to the people. Eventually, the Navajo were forced to surrender, having lived for months on pinon nuts and completely unprepared for the winter to come.

It was January, 1864, when Kit Carson and his troops invaded the last Navajo stronghold, the Canyon de Chelly. With no food or resources left, both sides were suffering--Carson's men had frozen feet; the Navajo, frozen corpses. The Navajo had no choices left--they surrendered, and began what is now known as The Long Walks to the Bosque Redondo. They moved southeast through the Tunicha and Zuni Mountains with no food, shelter or clothing for protection then followed the Rio Grande to the City of Santa Fe. Most of the Navajo traveled by foot, though there were a few wagons for the elderly. The first group of 2500, 126 died before they even left Fort Canby and another 197 on the forced march. Through a series of 54 marches, 8000 Navajo were eventually incarcerated at the Bosque Redondo. Many Navajo simply "disappeared" along the way, kidnapped by other tribes, Mexicans, and settlers for use as slaves, or worse.


Map of the primary Long Walk trails.

Once they arrived at the Bosque Redondo, the Navajo were forced to dig 30 miles of irrigation ditches, plow and plant 2000 acres with corn, then watch helplessly as cutworms and flooding destroyed their crops. They walked 12 miles to gather mesquite for firewood and carried it on their backs. While they were gone, their enemies, the Mescelaro Apache, would raid their camps and steal the few blankets and clothing they had left. Meanwhile, the Spanish, Mexicans, and white settlers stole their land back home with the approving nod of the U.S. Government.

The Mescelaro Apache, realizing the government could not possibly fulfill their promise of providing food and shelter for their people, escaped from the Bosque Redondo on November 3, 1865, leaving nine sick people behind to tend the fires and fool the military into believing they were preparing for bed. When Carleton's men discovered the Apache had fled the reservation the soldiers tried to follow, but found the Indians had separated into small groups, dividing some families forever, a sacrifice they made in order to ensure that at least some family members would survive.  Carleton's men later admitted to capturing and killing small groups of women and children, but the majority escaped.

The experiment had failed. The original inhabitants of the reservation fled. There was little food left for the remaining Navajo. Famed Texas cattle kings Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving delivered cattle to the Bosque Redondo, but most of this meat went to the soldiers. The desperate situation of the Navajo people did not go unnoticed. In June of 1865 the Doolittle Committee convened to investigate conditions on the Bosque Redondo and speak with the Navajo about their plight. They delivered a brutally honest report to Congress, but no action was taken as there was still tremendous prejudice against the Navajo, and the Navajo continued to die. 

Relief finally came with the removal of General James Carleton from his command on February 25, 1867. He was replaced by General William T. Sherman and Colonel Samuel F. Tappan whose assignment was to negotiate a treaty of peace with the remaining Navajo people. Chief Barboncito, the last Navajo Chief to surrender, signed the Treaty of 1868, and there is now a memorial in the field where the treaty was signed. The Treaty of 1868, according to the Bosque Redondo Memorial, "established, under Federal Law, the sovereignty of the Navajo Nation." In 1971, the Navajo people once again gathered at the Bosque Redondo Memorial bringing rocks from their homes to commemorate those family members who had suffered and died at the reservation.


Chief Barboncito

On June 15, 1868, the Navajo began The Long Walks Home in a ten mile long line, walking 12 miles a day for 25 days. Of the original 8000 Navajo captured, only 7304 survived to start the journey back to their homeland. They were given 1500 horses and mules, 2000 sheep, 50 U.S. Army wagons, a U.S. Calvary escort, and an apology. By July 4, 1868, they were 12 miles east of Albuquerque. At Fort Wingate, near Gallup, New Mexico, the Navajo established their headquarters. According to the treaty, they were given 15,000 sheep and goats that were delivered to Fort Defiance in November of 1869, and every surviving Navajo man, woman and child received two animals. It is believed that the Navajo people became stronger and more resilient in spite of, or because of, the horrific experiences of the Long Walks. They had survived. In fact, they prospered, eventually expanding their new reservation to over 17 million acres, eight times larger than Yellowstone National Park.


Bosque Redondo Memorial. Photograph by Darla Sue Dollman.




Colorado's Deadliest Floods

You may have noticed fewer posts over the past year. I've been working on a history book about flooding in Colorado. Colorado...