Commemorating the Navajo's "Long Walk"

By U.S. Representative Tom Udall (D-NM)

In the 1860s the American Southwest witnessed a tragic episode in the history of Indian-White relations. Under the determined direction of General James H. Carleton and Colonel Christopher "Kit" Carson, the U.S. Army pursued the Navajos and the Mescalero Apaches, driving them to a barren, treeless reservation established near the Rio Pecos in east-central New Mexico - the infamous Bosque Redondo. The Navajos called this event The Long Walk.

Following the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which brought an end to the Mexican-American War, Anglo American settlers and prospectors pushed into the Southwest. Frequent clashes between the newly arrived Anglos and the Navajos and Apaches repeated earlier encounters between these Native Americans and the Spanish, and later, Mexican residents of the Borderlands. In 1863, General Carleton tapped Kit Carson to lead the military campaign to capture the Navajos in their homeland-Dine Bikeyah---and relocate them to a reservation several hundred miles from their four sacred mountains, where, ostensibly, they were to be taught to farm. But the Navajos already raised crops ---corn, beans, pumpkins, melons, and thousands of peach trees---which, along with their vast herds of sheep, and their cattle, horses, and mules, provided for their needs.

The military campaign of 1863-1864 resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Navajos and the destruction of their homes, water wells, crops, livestock, corrals, and peach orchards. During the bitterly cold winter of 1864, many Navajos were starved into surrendering to the U.S. Cavalry after spending months in hiding, fearful that they and their children would be killed if found by Carson's troops. General James H. Carleton reported to Washington, D.C. that Kit Carson's defeat of the Navajos at Canyon de Chelley was the "crowning act" of Carson's long career.

Under brutal conditions, the Navajos and Mescalero Apaches were forcibly marched to Fort Sumner, New Mexico, also known as the Bosque Redondo or, in Navajo, Hwéeldi. Many Navajos died along the Long Walk. Some were shot by the military, others drowned while crossing the Rio Grande. When they arrived at this ill-planned reservation, they found it to be
more horrific than they had anticipated. The Bosque Redondo was turned into a virtual prison camp for these Native people.

Perhaps 9,000 Navajos and 500 Mescalero Apaches endured this imprisonment. Of these, several thousand Navajos died at the Bosque Redondo from starvation, dysentary, malnutrition, attacks by enemy tribes, exposure to freezing temperatures, or disease. Although they were given seeds to plant, their crops would not grow in the alkaline soil and the plants that did germinate were destroyed by drought and grasshoppers. The lack of timber for shelter and firewood meant that living conditions were deplorable. Given these conditions, by 1866 the Mescaleros had already slipped away from the reservation and some of the Navajos had also fled.

In 1867, when life at Bosque Redondo had become increasingly intolerable, Congress appointed a Peace Commission to investigate conditions in Indian Country. Under the auspices of this commission, in the spring of 1868, General William Tecumseh Sherman and other officials arrived at Fort Sumner to meet with the Navajos. Their negotiations with Barboncito and other Dine (Navajo) leaders led to the Treaty of 1868, which was signed on 1 June 1868. The Treaty of 1868 was a milestone in the history of the Navajo Nation. It provided for the return to the Navajos of a portion of their original homeland (over three million acres), as well as livestock for Navajo families. Now, the 7,000 Navajos remaining at the Bosque Redondo could return home.

Today those Americans who might have heard of the incarceration of the Navajos and Mescalero Apaches at Fort Sumner may well assign it to the distant past. For these Native people, however, whose ancestors endured this atrocity, it is not a happening of the past. It is ongoing; it is a part of the present; and it continues to be a part of their lives as they hand down the Long Walk stories from generation to generation.

To aid in the healing process for these people, and to pay homage to their ancestors, who were the victims of the Long Walk, I have introduced legislation to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to study the suitability of designating, as historic trails, parts of the Long Walk routes in Arizona and New Mexico. H.R. 1384, the Long Walk National Historic Trail Study Act, has already passed the House of Representatives and has been sent to the Senate for consideration.

The Navajo Nation has endorsed my legislation and respectfully requests prompt legislative action. This tragic episode has been too long forgotten. It is time to make amends. By designating routes along the Long Walk as an historic trail, all Americans may gain some understanding of what these Native Americans endured in the mid-nineteenth century.

The Long Walk National Historic Trail will be a visual reminder of the courage of those Navajos and Mescalero Apaches who were force marched to the Bosque Redondo, and of the commitment they made to the preservation of their culture and identity.

Courtesy of U.S. Representative Tom Udall (D-NM)

Committee on Resources,
Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation, & Public Lands

Rep. Joel Hefley, Chairman
U.S. House of Representatives,
Washington, D.C. 20515-6207 - - (202) 226-7736

Witness Statement


MAY 4, 2001

There is really a lot to this story, but I¡ll tell you just a portion of it. The Journey to Fort Sumner began because a terrible war. That was what my grandmother told my mother, and she passed the story on to me. My mother was probably a young child at that time of the Long Walk. There is a place called Dleesh Bii To (White Clay Spring), a little way southeast of here. From there on up this way there used to be farms. One day as some of the Dine were roasting corn from a pit, all of a sudden a loud noise was heard from the director of a place called Atch¡inaa¡ahi (Points Come Together). The noise resembled thunder crashing. Our people were always on the alert, as it was a fearful time. Other people sleeping on the hill also heard the noise. Then someone yelled from the top of a hill, as men did in those days. As the man was yelling, horses hoofs were heard. The Utes were approaching fast. They attacked the people who had been sleeping and killed a lot of them. Some fled up the hill where, on the very top, stood a man named Ats¡aali (Branch of the Wash) who saw the shooting and killing taking place down below. He saw a lot of our people killed.

Yesbah Silversmith who at age 90 still herds sheep near her home in Lukachukai, AZ. Her story of escape was handed down by a grandmother.


The Navajo Nation and its people have a rich and proud history. Our history recounts the journeys of our ancestors through several underworlds, into the present. The Navajo are known as the
Ni¡hook ¡ diyin dine¡, b¡la¡ shdl ¡ii ¤ "Five Finger Earth Surface Holy People," the name given to the Navajos by the Holy People at the time of their emergence into this world. From time immemorial the lands between the four cardinal mountains of Sisnaajin¡ ¤ Blanca Peak, Alamosa, Colorado; TsoodziB ¤ Mount Taylor, Grants, New Mexico; Dok¡o¡oosB¡¡d ¤ San Francisco Peaks, Flagstaff, Arizona; and Dib, Ntsaa Hesperus Mountains, Durango, Colorado, have been the sacred homeland of the Navajo. It is in this world, Ni¡hodis¡s ¤ the Glittering World - that a fairly recent historical event challenged the Navajo people¡s very existence within the boundaries of the sacred mountains of Navajoland.

The Spanish and later Mexican governments, forced themselves into the aboriginal lands of the native populations of the
Southwest. By the mid 1800s, the Navajo people, after approximately three centuries of unwelcome encroachment by Europeans and later Americans, were reacting to a situation that was tearing away their culture and land base. This era is bitterly remembered as a dark page in Navajo history, when the United States set out to obliterate Navajo culture, at a place known as
Hw,,ldi ¤ Bosque Redondo, or Fort Sumner, NM.


In the mid 1800s, well after the Civil War, enslavement and slave trade of Navajo women and children was still actively practiced in the Southwest. The slave raids lead by Mexican and American settlers of recipical raids retaliation by Navajos against the communities that surrounded the Navajo lands.

From 1849 through 1860 several failed peace negotiations with the United States Government lead to a military campaign to subdue the Navajos. The Army would not tolerate any humane treatment of Navajo people who would not surrender. The United States realized that the Navajos in their own land could not be subjugated, and viewed removal as the only alternative.

Beginning early in 1860, the Military posts in Navajo land under the leadership of Brigadier General James H. Carleton, set the stage for the campaign against the Navajo people. Colonel Christopher Carson, known as "Kit Carson," commanded the Army troops that ravished through Navajo country "rounding up" the Navajos to be removed to a foreign land. Almost every Navajo family today has family history describing the terrifying destruction and annihilation of the determined Army campaign against the Navajos.

Hw,,ldi, more than 350 miles from Navajo land was the desolate site chosen to confine the Navajo people and force them to live according to the foreign laws of the United States Government. Thousands of Navajos walked the entire distance to Fort Sumner under the watchful eyes of the U.S. Military. Thousands of Navajos endured the trek with severe starvation, hunger and attacks from other tribes to vile flat land and appalling living conditions which was devastatingly traumatic to the Navajo people.

The Navajos were held as "prisoners of war" for four years at Fort Sumner. Poor planning, drought conditions, severe winters, and continued slave raids took their toll on the already suffering captive Navajos. Finally, in the spring of 1868, the worn leaders begged to return to the land within the Sacred Mountains. The drive to return to their homeland kept the people alive, despite the vast distance to where the Navajos were removed. On June 1, 1868, a treaty was drawn up that ended this nightmare and allowed the Navajos to walk 350 miles back home.


The Navajo Nation urges Congress to defer to the Navajo Nation in determining which route will be designated. There were four primary routes that were used United States Military during the Navajo removal.

The Navajo Nation also recommends that Congress mandate that the National Park Service consult with the Navajo Nation in the interpretative material such as brochures, trail markers, scenic off-ramps and the like.

The Navajo Nation urges Congress to add appropriations authorization language to the bill so that the Navajo Nation and the National Park Service are able to conduct the necessary research, consultation, and maintenance of the Long Walk Trail.


The horrible accounts of this period in Navajo history are not openly discussed or willingly shared by Navajo people. This test of Navajo fortitude remains in the shadows of American history left to be forgotten. The proposed H.R. Bill 1384
"To amend the National Trails System Act to designate the Navajo Long Walk to Bosque Redondo as a national historic trail," will insure that this page of Navajo and American history will be remembered and the Navajos who endured the Long Walk and incarceration at Hw,,ldi are properly honored.

The Navajo people have a culture unique to the United States Southwest. It has sustained the Navajos for countless generations. The symbolism imbued in the landscape has created unbreakable ties between the land and the people. It is the devotion to the sacred land and the enduring culture that has fostered a viable sovereign nation that continues to survive and prosper. The strength of Navajo culture and its ties to the land have been challenged throughout time and continue to be challenged.

It is the strong culture and sacred landscape that the Navajos cherish, and these fundamental values will keep the Navajo Nation and its people living between the four cardinal mountains in their sacred homeland. The Long Walk serves to remind society of the importance of cultural perseverance, and as a national historic trail; Navajo history will never be forgotten. Hence, the Navajo Nation and its people support H.R. Bill 1384
"To amend the National Trails System Act to designate the Navajo Long Walk to Bosque Redondo as a national historic trail," and respectfully request immediate legislative action to ratify this important page in American history.

Witness Statement


May 8, 2001

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the
Departmentïs views on H. R. 1384, a bill to amend the National Trails System Act to designate the Navajo Long Walk to Bosque Redondo as a national historic trail.

The Department cannot support this legislation as currently written. The National Trails System Act, P. L. 90-543, requires that a suitability and feasibility study be conducted and submitted to Congress before a trail can be established and a study has not been completed on the Navajo Long Walk Trail. It is our understanding from discussions with staff that language is being developed to amend H. R. 1384 in order to authorize a suitability and feasibility study. We would be happy to work with Representative Udall and the subcommittee on alternate language to study the proposed trail, but more importantly to determine the best manner in which to preserve and tell this important story.

While the Department could support H. R. 1384 in concept, if it were amended to authorize a suitability and feasibility study, we will not consider requesting funding for the study in this or the next fiscal year. Furthermore, in order to better plan for the future of our National Parks, we believe that such studies should carefully examine the full life cycle operation and maintenance costs that would result from each alternative considered. We caution that our support of H. R. 1384, if amended to authorize a study, does not mean that the Department, in the future, will support designations that may be recommended by the study.

H. R. 1384 would amend the National Trails System Act and designate the Navajo Long Walk National Historic Trail. The
proposed trail would cover a series of routes approximately 350 to 400 miles long over which members of the Navajo Nation were marched by the U.S. Army beginning in 1863 after they were forced to leave their traditional homes in northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico.

The story of the Navajo Long Walk came at a time in U.S. history when the military was called upon to solve a problem of a clash between cultures. In the 1850's and 60's more and more Americans were moving west into New Mexico, the Navajo's home. Repeated clashes resulted in the decision to move the Navajo away from their ancient homeland to a reservation and teach them farming and self-sufficiency. The army destroyed crops and orchards, starving them into submission. There were several successive marches of the Navajo through the cold of winter to the heat of summer. The aged and infirm often died along the way even though wagons were sometimes provided. Broken and dispirited after their defeat in their homeland, the Long Walk was particularly grueling and hard on all of the Navajo people, even those who survived.

The destination of the Long Walk was a reservation at Fort Sumner, New Mexico, called Bosque Redondo (Round Grove), which was shared with Mescalero Apache people. More than 7,000-8,000 Navajo people were eventually placed on the reservation. Although seeds were provided and the Navajo planted them immediately, there was never any success in growing crops. Due to a lack of timber for both shelter and firewood, living conditions were poor. Additionally, the Navajo and Mescalero Apache did not get along and by 1866 the Apache had deserted the reservation. By 1868 conditions were so bad that a government commission was appointed to investigate the conditions at Bosque Redondo. General W. T. Sherman, commanding the Military Division of the Missouri, ordered the Navajo back to their homelands in June of 1868, after a treaty granting them their old homelands had been signed.

The Long Walk Trail is located within a corridor that includes National Park System units at Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona and Fort Union National Monument in New Mexico and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) managed lands in New Mexico including El Malapais National Conservation Area and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. The route the army followed went from Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, to south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. From there several routes continued directly and indirectly to the Bosque Redondo at Fort Sumner on the Pecos River.

The story of the Long Walk is being told in a number of ways through the efforts of the State of New Mexico and the Navajo
Nation. For a number of years, the Navajo people have made pilgrimages to the Bosque Redondo. Plans are currently underway for a memorial and visitor center at Fort Sumner State Monument. Legislation that passed in the 106th Congress (Title II of P.L. 106-511) authorizes funding from the Defense Department to match state funds for the establishment and development of the memorial and visitor center. The legislation also authorizes the National Park Service to work with the Navajo Nation and the Mescalero Tribe to develop a symposium on the Long Walk and a curriculum for New Mexico schools.

Any further federal involvement should consider more than whether or not the Long Walk has sufficient resources and integrity to meet the standards set for establishing National Historic Trails. A study should identify other options that best tell the story as well as identify the critical resources to that story. But most importantly, any work has to consider the concerns, values and wishes of the Native Americans affected by these tragic events.

Therefore, while a study to determine the suitability of national historic trail designation may be an important part of preserving this story and sites, any authorized study should include sufficient latitude to determine if that is indeed the best way to accomplish the task.

To that end, we are ready to work with Representative Udall, the State of New Mexico and the Navajo and Mescalero to determine the most appropriate action.

That completes my testimony. I would be happy to answer any questions that you or any of the members of the subcommittee may have.

Public Law No: 107-214.
H.R.1384 Text, PDF: The text of the Bill is not available at this time.
Sponsor: Rep Udall, Tom ( Introduced 4/3/2001)
Latest Major Action: 8/21/2002 Became Public Law No: 107-214.
Title: To amend the National Trails System Act to designate the route in Arizona and New Mexico which the Navajo and Mescalero Apache Indian tribes were forced to walk in 1863 and 1864, for study for potential addition to the National Trails System. Resource Committe U.S.House Representatives Government Parks.



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