Long Walk of the Navajo
Part of the Navajo Wars
Navajo people photographed during the Long Walk
LocationSouthwestern United States
Attack type
Forced displacement
DeathsAt least 200
VictimsNavajo people
PerpetratorsU.S. Federal Government, U.S. Army
MotiveAcquisition of Navajo lands and forced cultural assimilation of Navajo people

The Long Walk of the Navajo, also called the Long Walk to Bosque Redondo (Navajo: Hwéeldi), was the 1864 deportation and ethnic cleansing[1][2] of the Navajo people by the United States federal government. Navajos were forced to walk from their land in western New Mexico Territory (modern-day Arizona) to Bosque Redondo in eastern New Mexico. Some 53 different forced marches occurred between August 1864 and the end of 1866. Some anthropologists claim that the "collective trauma of the Long Walk...is critical to contemporary Navajos' sense of identity as a people".[3][4]


Map of the Long Walk

The traditional Navajo homeland spans from Arizona through western New Mexico. Navajo built houses, planted crops, and raised livestock there. Groups or bands raided and traded with each other, making and breaking treaties. This included interactions between Navajo, Spanish, Mexican, Pueblos, Apache, Comanche, Ute, and later European Americans. Any of them could be victims of these conflicts and also instigate conflicts to pursue their interests.[5][better source needed]

Hostilities escalated between European Americans and Navajos following the scalping of respected Navajo leader Narbona in 1849.[6] In August 1851, Colonel Edwin Vose Sumner established Fort Defiance for the U.S. government (near present-day Window Rock, Arizona) and Fort Wingate (originally Fort Fauntleroy near Gallup, New Mexico). Prior to the Long Walk, treaties were signed in 1849, 1858, and 1861.[note 1]

Navajo–Army conflicts

Manuelito, studio portrait, c. 1897
Barboncito, c. 1865

Friction between invading European Americans and Navajo groups was widespread between 1846 and 1863. Manuelito (Hastiin Chʼil Haajiní) and Barboncito (Hastiin Dághaaʼ) reminded the Navajo that the Army was sending troops to wage war, that it had flogged a Navajo messenger, and that it opened fire on tribal headsman Agua Chiquito, during talks for peace.[citation needed] They argued that the army had refused to bring in feed for their animals at Ft. Defiance, took over the prime grazing land, and killed Manuelito's livestock there. On April 30, 1860, Manuelito and Barboncito with 1,000 Navajo warriors attacked the fort and almost took control.[7]

Truces and treaties committed the Army to protect the Navajo. However, the Army allowed other Native American tribes and Mexicans to steal livestock and enslave Navajos. A truce was signed on February 15, 1861.[8] They were again promised protection, but as part of the truce, two of the Navajo's four sacred mountains were taken from them, as well as about one-third of their traditional land. In March, a company of 52 citizens led by Jose Manuel Sanchez drove off a bunch of Navajo horses, but Captain Wingate followed the trail and recovered them for the Navajo, who had killed Sanchez. Another group of settlers ravaged Navajo rancherias in the vicinity of Beautiful Mountain. Also during this time, a party of Mexicans and Pueblo Indians captured 12 Navajo in a raid, and three were brought in.[9]

On August 9, 1861, Lt. Col. Manuel Antonio Chaves of the New Mexico Volunteer Militia took command of a garrison of three companies numbering 8 officers and 206 men at Fort Fauntleroy. Chaves was later accused of holding back supplies intended for the 1,000 or more Navajos who had remained close to the fort and was maintaining only lax discipline. Horse races began on September 10 and continued into the late afternoon of September 13. Col. Chaves permitted Post Sutler A. W. Kavanaugh to supply liquor to the Navajos. A dispute emerged about which horse won a race. A shot rang out, followed by a fusillade. Almost immediately 200 Navajo, well-armed and mounted, advanced toward the Guard, shooting at the men. They were fired upon by the soldiers and scattered, leaving 12 dead and forty prisoners. On hearing this, General Canby demanded a report from Chaves, who did not comply. Canby sent Captain Andrew W. Evans to the fort, named Fort Lyon on September 25, who took command. Manuel Chaves, suspended from command, was confined to Albuquerque pending court-martial. (The charges were dismissed after two months.) In February 1861, Chaves took the field with 400 militia and ransacked Navajo land, without federal authority.[10]

Civil War and Kit Carson

Undated photo of Carson from the Library of Congress

With Confederate troops moving into southern New Mexico, Canby sent Agent John Ward into Navajo lands to persuade any who might be friendly to move to a central encampment near the village of Cubero. In return they would be offered government protection. Ward was instructed to warn all Navajos who refused to come that they would be treated as enemies; many came. Evans was overseeing the abandonment of Fort Lyon and had been told that the new policy was that the Navajo had to be removed to settlements or pueblos, mentioning the region of the Little Colorado west of Zuni as possibly an ideal place. In November, some Navajo started raiding again. On December 1, Canby wrote to his superior in St. Louis that "recent occurrences in the Navajo country have so demoralized and broken up [the Navajo] nation that there is now no choice between their absolute extermination or their removal and colonization at points so remote...as to isolate them entirely from the inhabitants of the Territory. Aside from all considerations of humanity, the extermination of such a people will be the work of the greatest difficulty."[11]

By 1862, the Union Army had pushed the Confederates down the Rio Grande. The United States government again determined to eliminate Navajo raiding and raids on the Navajo. James H. Carleton was ordered to relieve Canby as Commander for the New Mexico Military Department in September 1862. Carleton ordered Colonel Christopher "Kit" Carson to proceed to Navajo territory and to receive the Navajo surrender on July 20, 1863. When no Navajos showed up, Carson and another officer entered Navajo territory in an attempt to persuade Navajos to surrender and used a scorched earth policy to starve the Navajo out of their traditional homeland and force them to surrender. By early 1864 thousands of Navajo began surrendering. Some Navajos refused and scattered to Navajo Mountain, the Grand Canyon, the territory of the Chiricahua Apache, and to parts of Utah.[citation needed]

The Long Walk

A U.S. soldier stands guard over Navajo people during the Long Walk.
Manuelito family at Bosque Redondo, Fort Sumner, NM. c. 1864

Major General James H. Carleton was assigned to the New Mexico Territory in the fall of 1862, it is then that he would subdue the Navajos of the region and force them on the long walk to Bosque Redondo. Upon being assigned the territory Carleton set boundaries in which the Navajos would not engage in any sort of conflict. They were prohibited from trespassing onto lands, raiding neighboring tribes, and engaging in warfare with both the Spaniards and European Americans. A majority of the Navajos were abiding by these requirements but a band of Navajo freelancing raiding parties broke these rules, for which the entire tribe was penalized.[12] In the eyes of Carleton, he was unsuccessful and enlisted outside resources for aid including famous mountain man Kit Carson.

Carson also enlisted neighboring tribes in aiding his campaign to capture as many Navajos as he could. One tribe that proved to be most useful was the Utes. The Utes were very knowledgeable of the lands of the Navajos, and were very familiar with Navajo strongholds as well.[13] Carson launched his full-scale assault on the Navajo population in January 1864.[12] He destroyed everything in his path, eradicating the way of life of the Navajo people. Hogans were burned to the ground, livestock was killed off, and irrigated fields were destroyed. Navajos who surrendered were taken to Fort Canby and those who resisted were murdered. Some Navajos were able to escape Carson's campaign but were soon forced to surrender due to starvation and the freezing temperature of the winter months.

The "Long Walk" started at the beginning of spring 1864. Bands of Navajo led by the Army were relocated from their traditional lands in eastern Arizona Territory and western New Mexico Territory to Fort Sumner (in an area called the Bosque Redondo or Hwéeldi by the Navajo) in the Pecos River valley (Bosque Redondo is Spanish for "round forest"—in New Mexican Spanish a bosque means a river-bottom forest usually containing cottonwood trees). The march was very difficult and pushed many Navajos to their breaking point. Many began the walk exhausted and malnourished, others were not properly clothed and were not in the least prepared for such a long journey. They were also treated cruelly by the soldiers leading the march. They were never informed as to where they were going, why they were being relocated, or how long it would take to get there.[13] One account passed through generations within the Navajos shows the attitude of the U.S. Army:

It was said that those ancestors were on the Long Walk with their daughter, who was pregnant and about to give birth [...] the daughter got tired and weak and couldn't keep up with the others or go further because of her condition. So my ancestors asked the Army to hold up for a while and to let the woman give birth, but the soldiers wouldn't do it. They forced my people to move on, saying that they were getting behind the others. The soldier told the parents that they had to leave their daughters behind. "Your daughter is not going to survive, anyway; sooner or later she is going to die," they said in their own language. "Go ahead," the daughter said to her parents, "things might come out all right with me," But the poor thing was mistaken, my grandparents used to say. Not long after they had moved on, they heard a gunshot from where they had been a short time ago.[14]

At least 200 died during the 18-day, 300-mile (500-km) trek. Between 8,000 and 9,000 people were settled on an area of 40 square miles (104 km2), with a peak population of 9,022 by the spring of 1865.[citation needed]

Long Walk Trails

There were as many as 50 groups taking one of seven known routes. They each took a different path but were on the same trail. When returning to the Navajo lands, they reformed their group to become one; this group was ten miles (16 km) long. Some of these Navajos escaped and hid with Apaches that were running from Gen. Crook on what is known as Cimmaron Mesa southeast of present-day NM Highway 6 and I-40; later they relocated to Alamo Springs northwest of Magdalena, NM and are known as the Alamo Band of the Diné (Navajos). Nelson Anthony Field who had a trading post made a trip to DC to lobby for a reservation for this Band and it was granted. This Band is part Navajo and part Apache.[15][citation needed]


The campaign to subdue the Navajo by the Army was supplemented by raids by New Mexican and Ute slavers who fell on isolated bands of Navajo, killing the men, taking the women and children captive, and capturing horses and livestock. During the army campaign the Ute scouts attached to the army unit engaged in this activity and left destruction of Navajo infrastructure to the main army unit.[16] Following the surrender of the Navajo, the Utes continued to raid the Navajo as did New Mexican slavers.[17] A large number of slaves were taken and sold throughout the region.[18]

Bosque Redondo

Bosque Redondo Memorial

Like some internment camps involving several tribes, the Bosque Redondo had serious problems. About 400 Mescalero Apaches were placed there before the Navajos. The Mescaleros and the Navajo had a long tradition of raiding each other; the two tribes had many disputes during their encampment. Furthermore, the initial plan was for around 5,000 people, nowhere near the 10,000 men, women, and children who eventually resided in the camp. Water and firewood were major issues from the start; the water was brackish and the round grove of trees was quite small. Nature and humans both caused crop failures every year. The corn crop was infested with army worms and failed repeatedly. The Pecos River flooded and washed out the head gates of the irrigation system. In 1865 Navajo began leaving. By 1867 the remaining Navajo refused to plant a crop.[19] Comanches raided them frequently, and they raided the Comanche, once stealing over 1,000 horses. The non-Indian settlers also suffered from the raiding parties who were trying to feed their starving people on the Bosque Redondo. There was inept management of the supplies purchased for the reservation. The army spent as much as $1.5 million a year to feed the Indians. In 1868 the experiment—meant to be the first Indian reservation west of Indian Territory—was abandoned.[citation needed] A memorial site honoring those who were incarcerated at Bosque Redondo is located at Fort Sumner, New Mexico.[20]

Treaty of Bosque Redondo

Marker where the Treaty of June 1, 1868, was signed

The Treaty of Bosque Redondo between the United States and many of the Navajo leaders was concluded at Fort Sumner on June 1, 1868. Some of the provisions included establishing a reservation, restrictions on raiding, a resident Indian Agent and agency, compulsory education for children, the supply of seeds, agricultural implements and other provisions, rights of the Navajos to be protected, establishment of railroads and forts, compensation to tribal members, and arrangements for the return of Navajos to the reservation established by the treaty. The Navajo agreed for ten years to send their children to school and the U.S. government agreed to establish schools with teachers for every thirty Navajo children. The U.S. government also promised for ten years to give to the Navajos annually: clothing, goods, and other raw materials, not exceeding the value of five dollars per person, that the Navajos could not manufacture for themselves.[21]

The signers of the document were: W. T. Sherman (Lt. General), S. F. Tappan (Indian Peace Commissioner), Navajos Barboncito (Chief), Armijo, Delgado, Manuelito, Largo, Herrero, Chiquito, Muerte de Hombre, Hombro, Narbono, Narbono Segundo and Ganado Mucho.[21] Those who attested the document included Theo H. Dodd (Indian Agent) and B. S. Roberts (General 3rd Cav).

Return and end of Long Walk

On June 18, 1868, the once-scattered bands of people who call themselves Diné, set off together on the return journey, the "Long Walk" home. This is one of the few instances where the U.S. government permitted a tribe to return to their traditional boundaries. The Navajo were granted 3.5 million acres (14,000 km2) of land inside their four sacred mountains. The Navajo also became a more cohesive tribe after the Long Walk and were able to successfully increase the size of their reservation since then, to over 16 million acres (70,000 km2).

After relating 20 pages of material concerning the Long Walk, Howard Gorman, age 73 at the time, concluded:

As I have said, our ancestors were taken captive and driven to Hwéeldi for no reason at all. They were harmless people, and, even to date, we are the same, holding no harm for anybody...Many Navajos who know our history and the story of Hwéeldi say the same.

— Navajo Stories of the Long Walk Period[22]


Long Walk Home, mural by Richard K. Yazzie, 2005

Health effects

Not all the Navajo were captured and forced to take the long walk. Geneticists believe that a genetic bottleneck developed among the small, isolated, uncaptured groups. This produced the consequence of otherwise rare genetic diseases,[23] for example xeroderma pigmentosum, stemming from recessive genes achieving greater dominance.[24] An alternative put forth by some Navajo is that the sudden rise of xeroderma pigmentosum is directly related to wide spread contamination from uranium mining.[25]

In art

Navajo artist Richard K. Yazzie created a mural entitled Long Walk Home for the city of Gallup, New Mexico. It is located at the intersection of Third and Hill streets. It is rendered in the four "sacred colors", black, white, blue and yellow.[26]

In music

A famous song was composed by the Navajo when they were set free about their return to their homeland, Shí naashá (I am going).

In literature

A supposed remnant of the Long Walk from Bosque Redondo, a rug called Woven Sorrow, figures prominently as a valuable antique in the plot of The Shape Shifter by Tony Hillerman, published in 2006. Anne Hillerman mentioned the Long Walk in a subsequent novel in the series, Cave of Bones (2018).

The story of the forced relocation is the setting of the youth fiction novel The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow, written in 1999 by Ann Turner.

Another novel depicting the Long Walk from Bosque Redondo is the Welsh novel I Ble'r aeth Haul y Bore? by Eurig Wyn. This Welsh language novel follows a number of characters (some historic, others created by the writer), and focuses not only on the Navajos, but also the Apache.

In the 1979 Stephen King novel The Long Walk (written under the pen name Richard Bachman) two Hopis are among one hundred teenage boys who participate in a competitive and voluntary death march which serves as a macabre annual spectacle in a totalitarian re-imagining of America.

Scott O'Dell's Newbury Award-winning book Sing Down the Moon (1970) depicts the forced migration of the Navajos to Bosque Redondo.


See also


  1. ^ Often truces, ceasefires and armistices are mistakenly called treaties. Treaties in the United States have been ratified by the US Senate. A truce or armistice are an agreement between combatants but not ratified by the US Congress. For example, The Bonneville Treaty of 1858 was agreed to by the Navajo and the US Military but it was never ratified by the US Senate.


  1. ^ Anderson, Gary C. Ethnic Cleansing and the Indian: The Crime that Should Haunt America. The University of Oklahoma Press. Oklahoma City, 2014.
  2. ^ Lee, Lloyd ed. Navajo Sovereignty. Understandings and visions of the Diné People. University of Arizona Press: Tucson, 2017.
  3. ^ Csordas, Thomas J. (February 1999). "Ritual Healing and the Politics of Identity in Contemporary Navajo Society". American Ethnologist. Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association. 26 (1): 3–23. doi:10.1525/ae.1999.26.1.3. JSTOR 647496.
  4. ^ Burnett, John (June 14, 2005). "The Navajo Nation's Own 'Trail Of Tears'". NPR, All Things Considered. Retrieved July 30, 2012.
  5. ^ Forbes, Jack D. (1960). Apache, Navajo and Spaniard. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. LCCN 60-13480. OCLC 244951.
  6. ^ Calhoon to Medill, October 1, 1849, from National Archives for Navajo Land Claims Case, at Navajo Tribal Museum, Window Rock AZ
  7. ^ Thompson, Gerald (1976). The Army and the Navajo: The Bosque Redondo Reservation Experiment 1863–1868. Tucson, Arizona: The University of Arizona Press. ISBN 0-8165-0495-4.
  8. ^ "Documents relating to the negotiation of an unratified treaty of February 15, 1861, with the Navajo Indians". February 15, 1861.
  9. ^ McNitt, Frank (1972). Navajo Wars; Military Campaigns, Slave Raids, and Reprisals. Tucson, Arizona: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 978-0-8263-1226-6.
  10. ^ Thompson, Jerry D. (2015). A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers and Militia. Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 978-0-8263-5568-3.
  11. ^ McNitt, Frank (1990). Navajo Wars: Military Campaigns, Slave Raids, and Reprisals. University of New Mexico Press. pp. 428–429. ISBN 9780826312266.
  12. ^ a b Cheek, Lawrence W. (2004). The Navajo Long Walk. Tucson: Rio Nuevo Pub.
  13. ^ a b Iverson, Peter (2000). Diné: A History of the Navajos. Albuquerque: Univ. New Mexico Press.
  14. ^ Roessel, Ruth, ed. (1973). Navajo Stories of the Long Walk Period. Tsaile, Arizona: Navajo Community College Press. ISBN 978-0-912586-16-8.
  15. ^ Source: Fred "Dutch" Knoblock who was married to Alice Field.
  16. ^ Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (p. 286). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  17. ^ Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (p. 287). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  18. ^ "Navajos [] were captured en route and sold off throughout New Mexico, Colorado, and northern Mexico." Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (p. 293). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  19. ^ Page 168, Kelly, Navajo Roundup
  20. ^ "The Bosque Redondo Memorial". Bosque Redondo Memorial at Fort Sumner State Monument. Retrieved March 4, 2021.
  21. ^ a b "U.S.-Navajo Treaty of 1868". reta.nmsu.edu. Archived from the original on March 11, 2002. Retrieved September 1, 2015.
  22. ^ Gorman, Howard (1973). "1864: The Navajo begin 'Long Walk' to imprisonment". Native Voices. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved January 28, 2013.
  23. ^ Erickson, Robert P. (April 21, 2021). "Autosonal recessive disseases among the Athabaskans of the southwestern United States: Anthropological, Medical, and Scientific Aspects". Journal of Applied Genetics. 45 (3): 445–449. doi:10.1007/s13353-021-00630-7. PMC 8057858. PMID 33880741.
  24. ^ "A Rare Genetic Disorder Is Stalking the Children of the Navajo Nation In POV's 'Sun Kissed,' Premiering Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012, on PBS". POV Documentaries with a Point of View. PBS. Retrieved November 6, 2014.
  25. ^ http://www.peoplesworld.org/article/rare-disease-suddenly-arises-on-navajo-reservation/ review of Sun Kissed
  26. ^ "Gallup Murals". Gallup Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved March 4, 2021.