5/18/10 - the long walk

In today's excerpt - the Long Walk. In January 1864, the U.S. Army forcibly removed between 8,000 and 9,000 Navajo Indians from their traditional lands, in the eastern Arizona Territory and the western New Mexico Territory, to internment camps in Bosque Redondo in the Pecos River valley. They had been conquered by a campaign whereby the U.S. Army had systematically destroyed their crops and other food sources, and old and weak among the Navajo had to either surrender or die. During the Long Walk, at least 200 died or were kidnapped along the 300-mile trek that took over 18 days to travel by foot. Their settlement in Bosque Redondo had such catastrophic consequences in death and disease and was so disastrously expensive that the U.S. returned them to a reservation in their original homeland in a second "Long Walk" in June 1868:

"Most of them were guilty of nothing more than being Navajo. The errant young men responsible for most of the raids represented but a small percentage of the tribe. Yet now the many would pay for the malefactions of the few; now all the [Navajo] would finally suffer for the trouble caused by its most incorrigible members. It was the poorest Navajos, the ladrones, who had surrendered first. They were the sickest and weakest, the ones who had lacked the wherewithal to hold out. Now they had less than nothing—not their health, not their animals, not even a country. ...

"Now they had food, too, if that's what you called the rations the [U.S. Army] provided along the march. The bacon was rancid and caused the Navajos to retch. They had coffee beans but no means to grind them. The daily ration of wheat flour was virtually useless. Although there was nothing particularly wrong with it, most Navajos had never seen flour before and didn't know what to do with it. So they just stuffed it into their mouths, uncooked—and naturally grew sick. ...

"Kindness may have been the [U.S.] policy, but as almost always happens in the escalating confusion of a refugee evacuation, the best intentions slipped. Army command devolved into chaos. Soldiers raped women, denied rations, and pushed elderly marchers to the brink of death. Cruel guards occasionally shot those who couldn't keep up and left them to rot where they lay. And soldiers looked the other way as old enemies of the Navajos—the Zuni, the Jemez, and the New Mexicans—had their fun with the helpless trains of emigrants, stealing women and children away in the night. The slave raids became so prevalent that an American officer circulated a warning that all guards 'must exercise extreme vigilance or the Indians' children will be stolen from them and sold.'

"Hundreds of Navajos succumbed to sickness, exposure, and exhaustion. The erratic spring weather for which New Mexico is famous only worsened the ordeal. On March 21 a blizzard fell on a party of nearly a thousand marchers. Army quartermasters were not prepared for the storm—they had not procured enough firewood or blankets to go around. Many of the Indians were nearly naked and some developed frostbite. By the time this unfortunate column reached the bosque, 110 Navajos had died."


Hampton Sides


Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West


Anchor Books a division of Random House


Copyright 2006 by Hampton Sides


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