Bosque Redondo

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At the internment camp, Navajo (Diné) prisoners were expected to embrace American cultural values—such as farming, Christianity, individualism, and the English language—a practice often referred to as the federal Indian assimilation policy. Yet the land at Bosque Redondo was not suited for farming, and the prisoners faced deprivation, starvation, disease, and death. By November 1864, about 8,570 people were imprisoned at Hweeldi, the Navajo (Diné) word for Bosque Redondo.

As Navajo (Diné) faced deteriorating conditions, news of the internment camp spread. Photographs depicted misery and suffering. U.S. officials visiting the camp could clearly see that there were not adequate resources available to care for people. By 1866, Carson ordered that no more prisoners be sent to Bosque Redondo.

The Blanket Weaver, 1905. Navajo (Diné), Arizona or New Mexico. Photograph by Edward S. Curtis, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Image 04607
The Navajo (Diné) tradition of weaving was essential during both the Long Walk and internment at Bosque Redondo. As explained by Navajo tribal member Ezekiel Argeanas (Diné), “Their [women’s] knowledge of weaving and the Churro sheep at Bosque Redondo played an important role in our ancestors surviving during a time that was such a tragedy.”

Discussion Question

  1. How can culture—the traditions, beliefs, and values people practice—help us feel strong, even during incredibly difficult times?
Navajo Indian captives under guard, Fort Sumner, New Mexico, ca. 1864–1868. Photograph by the United States Army Signal Corps, courtesy of Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA), 028534
Navajo group at Indian Issue House, Bosque Redondo era, Fort Sumner, New Mexico, ca. 1864–1868. Photograph by the United States Army Signal Corps, courtesy of Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA), 044516
Mention of the years at Bosque Redondo brings up nothing but bad memories for the Navajo (Diné). Once interned, leaders of the Navajo (Diné) Nation continued to find ways to take care of their people and look for ways to return home.

Discussion Questions

  1. What strategies can leaders use to inspire people to persist in spite of adversity?
  2. Why is it important that leaders help people find strength and courage in times of desperation?

“The Commissioners can see themselves that we have hardly any sheep or horses, nearly all that we brought here have died, and that has left us so poor that we have no means wherewith to buy others.”

For Navajo perspectives on the Long Walk, see Broderick H. Johnson, ed., Navajo Stories of the Long Walk Period (Tsaile, AZ: Diné Press, 1973), 274.
Facing reports of the appalling conditions at Bosque Redondo and a realization that it could not sustain the camp, the United States sent peace commissioners to negotiate with the Navajo (Diné). General William T. Sherman and Samuel F. Tappan met with Navajo (Diné) leaders to discuss the future of their nation. Chief Barboncito explained the realities of exile and captivity. Although the Navajo (Diné) had endeavored to make the best of their situation, the land at Bosque Redondo was not fit for farming or raising sheep.

Discussion Question

  1. What arguments could Chief Barboncito use to try to negotiate with the United States for a better future for the Navajo (Diné)?
Navajo women and children at Fort Sumner, Bosque Redondo era, New Mexico, ca. 1864–1868. Photograph from the Collection of John Gaw Meem, courtesy of Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA), 038207
Navajo (Diné) oral history tells how the Navajo (Diné) people tried to negotiate in order to return to their homelands. Local Navajo (Diné) leader Pete Price recalls how the men at first failed to prevail in negotiations. Then, Navajo (Diné) women pleaded with the commissioners to be allowed to return home. Their determination and strength contributed to the eventual Navajo (Diné) successes at negotiations.

Discussion Question

  1. Why is it important for everyday citizens to take action—in addition to leaders of a nation?
Studio portrait depicting Dine (Navajo) Chief Barboncito (also known as Hashke Yich?I? Dahilwo; seated, holding rifle), Manuelito (on left holding bow and arrow), and Calletano, Manuelito's brother (on right holding bow and arrows), 1868. Photograph by Valentin Wolfenstein, National Museum of the American Indian, P20815

I hope to God you will not ask me to go to any other country except my own.

Chief Barboncito to General Sherman
Finally, the Navajo (Diné) Nation and the United States met to negotiate the 1868 Treaty. Navajo (Diné) leaders Manuelito and Chief Barboncito negotiated on behalf of the Navajo (Diné). General Sherman attempted to persuade them to once again be removed, this time farther east to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). Manuelito and Barboncito were resolved not only to avoid further removal to Indian Territory, but also to return to their original homelands.

Discussion Question

  1. How did Navajo (Diné) leaders Barboncito and Manuelito demonstrate persistence and resilience in their efforts to return home?

Navajo (Diné) community members remained fiercely determined to return home.

Despite their horrific treatment at the hands of the United States, Navajo (Diné) leaders successfully used the treaty-making process to secure a return to their homelands and forge a diplomatic relationship with the United States government.

On June 1, 1868, Navajo (Diné) leaders signed a final Treaty with the United States at the Bosque Redondo Reservation in New Mexico, where 2,000 Navajo (Diné) internees, one out of four, died and remain buried in unmarked graves.

Illustration by Maria Wolf Lopez, colors by Michael Sheyahshe.

Harsh living conditions at Bosque Redondo shocked both General William Tecumseh Sherman and Peace Commissioner Samuel Forster Tappan.

Two thousand Navajo (Diné) internees, one out of four, died there, of dysentery, exposure, or starvation, and are buried in unmarked graves.

After four long years, Navajo (Diné) leaders, along with pleas from many Navajo (Diné) women, successfully persuaded Sherman to allow their people to return to their homelands.
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The Long Walk Case Study