Allison's Book Bag

The Long Walk of 1864

Posted on: March 25, 2014

Reading historical fiction can introduce one to important events from the past. For example, Danny Blackgoat, Navajo Prisoner by Tim Tingle, which I’ll review tomorrow, is a fictional story about a sixteen-year-old who survived the very real Navajo Long Walk of 1864.

What is the Navajo Long Walk? According to Legends of America, it involves an Indian removal effort by the United States government from 1863-1864. By the 1860s, as more Americans pushed west, they met with resistance from native people who fought to maintain control of their lands along with their way of life. Despite attempts at treaties, a destructive cycle of raids and counter-raids occurred. In response, military leaders began drafting new plans.

In 1862, following orders from his U.S. Army commanders, Kit Carson directed the destruction of Navajo property, which included homes, orchards, and livestock. Only a few shots were reportedly fired in this war of starvation; the Navajos surrendered with promises of food and shelter. In 1864, Carson also organized the forced relocation or Long Walk to the Bosque Redondo reservation, already occupied by Mescalero Apache.

Aimed at crushing American Indian resistance, about ten thousand men, women, and children were marched three-hundred miles to Bosque Redondo, a desolate tract on the Pecos River in eastern New Mexico. They were marched at gunpoint through the scorched desert of the American Southwest. During the harsh winter conditions which occurred part of that time, around two hundred Navajo died of cold and starvation. More died after they arrived at the barren reservation and were forced into four years of isolation, far removed from their sacred homelands in the Southwest.


Desert USA not only provides the below map of The Long Walk on its site, but also quotes from military and from Navajo. I’ve pasted a couple sample quotes below. Many more can be found on the site itself.

…. all those Navajoes who claimed not to have murdered and robbed the inhabitants must come in [surrender] and go to the Bosque Redondo [a concentration camp at Fort Sumner, on the Pecos River, in east central New Mexico], where they would be fed and protected until the war was over.
–Brigadier General, James H. Carleton, L.C. Kelly’s book Navajo Roundup


Those who surrendered were started on a walk to Fort Defiance [in northeastern Arizona], but it was bitter cold and they stopped at a house where they lay on the floor. Some died of hunger there. It is not known how long the remainder stayed there. At Fort Defiance they were given rations again which made many Navajos sick and killed some.
–Betty Shorthair, a Navajo medicine woman, from the book Navajo Stories of the Long Walk Period

Canyon de Chelly provides true narratives of area from its residents. The site is 100% owned by Navajo. One narrative reports that during The Long Walk, the different types of food provided made the Navajo sick. For example, the Navajos did not how to use white flour and coffee beans. They mixed the flour with water and drank it. Then they tried boiling the hard coffee beans in stew. This combination gave the people severe stomach cramps.

Half way through the march the people had to cross the Rio Grande river. Many were forced into the river by soldiers on horseback, but were washed away and drowned. Many women did not want to cross the river and so they sacrificed themselves and their babies. The surviving Navajo were allowed to cut down tall trees of cottonwood. Even with the branches of the trees cut, many people were drowned as they began to swim across the fast-moving river.

Other tragic stories are told too of how clothes, moccasins, and blankets turned to rags. If people fell on the trail and did not get up, the soldiers either shot them or left them to freeze to death.

Finally, there is a KUED documentary called The Long Walk: Tears of the Navajo. Producer John Howe worked with Navajo Elders in the production of this documentary and they tell this story from their own historical perspective. “The landscape of the American West is washed by a thousand tears,” says Howe. “The Long Walk of the Navajo is a story that should never be forgotten.”


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I am focusing this year on other commitments. Once a month, I’ll post reviews of Advanced Reader Copies. Titles will include: Freddy Frogcaster and the Flash Flood by Janice Dean, One Two by Igor Eliseev, Incredible Magic of Being by Kathyrn Erskine, Dragon Grammar Book by Diane Robinson, and Wide as the Wind by Edward Stanton.



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