The Long Walk of the Navajos
The Emigration of Navajo Indians to Fort Sumner, New Mexico


As white settlers and prospectors pushed westward in the latter half of the 19th century, displacement of Native Americans from their ancestral homelands became commonplace. One of the most tragic episodes of exile was the Long Walk in 1864.

When the Navajos tried to take advantage of the military slack caused by the outbreak of the Civil War, the US government sent Colonel Kit Carson to settle the uprising. His mission was to gather the Navajo together and move them to Fort Sumner on the Bosque Redondo Reservation.


















In an intensive campaign to round up the Navajos, Kit Carson and his soldiers swept through Canyon de Chelly in the winter of 1864.

When the Indians refused to move and hid in the Canyon de Chelly, he began a merciless economic campaign destroying crops and livestock, burning villages and killing people.

By destroying their food supplies, eventually he convinced the Navajos that going to the reservation was the only way to survive.


Crucial to Gen. James Carleton's strategy to force the Indians to surrender was the systematic destruction of their livestock and crops, including hundreds of peach trees.






















Most of the Navajos were forced to walk more than 300 miles to captivity; many did not survive the journey.

In 1864, the Navajos, among with some other tribes, a total of 8,000-9,000 people, began their "Long Walk" to Fort Sumner. Along the 300 miles trip from northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico, about 200 people died of cold and starvation. Many more people died after they arrived at the barren reservation, a desolate tract on the Pecos River in eastern New Mexico. 
Intended to be a reservation "to tame the savages," the ill-planned site, named for a grove of cottonwoods by the river, turned into a virtual prison camp for the Navajos. The brackish Pecos water caused severe intestinal problems, and diseases were rampant. Armyworm destroyed the corn crop, and the wood supply at the Bosque was soon depleted.


Faced with a shortage of wood, the Navajos at Bosque Redondo built huts of sticks, cowhides and old canvas.

The original idea was that the Navajos would engage in agriculture at the reservation. But because the land was unsuitable for raising crops and the people had no farming experience, the plan failed. The Navajos endured the wretched camp for four years. In 1868, partly as a recognition of their mistake, the US government allowed the people to return to their homeland.