Out of the Past
History Lessons 
The Long Walk

Long Walk of the Navajos by Olaf Wieghorst
Long Walk of the Navajos by Olaf Wieghorst

Also called the Long Walk to Bosque Redondo, the Long Walk of the Navajos was the western equivalent of the Seminoles' Trail of Tears -- a torturous deportation and attempted ethnic cleansing of the Navajo people by the U.S. government. During more than 50 separate marches between August 1864 and the end of 1866, Navajos were forced to walk at gunpoint from their reservation in what is now Arizona to eastern New Mexico. 

Following a standoff with the Navajo at Canyon de Chelly in December of 1863, Col. Kit Carson and his troops conducted a campaign of "total warfare" orchestrated by Brigadier General James Carleton - a small-scale version of General Sherman's march to the sea. 

"It was not easy, and it was not a task Carson enjoyed," says biographer David A. Remley in "Kit Carson: The Life of an American Border Man. "Carson and his volunteer soldiers were the people who had to follow their foe day after day, summer and winter, never allowing him to rest, burning his hogans, his field and grain, destroying his livestock, and indeed everything he needed to subsist."

The Navajo surrendered to Kit Carson and his troops in January 1864 and, following orders, Carson directed the destruction of their property and organized the Long Walk to the Bosque Redondo reservation, already occupied by Mescalero Apache.

"Groups of every size were gathered and started. Several routes were taken: via Albuquerque, via Santa Fe, even via Fort Union; and there were still others, ranging in distance traveled from 575 miles at the shortest to 456 miles through Santa Fe and 498 through Fort Union. The favored "Mountain Route" was 424 miles in length.

"By December of 1866 a total of 11,468 people had by report been started on the journey. Nearly a year later in November 1867 a count revealed 8,570 Navajos confined at the Bosque, the highest number reportedly held in confinement during the entire sorry episode. What happened to those of all ages who were missing can never be known. Many died on the way. Some were stolen and sold into peonage. Others escaped into the mountains. The ordeal of death and confinement did not end until the summer of 1868."

After a congressional investigation, the operation at Bosque Redondo was shut down and a treaty was signed with the Navajos, who then returned to their homeland along the Arizona-New Mexico border.

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Kit Carson
Kit Carson
The Life of an American Border Man
by David A. Remley
University of Oklahoma Press, 2012

Best known today for his role in
the tragic "Long Walk" of  the Navajos as Col. Christopher Carson of the First New Mexico Volunteers, "Kit" Carson was a mythical hero in dime novels of the 19th century and movie Westerns of the mid-20th century who fought savages, protected the virtuous and helped open the frontier. 

This biography portrays the real-life Carson as Scots-Irish border man - a trapper, guide, hunter, soldier - shaped by his culture and his times. Rather than a stereotypic Indian killer, it argues that he matured intellectually and ethically as he grew older.

"A man of action rather than of a philosophical turn of mind, he performed duties that made a difference, for better or worse, for the people he lived with and worked among," David A. Remley explains.

Carson went far beyond his rural roots in present-day Missouri, becoming a trapper in the West, Fremont's guide in opening the Oregon Trail and a participant in both the Mexican-American War. and the Civil War.

His role in the subjugation of the Navajo and the forced march to  Bosque Redondo was neither pursued nor enjoyed, according to Remley. A year earlier Carson's resignation was refused by Brigadier General James Carleton, who orchestrated but did not physically participate in the campaign.

Kit Carso
Kit Carson

Kit Carson (1940)
Kit Carson (1940)

Navajo Bosque Redondo memorial in New Mexico
Navajo Bosque Redondo memorial in New Mexico

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