Sunday, March 26, 2023

The Long Walk.


Lynne Cantwell 2023
Instances of man's inhumanity to man abound in history. We've all heard about the Holocaust, but such events have happened on American soil, too, and I'm not talking about just slavery. There were Japanese internment camps set up here during World War II. And there was the Trail of Tears -- the thousand-mile march to Oklahoma that wad forced upon the Cherokee and other Eastern and Woodland tribes by the U.S. government in 1868.

There's another such trek that not many people have heard of. It happened in what was then the New Mexico Territory in the early 1860s, before the Trail of Tears, when the U.S. Army -- left at loose ends after Confederate troops were routed from the area during the Civil War -- decided to round up the Mescalaro Apaches and the Navajos and resettle them at Fort Sumner in eastern New Mexico. The commander of the fort, Brigadier General James H. Carleton, ordered Kit Carson to subdue first the Apaches, then the Navajos, and force them to walk to a site next to the fort dubbed Bosque Redondo -- a distance of 450 miles for some of the detainees. Yes, detainees. Make no mistake: Bosque Redondo was a concentration camp.

The New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs has built a memorial marking the Long Walk. This past week, I visited the site. 

Lynne Cantwell 2023
The pictures I took are text-heavy and may be hard to read, so I'll summarize. Fort Stanton, at the bottom of this map, is where the Mescalero Apaches started their walk. You can see Albuquerque in the upper left corner of the map; the Navajos walked from either Fort Defiance in the Arizona Territory, well to the left of this photo, or Fort Wingate.

Carleton's plan was to settle both tribes in villages of adobe-style homes that they themselves would build. Basically, he wanted to make Puebloans out of them. But the Apaches were nomadic and the Navajos were sheepherders; neither had ever built adobe homes. Their lifestyles were totally different from the Pueblo peoples, as well as from each other. Still, Carleton thought he could "reform" them by making them into farmers, converting them to Christianity, and teaching their children English. This, then, could be the model for "civilizing" Indian tribes throughout the West. 

Lynne Cantwell 2023
It didn't work. The crops failed in 1865, due to a combination of drought, hail, and insect infestations. In addition, rations meant for Bosque Redondo were cut as the Civil War continued back east. Not surprisingly, many of the detainees died. 

By November of that year, the Apaches had had enough. On the night of November 3rd, hundreds of them crept away from the camp, leaving just nine young men behind to trick the Army into believing everything was fine. Not long after, those nine left, too.

Did the Army just let them go? Of course not. They tracked them down and killed as many as they could find -- men, women and children. Those who survived scattered, finding homes amongst other tribes.

Lynne Cantwell 2023
By 1868, it was clear to everybody that Bosque Redondo was a failure. But what to do with the Navajos? The White negotiators -- who included William Tecumseh Sherman -- favored removing them to Oklahoma, but the Navajos refused to go anywhere except back home. After extensive talks between the U.S. government and Navajo leaders (the government says they dealt with the men, but the Navajos say their women also had input -- which makes sense, as Navajo society is traditionally matriarchal), on June 1, 1868, the two sides signed a treaty that established the Navajo reservation and allowed them to walk back home.

But the government didn't give up on its plan to civilize the Indians. Included in the treaty was a provision that Navajo children would be sent to school. Enter Christian missionaries. The photo below shows how the kids were split up: the smallest went to a Catholic-run school; taller kids went to a Presbyterian-run school; and the tallest went to a Mormon-run school. 

Lynne Cantwell 2023
Boarding school became the model for educating Indian children in both this country and Canada: yank them from their families, cut off their hair, force them to wear White clothing, and rob them of their language and traditions. And that's just the start of the abuse these kids received. Thousands of children who died at the schools were simply buried there. 

And yet, Native Americans have survived. The reason this memorial is at Fort Sumner at all is due to a group of Navajo teens who visited the site on a field trip in 1990. 

Back in the 1980s, Fort Sumner's town fathers, with an eye toward tourist dollars, were all about Billy the Kid, the notorious outlaw who was killed there in 1881 and whose grave is just down the road from Bosque Redondo. The Navajo kids were incensed by what they saw. They wrote a letter accusing the state of ignoring the atrocities that had occurred at the site and left it for officials to find. For the next several decades, the state of New Mexico consulted with the Mescalero Apache tribe and the Navajo Nation to tell the story of what happened at Bosque Redondo. The resulting memorial is very well done. 

The Bosque Redondo Memorial is about two and a half hours from either Albuquerque or Santa Fe. If you're ever in the area, I heartily recommend a visit. 

These moments of solemn bloggy remembrance have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe, y'all.

No comments: