The Navajo and Apache were both aggressive tribes that frequently raided nearby Pueblo settlements for food, property, women, and slaves. In the 1700’s and early 1800’s, Navajo warriors frequently raided Mexican settlements for food, livestock, and slaves in response to Spanish and Mexican warlords who conducted raids and on Navajo villages and kidnapped their children. Navajo warriors also attacked westward-bound settlers on the Santa Fe Trail in the 1840’s.
Fort Defiance and Fort Lyon
In the 1850’s and 1860’s, after much of the desert southwest was ceded to America as a result of the Mexican War, tensions between the Navajo and the United States military increased. Frequent skirmishes over grazing land, horses, and stolen livestock culminated when the famous Navajo chief Maneulito led his warriors on an attack on Fort Defiance, a military post at Canyon Bonito, New Mexico in 1860. Led by Colonel Edward Canby, the U.S. military succeeded in driving the Navajo warriors back into the rugged terrain of their sacred homeland – Canyon de Chelly. In 1861, ten Navajo rioters were killed at Fort Lyon by U.S. military forces over a horse race in which the Navajo claimed a U.S. soldier cheated in.
Kit Carson's Total Warfare
By 1863, the relationship between the Navajo and U.S. military was beyond repair. The government has decided to rid the territory of the Navajo by appointing General James Carelton to drive them from New Mexico. Carleton put Christopher “Kit” Carson in charge of the plan, and Carson subsequently destroyed Navajo land, crops, orchards, and hogans; stole their livestock, and trapped them within Canyon de Chelley in 1863 and 1864. After about nine months, 12,000 half-starving Navajo were forced to surrender to the U.S. Government. It was the largest surrender in all of the Indian Wars. The Navajo were forced to relocate to a reservation in eastern New Mexico, where thousands died of disease, starvation, and fights with Apaches. In 1868, however, a delegation of Navajo chiefs successfully argued their case to the U.S. Government, and was awarded 3.5 million acres of land in their ancestral homeland.
Today, the Navajo is the largest tribe in America and have the most reservation lands.