At dawn on June 15, 1868, The Navajos began their long journey home. The procession, ten miles long, covered 10 to 12 miles a day for 35 days. It included 7,304 Indians, 1,500 horses and mules, and 2,000 sheep, along with 50 army wagons and a cavalry escort—an impressive and touching sight even to a hardened soldier; a never-to-be-forgotten spectacle to all those who witnessed the long walk home.
Chief Barboncito told his people, “ After we get back to our country it will brighten up again and the Navajo will be as happy as the land. Black clouds will rise and there will be plenty of rain. Corn will grow in abundance and everything look happy.”
On July 4th, they reached Tijeras Canyon, twelve miles east of Albuquerque, and the Navajos knew Mount Taylor, near present day Grants, NM, lay only a hundred miles beyond. On the sight of Mt. Taylor, Chief Manuelito was quoted, “The days and nights were long before it came time for us to go to our homes... When we saw the top of the mountain from Albuquerque we wondered if it was our mountain, and we felt like talking to the ground, we loved it so, and some of the old men and women cried with joy when they reached their homes.”
The new Fort Wingate, now near present day Gallup, was the last stop for the Navajos on the long road back to their old country. General Sherman ordered the old fort replaced and envisioned it for the headquarters of the Navajo agency. The Navajo Treaty specified that livestock would be issued, but it would take over a year for arrangements to be made for the purchase and transport of the animals.
Finally in November 1869, 15,000 sheep and goats had been driven to Fort Defiance where thousands of Navajos gathered for days to receive the promise of their treaty. Every Navajo person—man, woman, and child—received two animals. Chief Barboncito’s famous exhortation to his people from atop the corral wall is stated to the right.
Having suffered the greatest calamity that could befall a pastoral society—the complete loss of their livestock—the joy the Navajo felt during this distribution cannot be adequately described.
The Bosque Redondo experience resulted in a more determined and resilient Navajo, and never again would they be the “surprise raiders” of the Rio Grande valley. In subsequemt years they would expand their “new reservation” into an area of over 17 million acres, over eight times the size of Yellowstone National Park.
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“Now you are beginning again. Take care of the sheep that have been given you as you care for your own children. Never kill them for food. If you are hungry, go out after the wild animals and the wild plants. Or go without food, for you have done that before. These few sheep must grow into flocks so that we, the People, can be as we once were.”
—Chief Barboncito, 1869, from atop the corral wall at Fort Defiance