Life at Bosque Redondo for the Mescalero Apache and Navajo people was miserable. Despite insurmountable difficulties, being highly adaptable people, the Mescalero and Navajo made the best of their horrible conditions.
By summer of 1863, the reservation had fields with crops planted. Unfortunately, the complete harvest was lost due to cut worms which destroyed the crops. Since there were no crops, desperate measures were taken to provide meager Army food rations to feed the Indians. Rations were constantly being reduced to keep up with the number of people needing to be fed. Both the Mescalero and Navajo people became sick from eating Army food which was totally different from their normal diet.
The Mescalero came from a life in densely forested mountains where game and edible plants were plentiful. The Navajo had huge flocks of sheep and goats and came from a country where good grazing, and good food and water was plentiful.
The water from the Pecos River, being full of alkaline, caused severe intestinal problems and disease quickly spread. An epidemic of smallpox spread throughout the reservation and many died as the polluted water was unsafe to drink.
Winters at Bosque Redondo were bitterly cold. Material was scarce to build adequate Apache teepees and Navajo hogans. There was no adequate firewood to heat them. They were cold, sick and hungry. The prisoners were literally at the mercy of the Army and its lack of resources to provide for them and keep them alive.
The Navajos would refer to this time and place as “hweeldi”, translated as “the place of suffering.”
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“The food was bad. They were given rations that were not edible. They were given rations that our people knew nothing about.”
—Frederick Peso, N’de
“The children also had stomach ache, and some of them died of it. Others died of starvation... boys would wander off to where the mules and horse were corralled. There they would poke around the manure to take undigested corn out of it... the water was bad and salty, which gave them disentery.”
—Howard Gorman, Diné