(1820 - 1871)
Hástiin Dághá -- Man with the Whiskers
Bislahalani -- The Orator
Hozhooji Naata -- Blessing Speaker
Ma'íí deeshgíízhiníí -- Coyote Pass People - Jemez Clan
Barboncito, one of the Navajo leaders who negotiated the 1868 treaty with the United States that permitted the Navajos to return to their homeland.
Barboncito was a Ceremonial Singer, War Chief in the Navajo War of 1863-66, Head Chief during thesigning, and brother of . Barboncito, was born at Canyon de Chelly, and became a Headman among his local Navajo band and religious singer. In 1846, during the Mexican War, he signed a treaty with Alexander W. Doniphan, agreeing to terms of friendship with whites.
In April 1860, after an incident in which soldiers killed Navajo horses over the issue of grazing lands around Fort Defiance, Arizona, Barboncito joined Manuelito in an attack on the post. In 1862, Barboncito and Delgadito informed General James H. Carleton of their peaceful intentions. The following year, however, when ordered to relocate to Bosque Redondo in eastern New Mexico, the brothers joined Manuelito in rebellion.
Barboncito was captured at Canyon de Chelly in September 1864 by troops under Colonel Christopher "Kit" Carson, and then forced to resettle at Bosque Redondo with other Navajos and Mescalero Apaches. On experiencing the terrible conditions, he escaped with about 500 followers in June 1865, rejoining Manuelito. He surrendered a second time in November 1866, leading 21 followers to Fort Wingate.
Barboncito signed the last treaty between the Navajos and the United States on June 1, 1868, establishing the original Navajo Reservation in the Chuska Mountains, where he died three years later.
Barboncito is known for his oral defense of the Navajos during the period of the formation of the, which rescured the Navajo Tribe from being sent to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma), and returing them to their homeland. The following is a story of Barboncito and his defense of the Navajos during the formation of the .
Barboncito and the Treaty of 1868
Barboncito looked at the thin, hungry faces crowded around him, Navajo faces almost too weary to hope any more. Yet he saw the hope, flickering, pleading, here and there among the faces.
It was May 28, 1868, and Barboncito knew the time was near for another council with the white men. Today, in a few hours, he would walk to the headquarters at the fort, and talk again for 7,000 Navajos who wondered if they would ever again live within the safe and sacred boundaries of their homeland.
His homeland, he longed to see it! He remembered sitting on a cliff, near the mouth of the Canyon de Chelly, where the drop down to the sand was not far. That was seventeen years ago, the lifetime of a young man. But Barboncito had not been a young man then. It was midsummer, 1851. He remembered watching the crow's dipping flight, until the crow landed to investigate a small, shiny object in the sand. Barboncito watched the crow add his ragged tracks to the mass of footprints on the sandy canyon bottom. Soon the late summer rains would flood the canyon floor, leaving no trace of man, only endless ripple patterns to decorate the white sand.
"We Navajos ... could we move like that, like a flood to wash away the men who made those tracks," he had pondered. The soldiers, seven companies of troops led by Colonel Edwin V. Sumner, had left quickly that time. Barboncito and the other canyon families were grateful the soldiers had turned back before marching into the canyon. The soldiers heard only a few owl and whippoorwill cries, but the Navajos had heard the call to return to their homes, scattered at the bottom of the cliffs and spires.
"When will the soldiers return?" wondered Barboncito. They had left only a shiny button, fallen from a soldier's jacket, that time. What would they leave behind the next time?
His eyes moved, and finally rested on a rock shelter part way up the opposite wall of the canyon. That was a sacred place, only one of many sacred places in the canyon. But there, in that rock shelter, Barboncito had first begun his life as a medicine man, awed by the power of the rocks as they echoed his prayers. He was now qualified to perform the Beauty Way and many other ceremonies. He loved this part of his life. He felt renewed himself, after singing over a patient. Even the towering red walls of his canyon home seemed to reflect the glowing peace he gained from each ceremony.
It had been so many years, so many lives ago, since Barboncito had felt that peace. He had tried to stay free of the tangled web that had bound Zarcillos Largos to the white men. He had tried to stay free of the burning anger Manuelito suffered because of the white men.
But the web had spun tighter, until Barboncito was near the center of it, dangerously near the enemy. In 1858, his hopes for peace were dashed, like a boulder careening over a cliff to shatter at the bottom. The soldiers had marched into the canyon again in that year. Barboncito and his friends had disappeared, and the canyon looked empty to the soldiers.
But a few days later that fall, a huge war party of Utes had thundered down into the canyon. They knew better than the soldiers where to find the Navajos. Barboncito and a few others managed to escape, and they rolled boulders down on the Utes hoping to save the families caught by surprise in the canyon. Barboncito heard the screams for days and nights after the attack. The fathers of twenty children lay dead, while the mothers and children were beaten, tied, and dragged away. Like flaming skeletons, the hogans and brush shelters withered to ashes, choking the canyon with smoke.
The soldiers came back to the canyon in November 1858. That time, Barboncito rode forward boldly to meet them. He told the leader, Colonel Dixon S. Miles, that he spoke for all the headmen that all wanted peace. Zarcillos Largos, too, had told the soldiers this. The determination of the two headmen had brought about an. Barboncito had avoided the Americans for many years, but this time he was glad to sign the paper for peace.
Now ten years later, Barboncito looked at the desperate people around him., and the he had also signed, and all the promises he had kept had ended only in death and near-death for thousands of his people. But he would try again this morning to persuade the white men to let his tribe go home.
Barboncito stood up, and looking at the sorrowful faces around him, spat in disgust at the gunny sack he had been sitting on. "Those make terrible beds," he scowled. "But save all of them, for you will need them to carry your loads home in." He did not smile, but the firm look of determination caught the eyes of those around him. Murmurs of hope arose, as Barboncito went to uncover his last pair of moccasins. He pulled them on, and spoke again, "This is my last pair. I have saved them for many months. These I will wear out, walking home with you." At that, a few smiles broke out, and Barboncito went to the headquarters.
He stood with his friends among the seven Navajo headmen present: Manuelito, Delgadito, Largo, Herrero, Armijo, and Torivio.
He wished he could talk directly to the white men, General W. T. Sherman and Colonel Samuel F. Tappan. But he would have to depend on Jesus Arviso to interpret for him. Jesus would speak in Navajo and Spanish. Then another man, James Sutherland, would put the Spanish into English for the two commissioners.
"Take great care with the thoughts I speak today, Jesus," Barboncito said quietly. "They must travel on wings to carry us back to our homeland."
General Sherman began to speak:
The Commissioners are here now for the purpose of learning and knowing all about your condition and we wish to hear from you the truth and nothing but the truth. We have read in our books and learned from our officers that for many years whether right or wrong the Navajos have been at war with us . . .
The words came through to Barboncito, slowly through two interpreters. As General Sherman began to speak again, Barboncito's mind went back . "right or wrong the Navajos have been at war with us."
"Yes, was it right or wrong?" wondered Barboncito as he waited for more translation. He had avoided fighting and he had avoided the peace talks, until finally, after the, he had begun to work with Zarcillos Largos.
Many times he had faced sullen and bitter Navajo families, and he had persuaded them to give up the few horses or sheep their young men had stolen. He had worked at correcting the wrongs of the young raiders until, he could stand it no longer. He saw too many Navajos poor, hungry, and not understanding why the Mexicans were allowed to steal their children. Yet, it was wrong for the Navajos to steal from the Mexicans.
Then, at the Naachid, Manuelito had spoken strongly. His fire caught Barboncito, and Barboncito turned his thoughts to driving the white men out of his country.
He joined with Manuelito in April 1860, and together they planned the greatest attack the Navajos had attempted in half a century. In the dark hours of an April morning, more than a thousand Navajo warriors crept down to surround the sleeping Fort Defiance. The only sound that arose was a whispering breeze.
The soldiers, surprised out of sleep, had finally begun to fight back, but they were battling swift shadows. Barboncito kept his warriors moving, behind fences and woodpiles, always just ahead of the soldiers' fire. As the gray light of dawn rose, Barboncito, Manuelito, and their warriors vanished, back up into the mountains from which they had come.
"Right or wrong . . ." thought Barboncito. He had thought it was right at the time, for all the work he had done to keep peace had brought only war in the end. How many Navajo families had he taken livestock from to satisfy the Americans' demands?
Finally, after the Naachid, he had stopped haunting the families. How else were these Navajos to make a new start, after their own fields and herds had been ruined by Mexicans, by Utes, and finally, by the American Army? "And our children are still slaves," he thought, "but perhaps they are the fortunate ones, for they at least have food in their stomachs . . . not like the hundreds who have died here."
General Sherman's words were coming through Jesus Arviso now, and Barboncito listened:
We find you have done a good deal of work here ... but we find you have no farms, no herds and are as poor as you were four years ago ... before we discuss what we are to do with you, we want to know what you have done in the past and what you think about your reservation here.
Barboncito began speaking, slowly, strongly:
The bringing of us here has caused a great decrease of our numbers, many of us have died, also a great number of our animals. Our grandfathers had no idea of living in any other country except our own and I do not think it right for us to do so, as we were never taught to.
When the Navajos were first created, four mountains and four rivers were pointed out to us, inside of which we should live. That was to be our country and was given to us by the First Woman of the Navajo Tribe. It was told to us by our forefathers that we were never to move east of the Rio Grande or west of the San Juan rivers and I think that our coming here has been the cause of so much death among us and our animals. First Woman, when she was created, gave us this piece of land and created it especially for us and gave us the whitest of corn and the best of horses and sheep.
Barboncito paused, hoping that Jesus would carry the words through correctly. He remembered how long he had hidden in the mountains far South of his canyon, south where he had joined with an Apache band, just to be free in his own country.
Sadly, he had returned to his canyon one late afternoon. It was empty, quiet, and he could not find a single ear of corn nor even a peach tree to help his hunger, for the canyon was burned and the people gone. General Carleton had sent one message after another, ordering Barboncito and his followers to surrender. But the tough wiry Navajo had refused each time, though food and clothing were offered. He would rather die than leave his country. Yet Barboncito also refused to fight, insisting he would remain in his homeland peacefully, even if the soldiers came after him.
From 1863 until 1866, Barboncito had held out. Manuelito had done the same, and both had suffered many hardships. As the years passed, they had found life far less free than they had hoped, for the Utes and Mexicans scoured Navajo country, hunting for the few remaining Navajos, for the slave business still flourished. Barboncito sadly watched Manuelito leave the mountains in the fall of 1866. Food was scarcer than ever, and the Ute raids more plentiful. Barboncito was nearly alone, with few comrades left to ease the emptiness. Two months passed, and in November 1866, he had finally surrendered.
Right or wrong, he wondered now, but it was too late to say. Now the interpretation was finished, and Barboncito spoke again:
You can see them (he motioned to his fellow headmen) ordinary looking as they are. I think that when the last of them is gone the world will come to an end. It is true we were brought here . . . we started to work . . . we have always done as we were told to. If told to bring ashes from the hearth, we would do so, carry water and herd stock. We never refused to do anything we were told to do.
This ground we were brought on, it is not productive. We plant but it does not yield. All the stock we brought here has died . . . we have done all we could possibly do, but found it to be labor in vain . . . For that reason we have not planted or tried to do anything this year. It is true we put seed in the ground but it would not grow two feet high. The reason I cannot tell, only I think this ground was never intended for us. We know how to irrigate and farm. Still we cannot raise a crop here.
It was true, and Barboncito's voice rang with the urgency of the hunger. Even now, there were children barely alive who probably would not survive the journey home, if they were allowed to go. The first season, they had planted corn and pumpkins for this was the food they counted upon to carry them through the winter. The crop had prospered, growing dense and green, and the women had waited patiently for the proper time to harvest, though their children cried with hunger. But the cutworms had harvested first, and there was no corn to store for the winter. Doggedly they tried again the following spring, and again the worms ruined the crop. During the third summer they watched the corn grow, two inches, a foot high, two feet high. But the clouds massed low overhead that midsummer and a hailstorm slashed the crop to useless shreds. Barboncito recounted all of this to the commissioners, and continued talking:
The Commissioners can see themselves that we have hardly any sheep or horses. Nearly all that we brought here have died, and that has left us so poor that we have no means wherewith to buy others. There are a great many among us who were once well off. Now they have nothing in their houses to sleep on except gunny sacks. True, some of us have a little stock left yet, but not near what we had some years ago, in our old country.
For that reason my mouth is dry and my head hangs in sorrow to see those around me who were at one time well off, so poor now. When we had a way of living of our own we lived happily. We had plenty of stock ... and when we wanted meat, nothing to do but kill it.
The trouble of ten years ago over Manuelito's cattle came to his mind, for Barboncito had finally taken his friend's cause to the white men in Santa Fe. Manuelito's cattle, grazing where they had grazed for many years, were suddenly a sore point to the soldiers. The U.S. Army hay camp was established near Fort Defiance, where Manuelito's stock was located. Army threats against Manuelito only brought Manuelito's anger against the Army, and he had refused to move his livestock. He had even threatened outright war against the Army. But the soldiers drove away and slaughtered much of the livestock, in spite of Manuelito's angry promise to fight. To prevent war, Barboncito had risked the danger of the long ride through Pueblo country, through Mexican country, and into the white men's town. He had little close contact with the Americans before that time, and he had been worried about their reaction to his boldness.
By this time, 1868, he had spoken to white men many times. Only a month ago, in April, he had gone to Washington, D. C., and had even spoken to the United States President, Chester A. Arthur. Now, the only thing that worried him about talking to white men was that there were so many of them . . . and they did not seem to understand that the Navajos wanted only to be left alone in peace. Now he must make them understand that one point.
Barboncito motioned again at his fellow headmen:
They were once rich. I feel sorry at the way I am fixed here. I cannot rest comfortably at night. I am ashamed to go to the commissary for my food. It looks as if somebody was waiting to give it to me. Since the time when I was very small until I was a man, when I had my father to take care of, I always had plenty.
Since that time, I have always followed my father's advice and still keep it: to live at peace with everybody.
He paused, for he wanted the Commissioners to feel the importance of this vital point. He watched the commissioners closely, as they heard his words in English.
The two white men listened. One shifted around in his chair, and the other moved some papers around on the table in front of him. General Sherman nodded a small "mmhm" indicating to Barboncito to continue.
Barboncito held his face impassive, not wanting to show his disappointment. He waited another moment, searching his mind for another way to reach the two Commissioners. They hadn't felt the importance of Barboncito's words. He had to try again; he had to succeed. Jesus Arviso jolted his thoughts by asking, "Grandfather, are you finished? The Commissioners want to know."
With a stern "NO" to Jesus, Barboncito began again, telling once more how hard his people had tried to make crops grow at Fort Sumner:
We have done all we possibly could to raise a crop of corn and pumpkins, but we were disappointed. I thought at one time the whole world was the same as my own country, but I was fooled.
Outside my own country we cannot raise a crop, but inside it we can raise a crop almost anywhere. Our families and livestock there increase, here they decrease. We know this land does not like us, neither does the water. They have all said this ground was not intended for us ... I believe now it is true what my forefathers told me about crossing the line of my own country. It seems that whatever we do here causes death. Some work ... take sick and die. Others die with the hoe in their hands. Some go to the river, in to their waists and suddenly disappear. Others have been struck and torn to pieces by lightning. A rattlesnake bite here kills us, in our own country a rattlesnake before he bites gives a warning which enables us to keep out of its way. If bitten, we readily find a cure, here we can find no cure!
Barboncito was far from finished, but he allowed the Interpreters to give this much to the Commissioners. Then he quickly continued:
When one of our big men dies, the cries of the women cause the tears to roll down to my mustache. I think then of my own country . . . When we came here there was plenty of mesquite root which we used for fuel. Now there is none nearer than the place where I met the Commissioners, twenty-five miles from here . . . in the winter many die from cold and sickness and overworking, in carrying wood such a long distance on their backs. For that reason we cannot stay contented where we now are.
Some years ago I could raise my head and see flocks of cattle in any direction. Now I feel sorry I cannot see any. I raise my head and can see herds of stock on my right and left, but they are not mine. It makes me feel sorry thinking of the time when I had plenty. I can scarcely endure it.
Barboncito paused briefly, remembering bitterly his friends who had been killed in trying to get to the Mexicans' livestock, to feed their families. The cattle grazed temptingly in sight of the Navajos, who choked down the commissary's unfamiliar wheat flour and coffee beans. Corn meal they could have cooked a hundred different ways. But wheat flour was strange to them, and the Navajos at Fort Sumner could find no way to make it palatable.
I think all nations around here are against us, I mean Mexicans and Indians. The reason is that we are a working tribe of Indians, and if we had the means, we could support ourselves far better than either Mexican or Indian. The Comanches are against us. I know this, for they came here and killed a good many of our men. In our own country we knew nothing of the Comanches.
Last winter I heard it said that there was a Commission coming here. Now I am happy it has arrived for I expect to hear from that Commission today the object of its coming here. We have all declared that we do not want to remain here any longer. If 1 can complete my thoughts today I will give the General my best thanks, and think of him as my father and mother.
As soon as I heard of your coming I made three pairs of moccasins. I have worn out two pairs of them since, as you can see for yourselves I am strong and hearty. Before I am sick or older I want to go and see the place where I was born. Now I am just like a woman, sorry like a woman in trouble. I want to go and see my own country.
If we are taken back to our own country, we will call you our father and mother. If you should only tie a goat there, we would all live off it, all of the same opinion. I am speaking for the whole tribe, for their animals, from the horse to the dog, also the unborn. All that you have heard now is the truth and is the opinion of the whole tribe. It appears to me that the General commands the whole thing as a god. I hope therefore he will do all he can for my people. This hope goes in at my feet and out at my mouth. I am speaking to you (he looked at General Sherman) now as if I was speaking to a spirit, and I wish you to tell me when you are going to take us to our own country.
They could not miss his point that time, Barboncito was certain. He had promised them the same high respect which a Navajo pays his own parents. He prayed they would believe him, for his voice was growing tired, and his mind was growing weary of searching for so many ways to say one simple thing. Bosque Redondo had forced an alien and miserable way of life upon his people, and they wanted to go home, take up their independent and self-sufficient way of life, to hold up their heads in pride at the work of their own hands. Barboncito vowed to himself that he would keep the promise of respect to the American government. He would have to speak to his own people very strongly about this point, for he never wanted another Bosque Redondo. Barboncito listened to General Sherman, relieved at the first words which came through:
I have listened to all you have said of your people, and believe you have told us the truth. You are right. The world is big enough for all the people it contains, and all should live at peace with their neighbors. All people love the country where they were born and raised . . .
Then Barboncito listened cautiously, trying to weigh the next of General Sherman's words.
... but the Navajos are very few indeed compared with all the people in the world, they are not more than seven leaves to all the leaves you have ever seen. Still we want to do to you what is right, right to you, and right to us as a people. If you will live in peace with your neighbors, we will see that your neighbors will be at peace with you. The government will stand between you and other Indians and Mexicans.
General Sherman then held up a large piece of paper, motioning to Barboncito to move closer to look at it. The Navajo leader moved forward, slowly. Was this the paper of peace which would send the Navajos home again? Curiously, he looked at the paper while General Sherman spoke:
We have a map here which, if Barboncito can understand, I would like to show him a few points on it, show him his own country, places inhabited by other Indians, the four mountains spoken of and old Fort Defiance.
For example ... in our own country nearly every family raises a crop or works at a trade . . . everybody does something for a living. Those who work hard get rich. Those who are lazy are poor.
For many years we have been collecting Indians on the Indian Territory south of the Arkansas, and they are now doing well and have been doing so for many years. We have heard you were not satisfied with this reservation (Fort Sumner) and we have came here to invite some of your leading men to go and see the Cherokee country and if they like it we would give you a reservation there. There we will give you cattle and corn ...
Barboncito's heart dropped; his ears pounded. His mind was spinning. Desperately he tried to listen to the rest of General Sherman's words, but he barely heard them:
It will be much cheaper there than here; give you schools to educate your children in English or Spanish and take care of you until such time as you will be able to protect yourselves. We do not want you to take our word for it but send some of your wisest men to see for themselves.
Barboncito did not want to believe the words he was hearing. What did General Sherman think the Navajos were children? Babies that needed a cradleboard, constant watch by a worried mother? Anger and despair flooded through Barboncito. He had all but promised his people they would be going home soon. Cherokee country? That might turn out to be worse than Bosque Redondo, and it was far away from home.
General Sherman was still talking:
If you do not want that, we will discuss the other proposition of going back to your own country, and if we agree we will make a boundary line outside of which you must not go except for the purpose of trading, we must have a clearly defined boundary line and know exactly where you belong to. You must live at peace and must not fight with other Indians. If people trouble you, you must go to the nearest military post and report to the Commanding Officer who will punish those who trouble you. The Army will do the fighting. You must live at peace. If you go to your own country, the Utes will be the nearest Indians to you. You must not trouble the Utes and the Utes must not trouble you. If however, the Utes or Apaches come into your country with bows and arrows and guns, you, of course, can drive them out, but must not follow beyond the boundary line. You must not permit your young men to go to the Ute or Apache country to steal. Neither must they steal from Mexicans.
You can come to the Mexican towns to trade. Any Navajo can now settle in this territory and he will get a piece of land not occupied, but he will be subject to the laws of the country. Our proposition now is to send some of you at the government's expense to the Indian Territory south of Kansas ... or if you want to go back to your own country you will be sent, but not to the whole of it, only a portion which must be well defined.
Barboncito saw the grim Navajo faces around him, saw them multiply into 7,000 faces, all the people whose hopes of going home depended on him alone . . . now. He faced General Sherman with great dignity and spoke.
I hope to God you will not ask me to go to any other country except my own.
It might turn out another Bosque Redondo. They told us this was a good place when we came, but it is not!
He stopped abruptly. He had already presented the best case he could, and now he waited with a heavy heart. General Sherman began to talk again:
We merely made the proposition to send you to the lower Arkansas country for you to think seriously over it. Tomorrow at 10 o'clock I want the whole tribe to assemble at the back of the hospital and for you then to delegate ten of your men to come forward and settle the boundary line of your own country which will be reduced to writing and signed by those ten men.
Barboncito felt his heart take wings. He wanted the talking to stop now, so all his people could hear the news immediately. But General Sherman was looking at him, waiting for more words.
He worked to keep his voice strong and full, not trembling with joy like some woman. He replied:
I am very well pleased with what you have said, and if we go back to our own country, we are willing to abide by whatever orders are issued to us.
We do not want to go to the right or left, but straight back to our own country.
"That is all we have to say today. Tomorrow we will meet again," General Sherman finished. He and Commissioner Tappan stood, pushing their papers together into a pile. Barboncito took this as the signal to leave, finally, gratefully.
The people were waiting, a ghostly hush over the whole camp, the tension of uncertainty, of hope, of 7,000 personal prayers and plans, and fears. The sun had moved more slowly that day than it ever had before, but the people had waited patiently. Now the door to the small headquarters opened. Into the sunlight with a proud stride came the Navajo leaders. Their chins high and their backs straight, they walked with dignity. Though Barboncito's mouth was a firm straight line, the deep creases around it tried to smile, and the people prayed they were not mistaken.
As each of the seven leaders returned to his own camp, and relayed the news, excitement spread like wildfire. Thousands didn't even hear the news, they knew it by the great noise and activity centered around the headmen.
Barboncito suddenly felt exhausted, and wanted most of all to lie down in the shade of his shelter and sleep. But hundreds of his friends gathered around him, eager to hear from him exactly what had happened in the meeting. And so the "Great Orator" began again, telling almost word for word what he and General Sherman had said to each other. With Barboncito, the people lived through the agony of the moments when General Sherman invited the Navajos to live on Cherokee land. With their leader they rejoiced at his final words: they were going home!
But he still had work to do that evening, a Navajo Council to decide upon the Navajos who would approve the boundary, and who would sign the. Representatives from all parts of Navajo country crowded into Barboncito's shelter, and thousands more began the patient waiting again, gathering in small knots, with Barboncito's followers re-telling the day's story as they had heard it themselves from their leader. Many small children wondered what the great excitement was about, for the fort had been their only home. Parents began telling their young ones marvelous tales of their country, of fine hunting, the high cool mountains, the warm lush valleys, and food, plenty of food for hungry stomachs.
Young eyes grew huge in amazement "corn fields that stretched from here to the river ... and the corn higher than a man." said one voice.
"Firewood so plentiful and so near to your hogan that you can gather enough in three days to last the whole winter," added another. At this the children nearly stopped believing the wondrous stories. For at Fort Sumner there was a life and death decision each time a family needed fuel, to leave sick and crying children at home, possibly to die, or to take them along, across the Pecos River on the grueling twenty-five mile journey and risk drowning or attack. That wood-gathering could be easy and safe was impossible for these children to believe.
But the parents had to talk. They had held back for years, not wanting to teach the children to want something they might never have. For much of their young lives, these children had heard only of the terrible burning and killing in their parents' homeland. This tale they believed, for many still awoke screaming in the night, clutching at their mothers or aunts or big sisters, afraid of the terrible dreams that leapt from their memories. And as sad as it made the parents, they could honestly tell the children, "See, see you are safe. The soldiers here do not burn our shelters . . . you are safe." Sickness, hunger, death . . . these things the children accepted. They knew no other way of life. But the parents spent that night remembering, calling up happy memories and forgetting for the moment all the terrible things that had haunted their country since the Spaniards had begun settling in New Mexico territory.
In Barboncito's council that night, four new names were added to the list of men who had attended the meeting that morning: Chiqueto, Muerto de Hombre, Narbono, and Hombro. They selected Barboncito as Head Speaker again, and with their business concluded, they too, began remembering.
After talking with the others for a polite time, Barboncito left his shelter, to seek a place where he could be alone and think. The Navajos could not simply pack up and go home, for all that awaited them at home was a blackened land, with no livestock and no seeds for planting. They would need tools to replace those which had burned when their homes burned to the ground. They would need sheep, cattle, and horses to help carry home the old and sick. They would need wool from which to make new clothing to replace the tattered remnants they now wore. The young men would have to understand and agree that stealing to acquire these things was forbidden unless they wanted to bring destruction upon the entire tribe. Barboncito had many things to clear up with the white men yet.
The sun sent its light over the horizon, and Barboncito shook himself awake guiltily, though he had only been asleep a little more than two hours. He had to be awake, to think clearly starting now, for today the fate of his people rode on his shoulders alone.
Time for the meeting came quickly. More than 7,000 Navajos gathered at the appointed place, and the ten headmen moved forward to take their places.
General Sherman asked the huge crowd if they agreed upon the ten leaders, and the Navajos responded as if with one voice . . . "YES." Barboncito was formally named Head Chief, and the General went on with his speech:
... Now from this time out you must do as Barboncito tells you. With him we will deal and do all for your good. When we leave here and go to your own country you must do as he tells you, and when you get to your country you must obey him or he will punish you. If he has not the power to do so, he will call on the soldiers and they will do it.
You must all keep together on the march. You must not scatter, for fear some of your young men might do wrong and get you all in trouble.
All these things will be put down on paper and tomorrow these ten men will sign that paper. Now we want to know about the country you want to go to. We heard Barboncito yesterday. If there are any others who differ from him, we would like to hear them.
We also want to hear if you want schools in your country, Blacksmiths or Carpenters' shops. We want to put everything on paper so that hereafter there may be no misunderstanding between us. We want to know if the whole Navajo Nation is represented by those present and if they will be bound by the acts of these ten men . . .
Again the Navajos' voices rose "YES." And Barboncito's words rang out like bells, so all could hear him.
What you have said to me now I never will forget. It is true I never liked this place, and feel sorry for being here. From here I would like to go back the same road we came by, by way of Tecalote, Bernal, Tijeras and Peralta. All the people on the road are my friends.
After I cross the Rio Grande I want to visit the Pueblo villages. I want to see the Pueblo Indians to make friends with them. I then want to go to Canyon de Chelly . . . I will take all the Navajos to Canyon de Chelly, leave my own family there . . . taking the rest and scattering them between San Mateo Mountain and the San Juan River. . . . This is the heart of Navajo country. In this place there is a mountain called the Sierra Chuska or "Mountain of Agriculture" from which the water flows in abundance creating large sand bars on which the Navajos plant their corn. It is a fine country for stock or agriculture.
There is another mountain called the Mesa Calabasa where these beads we wear on our necks have been handed down from generation to generation and where we were told by our forefathers never to leave our own country. For that reason I want to go back there as quickly as possible and not remain here another day.
When the Navajos go back to their own country I want to put them in different places. It would not do to put them all together as they are here. If separated they would be more industrious. There is only one family whose intention I do not know, the Cebolletas. I do not know whether or not they want to go back to their own country.
He paused, reviewing his speech. He had clearly told General Sherman his intentions for the Navajo people, and he had named the important landmarks which he wanted included in his people's land. Many more points still had to be settled - hunting, trading, supplies to get the Navajos started again, and more vital than ever - the return of Navajos who were still slaves to the New Mexicans. Navajo Country would need all the willing hands it could get to climb out of the impoverished situation it was now in.
General Sherman was talking about the Cebolleta Navajos: If they choose they can go and live among the Mexicans in this territory, but if they do they will not be entitled to any of the advantages of the." To General Sherman, this settled the matter. But Barboncito had doubts. The Cebolletas had never acted as close brothers of the rest of the Navajos. How could he manage to control them?
Barboncito decided to clear the matter:
I merely wished to mention it for if they remain with the Mexicans, I cannot be held responsible for their conduct. You spoke to me yesterday about putting us on a reservation with a boundary line. I do not think it right to confine us to a certain part. We want to have the privilege of going outside the line to hunt and trade.
"You can go outside the line to hunt, you can go to Mexican towns to trade, but your farms and homes must be inside the boundary line beyond which you have no claim to the land," replied General Sherman.
Now Barboncito's hopes began to rise, for the boundary line would help keep the other people out, yet the Navajos could cross the line to trade peacefully. He would bring up the matter of Navajo slaves now, for it was pressing his mind. Many people had spoken of this to him yesterday, and they wanted an answer. He addressed General Sherman:
That is the way I like it to be. I return the Commissioners my best thanks. After we get back to our country it will brighten up again and the Navajos will be as happy as the land. Black clouds will rise and there will be plenty of rain. Corn will grow in abundance.
Today is a day that anything black or red does not look right. Everything should be white or yellow, representing the flower and the corn.
I want to drop this conversation now and talk about Navajo children held as prisoners by Mexicans. Some of these present have lost a brother or a sister and I know that they are in the hands of the Mexicans. I have seen some myself.
General Sherman explained that the United States Congress had passed a law against slavery . . . "there was a great war about it . . . We do not know that there are any Navajos held by Mexicans . . . but if there are, you can apply to the judges of the Civil Courts and the Land Commissioners."
"Now," continued General Sherman, "what do you say about schools, Blacksmiths and Carpenter shops for the purpose of teaching your children?"
Barboncito knew it was his turn to reply. He had been watching Colonel Tappan during General Sherman's answer to the slave question. Colonel Tappan appeared highly interested in the problem of Navajo slaves, and it was obvious to Barboncito that Tappan was not satisfied with General Sherman's short answer to Barboncito. But they were waiting politely for Barboncito to talk again, so the Navajo leader responded to General Sherman:
We would like to have a Blacksmith shop, as a great number of us can work at the trade. We would like a Carpenter's shop, and if a school was established among us I am satisfied a great number would attend it. I like it very well. Whatever orders you leave here, you may rely upon their being obeyed.
General Sherman told the Navajos:
Whatever we promise to do you can depend upon its being done.
Colonel Tappan leaned toward General Sherman, and the two spoke softly together for a moment. Then Colonel Tappan asked Barboncito, "How many Navajos are among the Mexicans now?"
Barboncito calculated. The slave trade had been going on for longer than his lifetime. "Over half the tribe," he replied. The two commissioners talked to each other again.
"We will do all we can to have your children returned to you. Our government is determined that the enslavement of the Navajos shall cease and those who are guilty of holding them in slavery shall be punished," vowed General Sherman. Barboncito was certain that Colonel Tappan had saved the day for the Navajos, by pressing General Sherman to take the slavery problem very seriously.
Though every Navajo present was prepared to wait through the rest of the day to watch Barboncito and the other leaders sign the, the Commissioners ended the meeting then and there. Another meeting was set for the following day, but again, the was not ready for signing.
A tense anticipation began to spread throughout the fort, and the headmen had their hands full keeping the young men in line. Plans quickly formed among the younger people, plans to raid the nearby Mexican ranches for livestock to take home. "We will never be given a treaty to sign if that happens," Barboncito worried. Now his job was doubled: to make certain that the Navajos were supplied fairly with livestock, seeds, and tools to rebuild their native land, and to keep the young men from destroying every hope the tribe had of going home.
He counciled with men he knew might cause trouble, and he sent his messengers to reach others: "It is a long trail from here to our home, my brothers. We must watch our steps carefully from this point on. Otherwise, we could lose the trail, and never see our homes again."
After a wakeful night of watching, praying and hoping that the would be raiders would not try to carry out their plans, Barboncito watched the sun rise on June 1, 1868. The Commissioners had promised that on this day the Navajos would hear the terms of the treaty, and if they were satisfied, the Headmen would sign it. The Navajos had added two more names to the ten already chosen to sign the document: Narbono Segundo and Ganado Mucho.
The Headmen waited while thewas read, Article by Article, in English, then interpreted into Spanish, and finally in Navajo. Patiently, Barboncito listened. First came the Article dealing with wrongdoers, both Navajo and non-Navajo, and the American laws which bound them to punishment. Next, Barboncito heard the boundary line described, and rejoiced that it included his beloved Canyon de Chelly. But the boundaries included less than a tenth of the country the Navajos had roamed before.
A school, Carpenter and Blacksmith shops, and the Agency building were the next items of the treaty. The use of land within the boundaries and more about education took up the next two Articles.
The sun was nearly straight overhead, and Barboncito began to wonder if the white men had forgotten the seeds, tools, and livestock.
The Seventh Article reassured him slightly for it provided both seeds and agricultural implements for the head of each family, for the next three years.
The following item promised clothing, and raw materials to make clothing, for every Navajo, once a year for the next ten years, up to the value of five dollars a year for each Navajo. Ten dollars worth of other purchases every year for ten years was promised to Navajos who engaged in farming or mechanical pursuits.
No mention of livestock yet! And the next three Articles didn't mention it either. Barboncito hoped he hadn't hoped too soon, for the Navajos could not envision rebuilding their lives without sheep, cattle, horses, and goats. Food, clothing, transportation all these things depended upon the Navajos' having livestock.
Finally, in the next-to-last Article of thethe "purchase of fifteen thousand sheep and goats ... five hundred beef cattle and a million pounds of corn" was authorized "for relief of the needy during the coming winter."
Evenly divided among the people, this would mean about two sheep, or one sheep and one goat for each Navajo leaving Fort Sumner. "A flock of that size might die from sheer loneliness," Barboncito thought wryly. "It is a small beginning . . . but it is a beginning."
He stepped up to sign the, and after signing, he moved back to make room for the other twenty-eight signers of the long-awaited paper.
Now there was no holding the Navajos back, and Barboncito could do little but keep his mind on the thousands who were trying to prepare for the long walk home. He had planned to follow the General's orders, and head the long line of Navajos all walking home together.
But no Army in the world could hold back the eager ones, the ones who raced out to plunder Mexican livestock and be on their way. And Fort Sumner emptied itself family by family, band by band, as each was finally ready to leave. By mid July, 7,304 Navajos had checked through Fort Wingate, nearly home to begin again.
But Barboncito's plans for working peacefully alongside his neighbors in Canyon de Chelly soon vanished. As Head Chief, he inherited the major problem of every Navajo peace leader before him: the brash young men whose lives revolved around raiding and harassing people on all sides of the reservation.
From the north, the Mormons and the Utes complained. From the east, the New Mexicans complained. From the south, the Apaches continued to stir up bitterness among the white men.
Barboncito attended one long meeting after another at Fort Defiance, trying to solve the problem. "These thieves go out, as if slipping between our fingers . . . giving one excuse after another to leave their homes, hunting and trading among the favorite excuses," he tried to explain to the officials.
Some of the fighting and stealing had been going on, Barboncito discovered, while most Navajos were at Bosque Redondo. The Navajos who had stayed behind in the northern canyons had been forced to raid the neighboring Mormons and Utes. A Navajo Headman had been killed by a Mormon, and the Utes had goaded other Navajo men to attack the Mormons.
To Barboncito, the tangled web began to feel familiar. Where were the promises his people had made to General Sherman?
Still, Barboncito thought, no one knew when the promises were made what conditions would be like during these years after Fort Sumner.
As at Bosque Redondo, sickness, hunger, and death stalked the reservation. For the great drought that descended in 1870 knew of no promises for peace and plenty. Again, the people were driven in desperation to stealing, while agents pleaded for more sheep to save the Navajos.
"I cannot promise that no raids will take place," Barboncito told the Mormon leader Jacob Hamblin in November 1870. "But I will hunt down and return to you the stolen livestock. If I do not return the livestock, it will be because it has been killed."
He wanted the Army to place their own guards on watch with him to locate the raiding trails and identify the thieves. "Do this so that you may know, as well as I, who the thieves are," he urged.
Major John Wesley Powell and Jacob Hamblin, both present at this meeting, regarded Barboncito highly. They knew he was doing his best to keep promises for a whole nation of Navajos.
"When we met you, we met a warm friend," said Hamblin.
There were two crossings on the Colorado River which the Navajo raiders used often to get into Mormon country. Barboncito advised the army to watch the lower crossing closely. And he himself rode north to stand the cold, lonely watch against his younger brothers of the tribe.
Weary of all the talk, all the warnings, the long meetings with strangers at Fort Defiance, Barboncito almost welcomed the chance to be alone and think quietly. But the long ride from Canyon de Chelly to the Colorado River was bleak and lonely, full of reminders of the tragedy of Navajo Country. Families along his route treated him kindly, almost as a father, for that was how Barboncito appeared to them. In each home he left a feeling of hope, for the people would gather close around him to hear his story of the meeting with General Sherman when the Navajos were almost sent to Cherokee country in the Indian Territory (Oklahoma).
By telling the story, Barboncito revealed his own fears as they had haunted him that day. And with their great leader, the people saw beyond the fear. With a number of families, Barboncito stayed briefly, long enough to encourage them to have hope, but not long enough to eat much of the meager food supply.
His own hunger made him dizzy, as he continued on his way to guard the raiding trails. Then the icy cold of winter hit, and the great leader felt a weariness he had never known before in all the hard years he had lived through.
From his lonely outpost on a bluff near the river, he called forth his last strength to halt a small party of Navajos. "My friends, my brothers! I know why you are coming to cross the river . . . our land is hungry, and offers little food. But it will always be this way, unless you young men give your strength to the fields around your homes. The few cattle you bring home will be gone before you know it, and you will have to risk your lives again and again to steal more. And what is becoming of the small flocks you were given? They are starving, because you have been neglecting them. The Navajos have suffered drought before, and lived through it without making enemies on every side of their land. If you dig deep enough, you will find water. If your thoughts become harmonious, the rain will come. Give your hearts to your own land, not to the trails which lead to your neighbors' land."
Barboncito had returned stolen cattle and horses before, but this time he was barely able to take himself home. Sick and exhausted, he made the journey back to his Canyon de Chelly in December, avoiding the small fires that beckoned along the way. He had given his strength to these Navajos only a few weeks ago. It would not do to take it away from them by appearing in this condition.
He hardly realized that he had arrived home, and as day became night, as the nights stretched to weeks, Barboncito lay so ill he could not even rise to watch winter give way to the first few days of spring. For eighty-seven days, he lay helpless, sometimes able to sleep and sometimes able to think. He dreamed of the sheer red walls outside the hogan, the times he had nimbly scrambled up them on some childhood adventure. He remembered the day the crow deftly landed to inspect the shiny button lost by the soldier. He still envied that crow! The bold bird could land where he liked and leave when he wished, freewheeling on a high wind current, safe.
Barboncito recalled how hard he had tried to stay free of the web entangling his country, but he had finally given in to his people's cry for leadership. Once drawn to that post, he had never again felt free.
On March 16, 1871, the exhausted leader died. His determination had brought his people home to their own country from Fort Sumner, and the Navajos never forgot him for doing it. The long walk to and from Bosque Redondo was a tragic memory for his people, and what they faced afterward was a tragic fact. It would be a much longer walk into a more plentiful future but Barboncito had helped the Navajos find the trail.
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