July 18, 1855 Articles of Agreement and Conventions made and concluded at Laguna Negra, in the Territory of New Mexico this eighteenth day of July, one thousand eight hundred and fifty five by David Meriwether, sole Commissioner, duly appointed for that purpose on the part of the United States and the undersigned chiefs, captains, and headmen, of the Navajo tribe or nation of Indians; they being thereto duly authorized and acting for and in behalf of their respective bands.
Peace and friendship ARTICLE FIRST. Peace, friendship, and amity shall forever hereafter exist between the United States of America and the Navajo tribe or nation of Indians, and this Convention, and every article and stipulations thereof shall be perpetual, and observed and performed in good faith.
Abstain from committing hostilities.
Cultivate good will and friendship.
ARTICLE SECOND. The Navajos do hereby Covenant and agree that peaceful relations shall be maintained amongst themselves and all other bands tribes and nations of Indians within the United States, and that they will abstain from committing hostilities or depredations, in future, and cultivate mutual good will and friendship.
Navajos to cede all claims of their lands to the United States.
To settle on lands reserved to them.
To cultivate the soil, and raise flocks and herds for sussistance.
President will withhold annuities whenever Navajos shall violate treaty.
ARTICLE THIRD. The Navajos hereby cede and forever relinquish to the United States all title or claim whatsoever, which they have or ever have had to lands within the Territory of New Mexico, except as much as is hereinafter reserved to them. And the Navajos further agree and bind themselves, to remove to, and settle on the lands reserved to them, within twelve months after the ratification of this treaty, without any cost or charge to the United States whatsoever, for their removal: and that they will cultivate the soil and raise flocks and herds for a subsistance; and that the President may withold the annuities herein stipulated to be paid, or any part thereof, whenever the Indians shall violate, fail, or refuse to comply with any provisions of this instrument, or to cultivate the soil in good faith.
Land set aside for Navajos.

U.S. to define the boundaries.

President may assign 20 acres per single person; 40 acres for a family of less than 5; 60 acres for a family greater than 5.

President may assign other lands in exchange for mineral lands.

Road, highways, and railroads shall have right of way, possibly free of charge.

President may establish military post.
ARTICLE FOURTH. The United States agree to set apart and withold from sale for the use of the Navajos, for their permanent homes, and hereby guarantees to them the possession and enjoyment of a tract of country within that portion of the Territory of New Mexico now claimed by them, and bounded as follows viz. Beginning on the South bank of the San Juan river, at the mouth of the Rio deChelly, thence up the San Juan to the mouth of the Canada del Amarillo, thence up the Amarilla to the top of the dividing ridge between the waters of the Colorado and Rio Grande, then south-westerardly along said dividing ridge to the head of the maine branch of the Zune river, thence down the north side thereof to its mouth or entrance into the Colorado Chiquito, thence north to the beginning excluding the lands owned by the Pueblos of Zune and Moqui, and reserving to them all their rights and privleges and reserving to the United States a tract of country embracing fifty square miles around Fort Defiance to be laid off under the directive of the Commanding officer of the Department, and in such manner as he may see proper: reserving to the Navajos the right to gather salt at the Salt Lake near Zuni. And the United States is hereby authorized to define the boundaries of the reserved tract when it may be necessary by actual survey or otherwise, and the President may from time to time, at his discretion cause the whole or any part thereof to be surveyed, and may assign to each head of a family, or single persons over twenty one years of age twenty acres or land for his or her separate use and benefit, and each family of three and less than five persons forty acres, and to each family of five or more persons sixty acres; and he may at his dicretion, as fast as the occupants become capable of transacting their own affairs issue patents therefor to such occupants, with such restrictions of the power of alienation, as he may see fit to impose; and he may also, at his discretion, make rules and regulations respecting the disposition of the lands, in case of the death of the head of a family or a single person occupying the same, or in case of its abandonment by them; and he may also assign other lands in exchange for mineral lands if any such as found in the tracts herein set apart: and he may also make such changes, in the boundry of such reserved tracts as shall be necessary to prevent interference with any vested rights, All necessary roads, highways and rail-roads, the lines of which may run through the reserved tracts, shall have the right of way through the same, compensation being made therefor as in other cases, but the President may grant the right of way to any such road free of charge; and establish such military posts as he may think proper.

U.S. agrees to pay Navajos for land ceded to them for their use without interest.

Payment will be in cash or beneficial objects and programs for Navajos' moral improvement and education.

ARTICLE FIFTH. In consideration of, and full payment for the country ceded, and the removal of the Navajos, the United States agree to pay to the Navajos the following sums, without interest to wit. The United States will, during the years 1856 and 1857 pay to the Navajos ten thousand dollars each year, during the year 1858, and the two next succeeding years thereafter the sum of six thousand dollars each, and during the year 1861 and the next succeeding fifteen years thereafter, the sum of four thousand dollars each year. All of which several sums of money shall be paid to the Navajos, in expended for their use and benefit, under the directions of the President of the United States, who may from time to time, determine, at his discretion, what proportion of the annual payments, in this article provided for, if any, shall be paid to them in money, and what proportion shall be applied to and expended for their moral improvement and education: for such beneficial objects as, in his judgment, will be calculated to advance them in civilization: for building, opening farms, breaking lands, providing stock, agricultural implements, seeds, etc.; for employing farmers to teach the Indians to cultivate the soil, for clothing, provisions, and merchandize, for iron, steel, arms and ammunition, for mechanics and tools; and for medical purposes.

The annuities of the Indians shall not be taken to pay the debts of indiiduals.

ARTICLE SIXTH. The annuities of the Indians shall not be taken to pay the debts of individuals, but satisfactions, for depredations committed by the, shall be made by the Indians, in such manner as the President may direct. Nor shall any part of the amounts stipulated to be paid, ever be applied by the chiefs or head-men, to the payment of tribal debts, or obligations to traders or other persons.
No liquor to be sold or made. ARTICLE SEVENTH. No spirituous liquors shall be made, sold, or used on any of the lands herein set apart for the residence of the Indians; and the sale of the same shall be prohibited, in the Territory hereby ceded, until otherwise ordered by the President.
Laws now in force regulating trade shall continue. ARTICLE EIGHTH. The laws now in force, or which may hereafter be enacted by Congress, for the regulation of trade and intercourse with the Indians tribes, shall continue and be in force within the country set apart for the use of the Navajo; and such portions of said laws as prohibit the introduction, manufacture, use of, and traffic in ardent spirits, in the Indian country, shall continue and be in force in all the country ceded, until otherwise provided by law.
Navajos agree to surrender individuals who commit crimes.
Navajos agree against incursions into Mexican provinces.
ARTICLE NINTH. The Navajos do further agree and bind themselves to make restitutions, or satisfaction, for any injuries done by any band or any individual to the people of the United States, and to surrender, to the proper authorities of the United States, when demanded, any individual or individuals who may commit depredations upon the Indians, the Navajos agree, that they will not take private satisfaction or revenge themselves, but instead thereof they will make complaint to the proper Indian Agent for redress. And the said Indians do further agree to refrain from all warlike incursions into the Mexican Provinces, and from committing depredations upon the inhabitants thereof.
Treaty shall be in effect when ratified by President and Senate. ARTICLE TENTH. This treaty shall be obligating upon the contracting parties as soon as the same shall be ratified by the President and Senate of the United States.
In Testimony whereof, the said David Meriwether, Commissioner as aforesaid, and the undersigned chiefs, captains, and head-men of the said tribe of Navajo INdians, have hereunto set their hands and seals at the place, and on the day and year hereinbefore written.
D. Meriwether
Com. on the part of the United States


Navajo Chiefs, Captains, and Headmen:
(Each signed with an X and stamped with a seal)

(Little Jesus),
Jne Miguel Hijo del Juanies
(Son of Juanies)
Cabra Blanco
(White Goat)
Manuel Huero
(Emmanuel - Jesus, Huero - Blonde)
Francines Baca
(Baca - Cow)
Aguilar Negro
(Black Eagle)
Mariano Martinez
(Martinez - Martin)
Caton Colorado
(Red House)
Julian Tenorio Bele-dee-gine
Jas-tin-a Salvador Colorado
(Red Savior)
Jne Baca Ozi-nez
Jne Antonio Jne Paya
Jne Sarcillas Largas
Antonio Viscara Pana Culgohi
Nez-Nez Manuel Armijo
Bele Thlana



Mr. Garland

B.V. Benglyent, U.S.A.

H.L. Kendrick, Bvt. Maj. U.S.A.

G.L. Shepherd, Capt. 3rd Inf. Bvt. Maj.

R.L. Ewell, Captain

W.W.H. Davis, Secretary Territory New Mexico



Story behind the Treaty of 1855

That spring David Meriwether, as ex-officio Superintendent of Indian Affairs, was at last furnished with means to put into effect his Indian policy. On July 31, 1854, the United States Congress approved an Indian Appropriation Act which allowed the New Mexico Superintendency $30,000 to negotiate treaties with the more troublesome tribes under its jurisdiction.1 Eight months later, on March 16, 1855, Commissioner George W. Manypenny informed Meriwether that he had been "designated by the President" to enact articles of convention with the Apaches, Navajos, and Utes. For the first time in the history of New Mexico these tribes would be guaranteed the rights of occupancy to their lands:

    You will make such arrangements as will provide for the Indians, within the country which they may respectively reside and the possession of which they claim, a suitable tract or tracts, limited in extent, for their future permanent home; and will guarantee to them the possession and enjoyment of the reserve assigned them, with provision that hereafter the President may cause the land reserved to be surveyed, and to assign to each single person over twenty-one years of age, or head of family, a farm containing from, say, twenty to sixty acres, according to the number of persons in such family.2

The appropriations allowed for the treaty making were slow arriving in New Mexico. Finally, by the first week of July 1855, the governor had received the annuities, and had put his affairs in order for the scheduled trip into Navajo country. On July 5, David Meriwether, his son Raymond, W.W.H. Davis, secretary to the governor, and two servants left Santa Fe bound for Fort Defiance, where they would meet the commander of the Ninth Department, General John Garland.3

The governor reached Defiance on July 13 and on the following day he and Davis rode to the council site to ascertain from Agent Dodge when the Navajos would be assembled in sufficient numbers for treaty negotiations.4

Fourteen miles north of Fort Defiance, at the west entrance to Washington Pass, lay Laguna Negra (Spanish for "Black Lake"). Here on a low, red, sandy ridge overlooking the dark waters of the lake, Agent Henry Linn Dodge had pitched his tent and began assembling the tribesmen. Meriwether spent the morning conferring with the agent and what headmen were already there, and set July 16 as the date for the proposed treaty signing. Upon their return that afternoon to Fort Defiance, Meriwether's party witnessed the arrival of General Garland with Captain Ewell's company of dragoons amid a thunderous salute from the post's field battery. The next day passed with a review and inspection of the garrison. On the following morning, July 16, the governor, W.W.H. Davis, and General Garland proceeded to Laguna Negra under escort of Captain Ewell's dragoons. As the party rode along, Navajos attached themselves to the column, the throng increasing in numbers as the destination was neared.

Once at Laguna Negra, Meriwether directed that his tent be pitched near the shore of the lake, and the dragoons were encamped close by. At one o'clock the council was opened in a ramada constructed of cedar boughs. This enclosure, orginally intended for the negotiators, was quickly filled to overflowing by a wave of Navajos who crowded in, threatening to destroy the flimsy structure.5 Every band (except Sandoval's6) that the Anglos had ever had contact with, was represented at this meeting, 1,500 - 2,000 buckskinned, mounted and armed warriors waited silently to hear the words of the governor.

Before the talk opened, tobacco was passed around to the assembled headmen, who quickly made cigarritos, which they smoked with "great gravity and gusto". Following the smoke the council commenced, with the governor speaking through two interpreters to the Navajos:

"I have come here to meet the Navajos, and I am glad to see so many present. I am glad the Navajos and the whites have been at peace so long a time and hope they will remain at peace. I have come to see you and agree upon a country the Navajos and whites may each have, that they may not pasture their flocks on each other's lands. If we have a dividing line so that we know what each other's country is, it will keep us at peace. I will explain the kind of a treaty I desire to make with you, and when I am through I want you to counsel with each other whether you will agree to such a treaty, and grant an answer in the morning."

Meriwether explained fully the terms of the proposed treaty, carefully pointing out what the Navajos would gain by signing such an agreement, a reservation designated by the President of the United States, annuities, and the protection by the government for New Mexican encroachments. Upon completion of the governor's speech, the council disbanded, and the remainder of the day was devoted to trading, horse racing, and gambling.

The following morning the Navajos again gathered in great numbers, many of whom sat, as recorded by Secretary Davis, "so immovable upon their horses that man and beast seemed but one animal". During the morning the chiefs considered the propositions made the day before. Having determined to accept the terms, twenty of them came to Meriwether and announced the fact, and the council again opened. Before the business of treaty making could be taken up, however, the council had to pause long enough to select a new spokesman.

Zarcillas Largas had tendered his resignation to Governor Meriwether. Turning over his official staff of office and medal, the chief informed the governor that he was too old to govern his people. Meriwether, accepting the resignation, requested the assembly to select a man to fill Largas' place. The choice fell upon a war chief known as Hastin Chilhajin (Navajo for "Man of Blackweed"). In the years to come, this headman would be called "Holy Boy", or more commonly "Manuelito", and would lead his people through many troublous times. Manuelito, however, would not accept the staff of his predecessor. Nor would he allow the medal to be suspended from his neck by the same string which Zarcillas Largas had used. To do so, he insisted, would render his influence over his people ineffectual. Therefore, Meriwether presented his own steel cane to the chief, and had the medal restrung.7 The council then resumed, with Manuelito acting as spokesman for the Navajos. Governor Meriwether opened the talk by reminding the Navajos of the propositions of the day before:

"Yesterday I made known the terms of the proposed treaty and I now want to know whether you all agree to said terms". In response, Manuelito answered the governor, "We are content with what you have proposed, and will agree to the terms you have mentioned".

"I will now have the terms of the treaty reduced to writing so that we can not forget what its contains," informed the governor. "My clerk will now go to work to reduce the treaty to writing, and we will sit here and smoke until it is finished."

"It is all good", said Manuelito in agreement with the governor's action. The Navajo, showing pangs of remorse for the actions of his people when they crowded into the ramada the day before added, "We are sorry our people treated you badly yesterday, and I am ashamed to show myself. I am now appointed in place of Zarcillas Largas, and conditions will be different."

"The boys only behave badly," said Meriwether, acknowledging Manuelito's apologies. The governor, turning to one of the interpreters, instructed him to ask the assembled headmen if they were willing to follow the decisions of Manuelito, and to signify their approval of the new chief by raising their hands. All the headmen unanimously sustained the choice of Manuelito as their spokesman in all future negotiations.8

The treaty having been "reduced" to writing, the governor proceeded to read it, the interpreters translating the document article by article into Navajo. After each major point, the Navajos were asked if they understood and agreed to its contents. The Navajos answered in the affirmative until the fourth article was reached. This portion of the treaty set forth the country assigned to the tribe. Although it officially assigned to the Diné their traditional country, it specified exact boundaries. The western limits were defined as a line running approximately from the present location of the San Juan River (north of present day Kayenta), to the confluence of Chevalon Creek and the Little Colorado between present day Holbrook and Winslow, Arizona. The eastern boundary, and by far the most important, was set off by a line following the San Juan from the "Four Corners area" to Caņon Largo, thence southwesterly to the Zuņi River at a point just east of the Pueblo of Zuņi.9

The Meriwether Treaty stipulated that the Navajos would give up their claim and title to all lands east of Chaco Caņon in the north, and Agua Azul (Spanish for "Blue Water") in the center, and to the south of Zuņi. After listening intently to the interpreter's explanation of the new boundaries, Manuelito stood and explained that his people claimed a much larger country than that set forth in the treaty. The chief was reluctant to give up this land, for it possessed many spots sacred to his people. The four mountains which marked the traditional limits of Navajoland were within the restricted area. As long as he and his people could remember, they had journeyed to the salina near Zuņi to gather salt. This precious substance would now be restricted to them. Meriwether, attempting to soothe the worries of Manuelito and the other headmen, traced the new tribal boundaries upon a map prepared by Lieutenant Parke of the Topographical Engineers. With the use of this map, incomprehensible as it might be to the Navajos, he pointed out that many of the Navajo's sacred areas were still within the reservation. He pointed to a peak situated close to the Rio San Juan, which was held in great reverence by the Navajos. Mount Polonia, he explained, was within the limits of the reserve, and he "hoped that this one sacred mountain would be sufficient." Furthermore, the tribe would be granted the privilege of gathering salt near Zuņi.10 The lands which the Diné had previously claimed, and which now would be ceded to the United States, would be paid for by the government in the form of yearly annuities, valued at $10,000. After some consultation with the headmen, Manuelito agreed to accept the boundary. The governor then continued reading and explaining the remaining portions of the treaty, the Navajos voicing their assent to each article until the ninth was reached. Here, Manuelito again interrupted the governor. Meriwether calling for the surrender by the tribe of all Navajos committing depredations, this article was very offensive to the assembled headmen. Manuelito explained that although the tribesmen had turned over malefactors before, it was all "very unpleasant to them." For any Navajo to attempt to force the surrender of another tribesman, would be to risk his own life, explained Manuelito. The Diné much preferred that the Americans come and claim such men, as this would not conflict with the social and ethical values of the tribe. In reply, Meriwether stated that if the Americans went into Navajo country to arrest the malefactors, they would not know the guilty from the innocent, and many would suffer much deliberation, the chiefs also agreed to this article, and the following day, July 18, was appointed for the official treaty signing.11

Thus the Diné received the first in a series of reservations which would gradually reduce their lands to but a fraction of what was traditionally theirs, and a continued effort to move the tribesmen westward. Meriwether, estimating tribal strength at eight to ten thousand souls, was of the opinion that the new limits was adequate to sustain them. The new reservation consisted of 7,000 square miles and held, in Meriwether's opinion, all the planting grounds of the Navajos.12 The annuities which the Navajos would receive were not as large in proportion to tribal population as the amount alloted for other tribes. But Meriwether believed that they would be sufficient, for as he wrote to the commissioner:

    ... the necessities of these Indians does not require the payment of a large sum annually to enable them to live in comfort and improve their condition. Indeed, these Indians may now be considered in a prosperous condition; they have a large number of horses and sheep, together with their domestic animals; have planted some four thousand acres of grain this season, and by another year will be able to raise a sufficient amount to feed the whole tribe plentifully, after which time I hope that they will have a surplus sufficient to supply the wants of Fort Defiance, which now has to be hauled over one hundred miles at great cost to the government.13

Concluding the Treaty of Laguna Negra, Meriwether promptly returned to Santa Fe. After a few days' rest in the capital, the governor left again to enact another treaty involving the interests of the Navajos. Ute Agent Lorenzo Labadie had assembled at Abiquiu principal men of the Capote Utes and Navajos residing along the San Juan. Governor Meriwether would meet with these headmen on August 8 in an attempt to settle difficulties existing between the two tribes.14



  1. Manypenny to Meriwether, August 7, 1854; National Archives, Records of the New Mexico Superintendency, Record Group 75, Letters Received from Commissioners, 1854. See also: 34th Congress, 1st Session, House Executive Documents, Nos. 7-12.
  2. Manypenny to Meriwether, March 16, 1855; 34th Congress, 1st Session, House Executive Document, Vol. I,Part I, pp. 526-528.
  3. Department Commander, John Garland, had planned to accompany the party with an escort of troops. He was, however, detained by official business, and arrived a day or so later.
  4. As early as May 24, 1855, Meriwether had issued orders to Henry Linn Dodge, directing the agent to assemble as many Navajos as he could at or near Fort Defiance, for a council which convene about July 10. Meriwether to Dodge, May 24, 1855; Superintendency Records, Letters received from agencies, 1855.
  5. W.W.H. DAvis, El Gringo, pp. 231-232.
  6. Sandoval's absence was attributed to his reluctance to make an appearance among is own people. His fellow tribesmen held he and his band in disrepute over the treacherous actions they had shown, by siding in the past with the Navajo's mortal enemies, the New Mexicans.
  7. Davis, op. cit., pp. 232-234; see also "Notes of a Talk between Meriwether and the Navajos, July 16-17, 1855;" Superintendency Papers, LR. These notes were probasbly transcribed by W.W.H. Davis.
  8. The dialogue herein presented, was set forth by W.W.H. Davis, in "Notes of a talk ...," ibid.
  9. Charles C. Royce (comp.), "Indian Land Cessions in the United States," 18th Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1897, Vol. II, pp. 849-850.
  10. Meriwether granted the Navajo permission to gather salt from the salina near Zuņi because it would not interfere with any vested rights. The lake was not within the grant claimed by the Pueblo of Zuņi; and by the laws of Spain and Mexico, all salt lakes in New Mexico were the common property of all inhabitants thereof. Meriwether to Manypenny, July 27, 1855; Superintendency Papers, LR
  11. Davis, "Notes of a Talk ...," op. cit.
  12. Despite the fact that Navajos were receiving 7,000 square miles of land, Meriwether estimated that the entire area did not contain over 125-130 square miles suitable for cultivation; and that this land was in small detached portions situated on caņon floors and along streams which afforded water for irrigation. Meriwether to Manypenny, July 27, 1855; ibid
  13. Ibid.
  14. 34th Congress, 1st Session, House Executive Document, Vol. I, Part I, pp. 510-511.

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