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---- Tuesday - September 30, 2014 - 5:55:29 PM - Navajo Nation Time ----

Fort Defiance
(Tséhootsooí - Meadow in Between the Rocks)

Fort Defiance was established as Arizona's first military post for the U.S. Army to patrol the entire Navajo Country. It was later used to subdue the Navajos on their homeland, and then, be slowly phased into a Navajo Agency to govern the Navajos, after their return from their 4 year ordeal at the concentration camp Ft. Sumner. Fort Defiance is located at the mouth of Canyon Bonito in Apache County, about 7 miles north of Window Rock, Arizona, or 25 miles northwest of Gallup, New Mexico. It is at an elevation of 6836 feet above sea level, with a 1980 population census of 3431 residents. It is located at Latitude: 35o44'40", and Longitude: 109o4'33". Fort Defiance contains a school system first started in 1870 and the Fort Defiance Medical Center first established in 1938. It was originally the location of the first Navajo Medical Center on the entire Navajo Reservation. There is a small reinforced concrete dam in Canyon Bonito that irrigates about 25 acres.

The Spaniards called the area Canyon Bonito (Beautiful Canyon), because of its luscious grassy green fields and green marshes. It was a popular location where the Navajos and Mexicans met to graze their horses and sheep, and have horse races and betting in the pre-American era. Medicine men here collected herbs known as Líí' Be’éze’ (Horse Medicine), and the bubbling springs were shrines into which white shell and turquoise were thrown as payment or pleas for further blessings.

The first known visit by Americans to the site of Fort Defiance was in the fall of 1849. This occurred, when the expedition led by Colonel John Washington stopped to rest by the lush grassy fields on their return journey to the Rio Grande River after concluding the Navajo Treaty of 1849 with the Navajo Chiefs at Chinle.

Colonel Edwin V. Sumner established Fort Defiance under its present name in the fall of 1851. Captain Electrus Backus built the sod and log fort on the area were the land had the greatest value and recreational pleasure to the Navajos. The U.S. Army used the surrounding area to graze their horses. Navajos got angry when the U.S. Army wouldn't let Navajo horses and sheep graze on land surrounding the fort. Initially, the Navajos accepted their situation, and got along with the soldiers, and the traditional horse races and betting were now between the Navajos and U.S. soldiers. The Mexicans that originally had horses races with the Navajos mostly returned to Mexico, because of U.S. soldiers winning the Spanish-American war and Anglo-Americans believing they now had the right to strip the Mexicans of their land, property, and civil rights. The last horse race occurred in 1856 between the Navajos and soldiers when a U.S. soldier tripped a Navajo horse during a horse race. The Navajos said the soldiers had cheated, an uproar occurred among the Navajos, and the soldiers back into the fort and opened fire, killing about 30 Navajos. This initiated a new wave of guerrilla warfare by the Navajos on the American military at Fort Defiance, between 1856 to 1863. In April 1860 Fort Defiance was attacked by some 2,000 Navajos. They were driven off by a garrison of 150 soldiers of the First U.S. Infantry under Captain O.L. Shepherd. One private, Sylvester Johnson, was killed and 3 other soldiers wounded. No less than 20 Navajos, including 1 Navajo Chief from the Canyon de Chelly, were killed. A tombstone in the old Fort Defiance Post Cemetery marks Private Johnson's grave.

In 1861, at the beginning of the Civil War, Fort Defiance was abandoned in favor of Fort Fauntleroy (later Fort Lyon) which was built at Bear Springs. But the continued raiding and plundering of Anglo-Americans, Mexicans, and other Indian Tribes by the Navajos led General Carleton to sent Kit Carson to solve the Navajo problem. Even though the Navajos had signed the Navajo Treaty of 1849, the Navajos were scattered over vast area of Navajo Country, and only a few knew of the Navajo Treaty of 1849, therefore most were unable to abide by it. Kit Carson and a group of army officers from Fort Union near Mora, New Mexico, then went into Navajo country in the summer of 1863 to establish a military post on the Pueblo Colorado to defeat the Navajo people. Kit Carson established the "Scorched Earth Policy", and the party recommended the re-establishment of old Fort Defiance. In the fall of 1863 Carson and companies of New Mexico Volunteers with some regular army officers, Ute Indians, Zuñi Indians, and New Mexico irregulars occupied the fort, which for a short time bore the name of Fort Canby. Throughout the winter, the troops shot all Navajo livestock and horses in view, burned their hogans and material possessions, and initially shot any Navajo that was in view. Navajos began to hide among the canyons and mesa and slowly started to starve and freeze. Starving Navajos surrendered, and the fort served as a concentration camp. Many of the Navajo and Mescalero Apache prisoners died from exposure and from eating food to which they were not accustomed. In the spring of 1864, the so-called Navajo War ended, and about 8,000 Navajos and some Mescalero Apaches were marched off to Fort Sumner during the winter. Fort Defiance was again deserted and roaming bands who had eluded the troops and scouts of Carson burned the cane and timbered sections of the fort, leaving only the thick sod and rubble walls.

Upon the signing of the Navajo Treaty of 1868 at Fort Sumner, which allowed the Navajos to return to their own country, Fort Defiance was selected as the site of the Agency. The old buildings were repaired and Major Theodore Dodd, called by the Navajos, Na’azisí Yázhí (Little Gopher), became the civil agent. Upon his death shortly after, Captain Frank T. Bennett, whom the Navajos called Chaatsohí (Big Belly), succeeded him. In the fall of 1869, Bennett issued the sheep and goats stipulated in the Navajo Treaty of 1868 to the Navajo bands. Over 13,000 ewes and 300 rams, purchased from Vicente Romero, a large operator in the vicinity of` Fort Union, New Mexico, as well as 900 female and 100 male goats, were distributed and formed the basis of the present Navajo herds.

Development of the fort into an agency was slow in getting under way. The first school, started in 1870 in one of the abandoned adobes, was short lived, and the first mission, established by John Menaul in 1871, also failed. Regular medical service did not begin until 1880, and not until 1883 did the Indian Boarding School become established.

Until 1899, Fort Defiance continued as the agency for all Navajos and Hopis, but in that year a separate Hopi agency was established at Keams Canyons, Arizona, and in the next ten years four other Navajo agencies were set up. In 1936, Commissioner Collier again centralized these, and chose Window Rock, Arizona, as the Navajo Central Agency for the entire Navajo Reservation. Window Rock, Arizona, would later become the Capitol of the Navajo Nation. The Fort Defiance Agency contains many Navajo Chapters that help govern the Navajos in the Fort Defiance Agency area.

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Dated Created: 08/27/2001
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Updated: 12/02/2006
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