Manuelito
(1818 - 1893)
Hastiin Ch'ilhaajinii -- (Man of the Black Plants Place)
Bít'aa'níí -- Folded Arms People Clan


Manuelito, photographed in 1874.

Since moving down to Narbona's camp from his home near the Bear's Ears (Utah), Manuelito found life there much to his liking. His father-in-law was an exciting man to be around, a man who spoke fearlessly among the Mexican enemies.

His wife, Narbona's daughter, admired her handsome young husband. She only wished he would spend a little more time at home. For the sixteen-year-old Manuelito, he seemed always to be riding down to the big rock, where he would spend hours shooting his arrows higher and higher, perfecting his skill. If not there, she knew he would be out by the old juniper, beating every other young man in countless foot races and wrestling matches. Manuelito was eager for his initiation on the war trail. He practiced constantly, hoping the older men would find him worthy for the next battle.

Narbona took the young man along on a peace mission to Santa Fe, for he wanted his son-in-law to understand the value of peace, and the ways of attaining it, as well as the thrill of the war trail.

Manuelito cared little for the endless talks inside the dark adobe room where the Mexican governor received visitors. But he found enjoyment of another kind. When he stepped boldly out into the sunlight, he laughed to himself at the reaction of the timid citizens of the small Mexican town. They jumped in spite of themselves at the sight of the imposing young Navajo. He held his face stern and solemn, never looked to left or right. He could feel the shock of his appearance, and delighted in frightening the passersby. He laughed later, "Those little Mexicans - they jump around like rabbits!"

He was, indeed, quite a young man. Well over six feet tall, he walked straight and broad-shouldered, his well-fitting buckskins rippling along his sinewy arms and legs. He draped a fine blanket across his shoulders, and kept his quiver bristling with new arrows.

"You walk around like some naat'ááni, some headman, and you have not even been on one raid yet," his young friends joked with him.

"I walk like a headman now' " he replied seriously, "so that when I become one, I will already know how to behave."

He hoped to prove himself soon, when they attacked the Mexicans, as Narbona had promised they would do if the Mexicans continued to take Navajo slaves and scalps. He passed the months impatiently, listening to the seasoned warriors, and in privacy, imagining war strategies. Narbona recognized the signs.

"He is young, eager to show the enemy all his strength," the old leader said calmly. "He will be a fine warrior very soon. Later, he will be ready to learn the ways of Peace."

The waiting was not long. Shortly after the first snow fell in the winter of 1835, Manuelito was seventeen. Word spread quickly through the region that a thousand Mexicans were coming to attack the Navajos.

Manuelito listened as Narbona laid out his battle plan, for the trail that led through the mountains west of Dibébito' (Sheep Springs), Copper Pass. This would be a close battle, and Manuelito prepared his war weapons eagerly.

He brought out the eagle and owl feathers which he had been gathering for several years. These were fastened to his war helmet of mountain lion skin, and to his fine new shield of buckskin. The medicine man showed him how to paint the protective snakes on the soles of his moccasins. "Now you will be as wily as the desert snakes in approaching your victims," the medicine man assured him.

The young man spent many hours in the sweathouse, singing with his companions, until all felt cleansed and strengthened for the coming attack.

In his thick buckskin war-shirt, new moccasins, and battle helmet, Manuelito felt like a new person, the warrior he had long dreamed of being.

Narbona's plan worked perfectly, with his men grouping along both sides of the narrow trail. When he gave the signal to cut into the Mexicans' line, Manuelito loosed a wild cry and sent his first arrow against the enemy.

In the fury of noise and dust clouds that arose, the young warrior released arrow after arrow, deadly and accurate against the surprised Mexicans. Among the Mexicans were Pueblo fighters, and these fared a little better, accustomed to the way of arrow fire. A Pueblo warrior quickly dodged up the bank into the bushes, aiming his Mexican rifle at the Navajo warriors a few yards above him. Manuelito had no time to warn his companions, so he lept down upon the Pueblo enemy and grabbed his rifle arm, clubbing him until he moved no more. Then he cut away a piece of the dead man's scalp.

Snatching the rifle from the slain fighter, Manuelito dashed back to his position. Then he heard the signal to move out. Suddenly the battle scene grew quiet, and like a great silent mountain cat Manuelito moved away from the bloody trail.

Later, back at his camp, the young warrior could not even remember how he had gotten home. Shaking all over, he found himself unable even to talk, and something like sickness crept through his body. Then he felt ashamed. "I am not some weak creature . . . I am a warrior," he thought, and he picked up the scalp he had taken, to join in the ceremony with his companions.

His face was dark and steady as he prepared to chew on the scalp, for this act proved him to be a true warrior. He could join any war party now with confidence. The singing was loud and boisterous, as all the young men sang of brave deeds in verses they made up for the occasion. One man began singing about "Hashkéh Naabaah" (Angry Warrior). A surge of pride swept through Manuelito, as he heard the verse. It was about himself killing the Pueblo fighter. On his first war party, Manuelito had distinguished himself, and gained a war name.

At the end of the ceremony, when Narbona arose and spoke his thoughts for peace with the Mexicans, Manuelito disagreed violently. But he said nothing, for all around him Manuelito saw the older men nodding their approval. But to himself, Manuelito vowed, "Those Mexicans! I will never live peacefully with them, with their lies and greed for our land."

He far preferred war talk to peace talk, and soon most of the young men in Narbona's region knew it. Some began to agree with him when he came around talking. He was nineteen when Ganado Mucho sent out word of a war party he was forming. Manuelito wasted no time in preparing his battle gear again.

He still had the Mexican rifle, but he prepared the poisonous mixture of rattlesnake blood, yucca leaf juice, and pulp from a prickly pear cactus. Into the sticky substance he dipped each arrow, certain it would infect every enemy it sank into.

His wife watched silently, each morning as Manuelito untied another knot from the rawhide strip he had hung up when news of the war party first came. Each knot symbolized one day, and eagerly he untied each "day," even before his all-important race through the cold morning air to bathe in the icy water.

At last the fifth knot was untied, and the young man left quickly, riding with a number of other warriors to meet with Ganado Mucho's band. He learned that they were going to attack the "gah yázhí," (little rabbits), as Navajos often called the Hopis.

Several hundred Navajo warriors gathered for final preparations about a day's ride away from Oraibi. The feeling for revenge ran high, for the Hopis were said to have murdered Navajos in a treacherous way. Some Navajos who were hungry had gone up to the mesa top to ask for food and shelter. The Hopis had treated them well, giving them all the food they could hold. Then the Hopis had turned on their guests and thrown them off the high cliffs at the edge of the mesa..

"We will build no fires tonight," warned Ganado Mucho. "We must set our trap for the 'little rabbits' quietly, unnoticed." Manuelito spoke the Ute language, from his youth near the Bear's Ears. He was sent out, near to the mesa to walk back and forth for many hours talking Ute. The Hopis were friendly with the Utes, and the Hopi spies who heard Manuelito reported to the village that a Ute was coming to trade.

The Hopis of Oraibi decided to prepare for visitors. In the morning, the Navajos were within several miles of the mesa, watching the line of Hopis wind down the trail to the bottom. The Hopis were dressed in white, with buckskin straps slung over their left shoulders and under their right arms.

A small party of Navajos rode up, encircled the Oraibi men and led them back to the main body of Navajos. Suddenly, a young Navajo girl riding a fast horse galloped up the trail into the center of the Oraibi village, signaling the warriors to follow her and slaughter the enemies. A few Navajos were wounded, but the Hopis fell left and right, and their bodies were scattered over the fields for several miles at the bottom of the cliffs. After plundering the village, the Navajo warriors followed Ganado Mucho away to their homeland.

Manuelito began taking the lead in many raids and soon was famed as a war leader. When Ganado Mucho returned to his vast cattle herds and large family, and when Narbona deserted the war trail, Manuelito joined with Barboncito to continue the fight against the Mexicans. He moved away from Narbona's camp to ride with his warrior-friends who lived south of Sheep Springs. His wife and family went with him, but still his wife saw little of her husband.

The sight of Mexican herders moving placidly along and within Navajo borders with sheep and cattle kindled flames in his mind. He spent all his energy against these enemies. Older men were tolerant, for they recalled the fire of youth. But they tried to persuade him to build up other resources, as well as his war skills. He began to increase his herd of cattle, and the older men were pleased at this sign.

Still, Manuelito arose at every ceremony to tear apart the peace leaders' persuasive speeches against war. An angry fire burned within him, and he refused to put it out.

He built up a network of sub-chiefs, each man specializing in one aspect of warfare. One was expert in making weapons. Another was skilled at getting information. Others led scouting trips and excelled in livestock raids. Of all the Navajo headmen, Manuelito became known as the best strategist. He dominated the entire eastern section of Navajo country, because he knew how to make the most of his followers' special talents. Even in his peaceful moments, he kept the sparks ready to kindle. And because he was such a superb leader, his warriors came home time after time, victorious.

He was a recognized naat'áani when the Americans came in 1846, and he signed the peace treaty along with thirteen other leaders, most of them much older than himself. He was only twenty-eight years old at the time of the treaty at Bear Springs.

He was glad if this treaty meant the end of the Mexicans, for he was growing weary of their bold raids for slaves, especially since they were able to capture so many.

He worked on building up his herds of sheep and cattle, and he began to enjoy telling stories to the children of his camp, his own children and his young nephews. Some of his children were half Mexican, for Manuelito had married one of his Mexican captives. Often, he took his young sons and nephews riding with him to the special places, ancient ruins and strange rock formations, and there, in the proper setting, he told them the stories that made each of the spots famous.

One afternoon, they arrived at the great ruins of Pueblo Bonito, and saw on the northern cliff, Pueblo Alto. "Long ago, before even the oldest man you know was born," Manuelito began, "that was the home of the much-feared monster, The Winner, sometimes called 'Gambler,' was . . . called that because he gambled and won away most of the possessions of the Indians who tried to beat him."

But unlike the usual version, in which "The Winner" becomes cruelly victorious in all of his nine games, Manuelito turned the story out so the monster lost. "That is where we got our games," he told the youngsters, ". . . the foot race, the stick game, the basket game, the pole and ring game, and the crooked stick-and-ball game. The Navajos won these away from the monster. Even the Pueblo Indians won games from the monster, and when the Indians were finished, 'The Winner' had nothing left, so he returned naked to his father, the Sun," Manuelito finished.

Manuelito's young audience grew up certain "the gambler always loses."

Manuelito had openly and violently disagreed with Narbona's work for peace, and he had led many young men away from the respected old leader. When the Americans killed his father-in-law in 1849, Manuelito angrily threatened to drive all white men out of Navajo country.

"These Americans are worse than those thieving Mexicans," he stormed. "The Mexicans respected my father-in-law, and left his camp in peace because they knew he kept his promises. But these white men . . . they do not even care. They kill whom they please. They are arrogant and untrustworthy. I want nothing more of their bargains."

The Americans had promised to protect the Navajos from Mexican slave raids, but they were making a poor job of it. Manuelito ignored the Americans, and continued to protect himself and his people.

He rode with bold parties of only a few warriors, and drove off hundreds of sheep and cattle from New Mexican ranches. He sent the herders fleeing in terror, and laughed at the sight of them. Then he vanished back into the wild mountainous timberland, even as far south as the Sierra Escudillas, 150 miles from his home near Dibébito'. But he rested there only long enough to send his men to distribute the cattle among Navajo families. Then he was back into his war clothes, almost ignoring the refreshing cold mountain air and the brilliant star-lit nights.

In the early 1850's he caught a Mexican slave-raiding band off-guard in Navajo country, near Salt Springs. The Mexicans were squatting in the dust, while their horses grazed at a short distance. One of them was drawing in the dust with a short stick. They were unaware of the Navajo eyes watching them intently from behind a rock partway up a butte only a few hundred yards away. A whirlwind gusted up, carrying the scent to Manuelito's horse, but the war pony was well trained and stood motionless and quiet. "Yes, Racer, stay silent. We will have our fun in a few moments," Manuelito said softly. "They are keeping their guns close to them. We will wait until they move away from them." One man held his rifle loosely, but most of the weapons were leaning, barrel up, against the piñon tree and nearby rocks. One of the Mexican's horses nickered suddenly, frightened by a lizard. The man holding the rifle moved quickly toward the horses, and the other men turned their heads to watch.

"Now!" commanded Manuelito. His warriors rode like thunder down upon the stunned Mexicans. The Mexicans had time to grab their weapons, but a rain of lead and arrows caught them. The Mexican who was tending his horse fired back, but fell without injuring any of Manuelito's band.

"They have little use for slaves now," said Manuelito grimly.

By early summer 1853, Zarcillos Largos, Ganado Mucho and other peace leaders were working earnestly for peace with the Americans. They spoke to Manuelito, trying to persuade him to stop his raiding.

"Brave younger brother," Zarcillos Largos said, "you have exhausted yourself fighting in our cause. We have all felt the pain of slavery and of the burning of our homes. Starvation and death have become prominent members of our families. It is not healthy for one to become so friendly with them nor to live on their terms. Your mind travels too narrow a trail, and your feet will begin to stumble along this war trail. Come, we will have a Blessing Way. On the path of beauty you will restore your strength."

Manuelito and his followers had caused many problems by attacking, killing, and stealing from the settlers of New Mexico. His acts proved again and again to the Americans that the well-meaning peace chiefs could not control the stubborn warriors of their tribe.

In July 1853, Major Henry Lane Kendrick went on a threatening mission through Navajo country. He told all the Navajos along his route that the Americans would wage war against them and take all their sheep, kill their men, and take all Navajo women and children captive.

Zarcillos Largos and other peace leaders worked on Manuelito, persuading him to return many of the sheep and cattle he had stolen. They assured the warrior they would not turn him in to the military authorities, although the army had told them to do this with wrongdoers among their tribe.

September came, and Manuelito found himself once again at a peace meeting in Santa Fe. The dark dusty room had changed little in the years since his youth, and Manuelito listened again to the warnings of the officials and the pleas of the Navajo leaders. He knew the importance of Governor Merriwether's words when he appointed Zarcillos Largos "captain" in charge of keeping the Navajos peaceful.

Manuelito would be endangering this respected Navajo leader by continuing to raid and attack the settlers. The warrior agreed to try settling matters by talking rather than by fighting.

In July 1855, Zarcillos Largos resigned from his position as captain, and refused to attend Merriwether's meeting at Red Lake. Manuelito was a strong young man, a man who needed to feel important, so Largos stayed away and hoped that Manuelito would find satisfaction in leading his people to peace.

Manuelito was named "head chief" by Merriwether at the peace meeting. But he did not like the treaty terms, particularly the condition that required him to turn over all wrongdoers. He would have had to turn himself in, according to the Americans' view. Manuelito did not think of himself as a wrongdoer, for he had fought only in retaliation for all the wrongs committed against the Navajos. But his arguments against the treaty did not persuade the governor to change the document. Finally, Manuelito signed the treaty along with the other headmen.

Zarcillos Largos was relieved. His strategy seemed to be working. Manuelito would be a fine chief, a strong protector of the Navajos . . . if only his fiery tongue did not get him into trouble.

Manuelito soon found another enemy to vent his anger on. A band of Comanches stole his favorite horse, Racer, and the warrior pursued the thieves. Manuelito and his band chased them hundreds of miles northwest up into Utah territory. The Comanches, however, left the Navajos behind, and waited until they turned to go home. Then the Comanches doubled back and rode southeast to attack Manuelito's camp. Manuelito fought back and sent the Comanches scattering, but he suffered a gunshot wound on the left side of his chest.

A captive Mexican blacksmith who had been with Manuelito's band for many years managed to extract the lead ball, but the wound was serious. The great leader was only in his late thirties, and now his life was seriously in danger. He lay with a high fever for many days, hardly aware of the singing going on over him. Zarcillos Largos was praying and administering medicines, and Manuelito's band was chanting with the medicine man. All Manuelito saw was a haze of faces, gentle, worried faces. Then he dropped off to sleep.

His fever cooled, and the faces became clear, relief lighting the eyes of all his friends. Manuelito recovered. He recovered in time to become angry all over again, this time at the entire United States Army.

He strode into Agent Henry Dodge's little stone house in June, 1856, demanding to know why the Navajos had been ordered to remove all their livestock from the grazing lands around Fort Defiance.

"Your army has horses and wagons, mules, and many soldiers. They are capable of hauling in feed for their own livestock. We Navajos have only our feet, and must take our sheep and cattle wherever there is good grazing, and that land around the fort has been ours for many years," he told the agent.

He threatened the agent, saying that he could muster a thousand warriors in less than a day. That was more men than the fort had soldiers. "Your army is welcome to drive the Navajos off the grazing grounds, if they think their force is strong enough," he added sarcastically.

Fort Defiance added extra soldiers for a while, but the Navajo livestock remained there to graze. Agent Dodge was killed several months later on a hunting trip. While Zarcillos Largos mourned the death of his friend, Manuelito saw little sense in worrying so much about a white man.

For a short time he joined with Largos to recover stolen sheep, a vast change in behavior for the avowed warrior. He even visited the new commander at Fort Defiance, in March 1858, to say that he would remove the Navajo livestock that were grazing at the hay camp near the fort. Major Thomas H. Brooks had no idea what a remarkable change this was for Manuelito. Instead Major Brooks took the chief's visit as an insult, because it did not come until three months after Brooks had taken command.

Brooks' temper matched Manuelito's, and the two held each other in low regard. Finally, Brooks reappointed Zarcillos Largos, and Manuelito was no longer head chief.

Manuelito was just as glad to be rid of the troublesome job, which had required him to act more tactfully with the army than he liked. Still, Largos was gaining years, growing old, and perhaps too weak to be a strong leader for the Navajos, thought Manuelito. So he stayed with the old peace chief, helping him recover stolen livestock.

In April 1858, the two led a large band of Navajos nearly to Gray Mountain to find sheep and cattle to take back to the soldiers. Out of thousands of sheep that the New Mexicans claimed had been taken during the past years, the Navajos were able to take back only 117. A party of soldiers had been sent to recover the same sheep, and met Manuelito and Largos as they were returning. "The rest of the sheep have been eaten or traded away," Manuelito told the soldiers as he turned the livestock over to them.

Though he had promised to see that the Navajo herds were removed from the hay camp at Fort Defiance, Manuelito had not yet accomplished this. He had barely gotten home to one of his camps, south of Ganado, when he learned that the army was driving off all the animals at the hay camp. Many of the cattle were his, and Manuelito went quickly to the fort to argue with the officers.

Surrounded by his faithful warriors, Manuelito stood his ground. "The water there is mine, not yours, and the same with the grass. Even the ground it grows from belongs to me, not to you. I will not let you have these things," he stormed.

Major Brooks replied firmly that the army would defend its rights to the hay camp, by force if necessary. He dismissed Manuelito, telling him that he and his band were no longer considered friends of the Americans.

Troops were ordered to slaughter all livestock not removed from the hay camp by midnight. Manuelito lost many sheep and cattle during that night.

Outright war came soon after, in the fall. Manuelito's camp on the Little Colorado, south of the Ganado Valley, was one of the army's first targets. A large band of Zunis volunteered to help the army, and 160 Zuni warriors rode against the camp. But Manuelito had heard of this in time to escape, and while his hogans and fields burned to the ground, the war leader was alive and safe.

When Zarcillos Largos sent word of the Naachid, later in the winter, Manuelito prepared to attend.

He bided his time, sitting silently with the war leaders at the great gathering. Winter weather had descended upon the flat land north of Chinle. Clouds covered the sun day after day during the ceremony, but Manuelito sat, unflinching, clad only in his breechcloth. He listened to Zarcillos Largos lamenting the killing of his nephews, and the sad plight of the Navajo people whose homes and fields had been burned. Manuelito and the other war leaders grew angrier as the moments passed during the old peace chief's speech. Suddenly Manuelito sprang to his feet.

Like a furious whirlwind, he ran around near the crowd, shouting at them. "We will stop this suffering! I will lead the Navajos. We will make war and drive the white men from our land!"

For four days, Manuelito kept up his campaign among the younger men, urging them to follow him. He was successful. It was a worried band of peaceful Navajos who hurriedly left the ceremony while the warriors made their plans.

The warriors struck at Fort Defiance, 500 strong, behind Manuelito in February of 1860. They sent their flaming arrows into the haystacks at the grazing camp. The soldiers numbered only forty-four and fought bitterly to turn back the Navajo attackers. Manuelito quickly led his men back into the hills.

In April, he and Barboncito rallied a thousand warriors and struck directly at the fort. They moved in before dawn stealthily, undetected, and at close range surrounded three sides of Fort Defiance. Then they overran the military quarters, taking shelter behind the fences and woodpiles, driving the soldiers back into the small kitchen and laundry quarters.

Only as the gray light of early dawn began to show did the soldiers gather their wits and begin an organized defense. Finally, the sky turned rosy as the sun came up, and Manuelito signaled his men to disappear back into the mountains. Two companies were ordered to pursue them. The order was quickly countermanded when the advance company was mistaken for Navajos, and shot at by the rear company.

New Mexicans relished the opportunity to increase their slaving expeditions against the Navajos. After all, the Navajos were obviously not living up to any treaty promises. Manuelito caught wind of a Mexican raiding expedition in mid-summer and led his warriors to ambush the fifty Mexicans in the Chuska Valley.

Manuelito's band arrived in plenty of time to prepare the surprise attack. They dragged fallen logs and huge boulders to the edge of the high slopes of the mountains and then they sat down to wait. When the Mexican party was close enough, the Navajos let their arrows fly. The warriors remained above sending their logs and boulders crashing down on the Mexicans who were climbing up the slopes. Forty Mexicans lay dead when Manuelito finally called off his men.

Military expeditions marched against the Navajos the rest of the year. Like spiders spinning a complex web, the soldiers criss-crossed the land of the Navajos, killing and burning. Bands of Utes, Apaches, New Mexican ranchers, and Pueblo Indians joined the free-for-all, and the Navajos suffered more than ever before.

Finally in February 1861, General R.E.S. Canby knew the Navajos were devastated, too beaten to fight any more. He signed a treaty with thirty-two headmen on February 15. Manuelito signed the treaty.

Fort Defiance was abandoned and its troops sent to the new Fort Fauntleroy in the Zuni mountains that spring. By the end of April, Manuelito could graze his cattle outside the kitchen door at the abandoned military post.

The Utes too, were glad to see the fort unprotected. They became bolder in their raids against the Navajos, and the Navajos fought back. Navajo raids against settlers mounted, and Manuelito found it easy to take up his warlike habits again. The bloody situation in the southwest snowballed, until General James H. Carleton ordered war against the Navajos and Apaches in 1863. They were to be rounded up and taken to a reservation at Fort Sumner.

Kit Carson began his campaign of legendary horror against the Navajos, and Fort Defiance was again opened for service, under a new name, Fort Canby.

While Carson's troops literally burned down Navajoland, and managed to round up thousands of Navajos, Manuelito dodged from one spot to another, determined to keep up his personal war against the army. Seeing the fields burning, and the Navajos turning themselves in at Fort Canby for lack of food and clothing, Manuelito began stashing small supplies of corn and other dried foods along his trails, from the headwaters of the Little Colorado to the Grand Canyon. He would not be forced to surrender because of an empty stomach. For a year, from summer of 1863 until spring of 1864, Manuelito moved too fast for the army to catch him. The army tried to keep track of him though, and that spring, a soldier wrote to Kit Carson: "Manuelito (fifth chief) will be in in four days, bringing with him his people and herds . . ."

The great war chief had found safety in the Grand Canyon for a while, but many hungry Navajos had decided to turn themselves in to Carson, before another bad winter. Manuelito agreed to lead them to the fort. True to his words to the soldier, Manuelito arrived at Fort Sumner with nearly 1,500 Navajos in March, 1864. He proved his value to the army, and returned to Navajo country, promising to bring more of his people to Bosque Redondo (Round Forest), as the fort was sometimes called.

If his people wanted to go to Bosque Redondo, that was their decision.

Meanwhile, Manuelito had discovered a way to remain free for a while longer in his homeland.

These hunted ones of Manuelito's band survived for many months, through the rest of 1864 and into 1865, at times with nothing more to eat than Manuelito's hidden supplies of dried corn. Then, in February that year, Manuelito was camped west of Zuni with his family and the rest of his band. The Utes attacked them, scattering the surprised Navajos and stealing much of their livestock. Manuelito had about fifty horses and forty sheep left after the attack.

He led his people far west, to camp near Black Mountain. But again, the Utes found Manuelito, and attacked brutally, killing many of the men, and taking most of the surviving men, women, and children as captives. It was fall 1865. Manuelito, and a few others, who had been away on a hunting trip, remained free. But this was a despondent band of Navajos, hiding in a desolate land, for all the fields and homes that Kit Carson could find were burned. The thought of a cold winter with little food was cruel, and Manuelito mourned the loss of many of his relatives and faithful companions. Still, he outwitted the soldiers and remained free, though often hungry now. Throughout the years since 1863, many Navajos had tried to persuade him to surrender, thinking that if all surrendered perhaps they would not be imprisoned for long. The army had even sent Navajo headmen to talk to him, hoping they could bring him to Fort Sumner.

In the late summer of 1866, Manuelito found himself facing another cold, hungry winter of hiding, and hoping the Utes would not attack again. He knew that life at Fort Sumner was miserable. The headmen had told him how little food there was, and how far they had to walk to find firewood. Comanche war parties constantly attacked small groups of Navajos who left the fort to go hunting. Mexican raiders lay in ambush too, waiting to capture more slaves from Navajo wood gathering and hunting parties. Many Navajos had already died of exposure and starvation, especially the young children and old people, for there were not enough blankets issued for each person to have one. The fields around the fort refused to produce good crops for the Navajos who tried to plant corn and pumpkins there. The coffee beans issued by the army puzzled the women, who tried to boil them soft, as food to fill their empty stomachs.

The Navajos at Fort Sumner needed all the strong, healthy leaders they could find, and Manuelito was a strong man, even after suffering three bad winters, two Ute attacks, and the loss of much of his band and many family members. Mexicans and Pueblo raiders joined the Utes, and all attacked deep into Navajo country, taking slaves from among the small bands they found hiding in the twisting canyons and towering mountains.

Ganado Mucho's son turned himself in at Bosque Redondo during July of 1866, and reported to the army that Manuelito, Barboncito, and others were still hiding in the Sierra Escudillas. Manuelito by that time was wounded and weak. He agreed to turn himself in later when he regained his strength. He did not want to risk sure death by traveling through Mexican and Pueblo country in poor physical condition.

Finally, on September 1, 1866, Manuelito and twenty-three companions rode down to Fort Wingate, and surrendered. The forty-eight-year-old warrior held himself tall and proud, as he led his small band to the army. A month later, he arrived at Fort Sumner.

The fort was far worse than he had imagined, and his people far more tragic. It filled him with shame and sorrow to see once-strong women, now thin and weak, trying to comfort their starving children, trying to sleep and keep warm on a thin layer of gunny sacks at night. He rode with more able-bodied Navajos to hunt game and gather firewood. They had to go more than twenty-five miles out from the fort, as the mesquite roots near the fort had long ago been used up. Comanche bands attacked fiercely, and Mexicans awaited the Navajos along their wood-gathering trails.

It was as deadly to go out hunting for food and fuel as it was to stay at the fort and starve.

Manuelito endured his people's misery for a year. Then in October of 1867, he persuaded 350 men, women, and children, to desert the fort. Other bands left, too. But the army officers who tracked them found many Navajos already trying to return to Fort Sumner, for life outside the fort was no longer free either. Too many enemies lay waiting to kill and capture the proud Navajos.

Back at Fort Sumner once more, Manuelito and the other headmen counciled with Barboncito. Putting aside what little pride they had left, they pleaded with Barboncito to speak for the Navajos in council with the white military leaders. They desperately wanted to go home, but they also needed protection and freedom from more attacks.

For an anguishing moment in the council meeting with General W. T. Sherman on May 28, 1868, Manuelito and his friends thought they were never going to see their homeland again. General Sherman tried to talk them into moving onto a reservation in Oklahoma, near the Cherokees.

But Barboncito refused even to consider any other home but his own, and finally, the headmen felt certain they would be going home soon. By June 1, the Treaty of 1868 was ready for signature. Barboncito, Armijo, Delgado, Manuelito, and then twenty-five more headmen signed the document.

Soldiers rode along with some of the small bands which departed as they were ready, but the trail home was still dangerous. Slower-moving parties, many on foot, never got home. Mexican raiders captured them, adding to the great number of Navajo slaves they already held.

Only 7,304 Navajos were counted in at Fort Wingate that summer. More than 1,500 Navajos never came back from exile. Death and capture had taken a terrible toll.

Manuelito took the remaining members of his family back to his old home near Tohatchi, south of Sheep Springs. With him still were his Mexican wife, a son and a nephew. Glad to be free again, Manuelito began anew to build up his sheep herd, and his family labored long in the fields, trying.to coax them back to life. But, along with many others, they suffered terrible years of drought and poor crops. Along with hundreds of his tribesmen, Manuelito went time and again to the Navajo agents trying to locate his relatives who had been captured by Utes and Mexicans.

Extremely poor living conditions following years of miserable imprisonment at Fort Sumner had a predictable effect on many young Navajo men. Shamed at the thought of receiving their small allotment of government clothing, angered at the impoverished condition of their families, and full of Navajo pride and desire for self-sufficiency, bands of Navajo raiders formed. They stole sheep and cattle from settlers along the Navajo borders, just as in the old days.

Manuelito understood their ways, but he knew they were traveling a hopeless trail. The young raiders swept Mormon and Mexican settlements seeking horses, and they drove home herds of sheep. In 1871, food became so limited in Navajo country that children began dying of starvation. Raiding bands increased, in the desperate hunt for food, and for livestock which would produce more food. Trying to hold back the surge of thefts, Nathaniel Pope, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs in New Mexico, advertised for 10,000 ewes to be delivered to Fort Defiance for the Navajos by September 1872.

Manuelito and other headmen were called to a meeting that summer at Fort Wingate, by Major General Oliver 0. Howard. Manuelito faced the raiding problem openly. "I will go myself to stop these raids," he proposed. "I have brought in many sheep and cattle stolen by the Navajo raiders. I will continue to do this, returning stolen livestock to the Mexicans. I will get all the animals I can for you," Manuelito vowed. "But when I say there is no more stolen livestock on this reservation, you must believe me."

For a year, Manuelito was chief of the first Navajo police organization. Though they received neither the pay nor the clothing that had been promised them, they went to work immediately. Under Manuelito's leadership, they were so effective that Navajo raids nearly stopped within the first five months. L. E. Dudley, the new Superintendent of Indian Affairs in New Mexico advised that the force be paid, then cut back to thirty members. The added expense of the police force was no longer necessary, he thought.

Seven months after it was started, the first Navajo police force was legally disbanded. They had done their job, and were no longer needed. Superintendent Dudley did suggest that if trouble arose in the future, a Navajo police force would be the best means to stop it. The force never quite stopped, though. It was still active, even though the members didn't receive pay for their hard work for many years.

No longer head of the police, Manuelito was chosen for other work for his people. In 1876, the old headman journeyed to visit the President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant, in Washington, D.C. He spoke for his tribe's need for more land, for much of their old grazing land had not been included in the Treaty of 1868, and much trouble was starting with the non-Indian cattlemen over land they didn't want to share. In 1878, an additional strip of land was granted the Navajos. This was followed by more grants in 1880, 1884, and several in the 1900's. Manuelito again had led the way.

With Ganado Mucho he launched a different kind of attack against Navajo troublemakers. The two saw only argument and disagreement ahead for their people. Many Navajos hated the new way of life. They had lost a great deal of land, and suffered near-starvation. They were not about to send their children away to school. They had lost too much already, without giving up their children as well.

Manuelito was convinced now that education was the ladder by which the Navajos would again rise to independence, and regain their pride. He and Ganado Mucho began a campaign against Navajo "witches and thieves" who were causing all the trouble. In 1878 more than forty Navajos were rounded up and killed.

Manuelito sent two of his own sons away to an Indian school in Pennsylvania in 1882, hopeful for their futures.

Then the Indian agents, still trying to set the slavery problem straight, began hunting for captives, both among the New Mexico settlers and among the Navajos. In 1883, Agent Denis Riordan faced a strange situation. No sooner would a Navajo release all his slaves, than the slaves would escape from the agent and return to their Navajo homes.

Manuelito was sternly ordered to free his Mexican slaves, and Agent John Bowman faced the same puzzle. The Navajo chief did not refuse in anger, as Bowman expected. Instead, he replied quietly, "I claim no control over them in any way. They are not slaves. They are members of my family, at liberty to go anywhere or do anything they wish."

The agent then faced Manuelito's Mexican wife, offering her the choice of moving to Fort Defiance and placing her children in school there, or of remaining with her "master." Manuelito held back an urge to laugh when the upset agent looked puzzled at her answer: "I far prefer to remain in captivity with my 'master'."

Then, in the same year, one of Manuelito's sons became ill at the school in Pennsylvania. He was sent home, where he died soon after. Manuelito became violently angry at the school. He demanded that all Navajo children be sent home to their parents.

But the tide was too strong to turn. Manuelito had carved the beginning of a new trail. Though he was suddenly turned against education, his tribe was moving steadily up the ladder.

He spent the last ten years of his life unhappy, certain that he had done the wrong thing by encouraging education, and by taking back all the livestock stolen by the young raiders of the tribe. Whisky was small comfort for his misery, but he drank it anyway. All around him his people still believed his words "Education is the ladder," and they sent more and more of their children to school. They followed Manuelito even though he refused to lead them any longer.

He was a disheartened man, seventy-five years old in 1893, when he became very ill. Measles and then pneumonia brought the weakened old man to his deathbed.

In his fever, the years seemed to fade as he watched the sunlight play in small patches on the hogan wall. He saw the faces around him, his friends and family. He thought he heard Zarcillos Largos say, "Come, on the path of beauty you will restore your strength." Manuelito closed his eyes in peace.

His death saddened many Navajos who had found strength in his strength. But his life had given his people a new trail to follow, and they walked it proudly, as Manuelito had walked.


A delegation of Navajo representatives who traveled to Washington, D.C., in 1874 to discuss the provisions of the 1868 treaty with President Ulysses S. Grant. In actuality however, the purpose was to effect a land exchange by ceding the northern portion of the reservation bordering the San Juan River, where gold seekers were beginning to stake claims, for parcels of arid lands to the east and west.

President Grant met with the delegation on December 19, 1974, but the land exchange fell through, due mainly to the efforts of Thomas Keam, who had travelled to Washington at his own expense and shared the Navajos' desire to hold onto their lands.

The delegation consisted of (left to right, front row): Carnero Mucho, Mariano, Juanita (Manuelito's wife), Manuelito, Manuelito Segundo, and Tiene-su-se
Standing: "Wild" Hank Sharp (Anglo), Ganado Mucho, Barbas Hueros, Agent Arny, Kentucky Mountain Bill (Anglo), Cabra Negra, Cayatanita, Narbona Primero, and Jesus Arviso, interpreter.

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