Navajo Long Walk: The Tragic Story of a Proud People's Forced March From Their Homeland

By: Shonto Begay, Joseph Bruchac

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Starting in the 1500s, the Spanish moved into the territory previously occupied by the Navajo people, often making raids on their rancherias to take slaves, leading to the Navajo sometimes retaliating. This went on until 1846 when the U. S. Army took over the New Mexico Territory where the Navajo primarily lived. For about two decades, the Indians tried to make peace with the U. S. government, only to have their treaties broken time and time again. In 1864, the army sent General James H. Carleton to take over. He in turn sent Kit Carson, who drove the Navajo off their land by burning their homes and crops and killing their livestock. Knowing that they would either starve or be killed, they surrendered and were then marched 470 miles across New Mexico to Bosque Redondo reservation. Many died or were killed along the way, and those who reached the Bosque found nothing but a desolate, barren land, where virtually nothing could grow. General Carlton set out on a mission to "civilize" the Navajos by "killing the Indian to save the man." However, years later, he was finally removed from his post and the Navajo were allowed to return to their ancestral lands where they eventually grew into the largest Native American nation in the United States.


Navajo Long Walk is a non-fiction children's book that's aimed at middle-schoolers. It begins with a brief history of the Navajo people who lived in relative peace in the desert southwest until the Spaniards first came along and started colonizing the area that would become knows as New Mexico. The Spanish would then often raid Navajo rancherias, taking slaves, and sometimes the Navajo would retaliate with their own raids. This went on for a very long time, until in 1846, the U. S. Army took control of the New Mexico Territory. After that, the Navajo thought perhaps the United States government would deal fairly with them, but few U. S. representatives bothered to try to learn and understand Navajo ways. Instead they made and broke treaty after treaty, which eventually led to some of the Navajo feeling they had no other option but to break certain parts of the treaties themselves in order to simply survive.

Eventually General James H. Carleton was sent to be commander over the New Mexico Territory and he dealt very harshly with the Indians, forcing both Navajos and Apaches out of their homelands and compelling them to march 470 miles from Fort Canby on the Arizona/New Mexico border, all the way to the Bosque Redondo reservation near Fort Sumner in eastern New Mexico. Many died or were killed along the way, and those who made it to the reservation found nothing but desolation. The area was virtually uninhabitable and the Indians were unable to grow crops or keep livestock. Even the rations sent by the U. S. government were tainted, leading to many more deaths. It wasn't until 1865, when public outrage over the treatment of the Indians rose, that General Carleton was finally removed from command and control of the reservation was turned over to the Department of the Interior. When a Peace Commission was sent, headed up by General William Tecumseh Sherman who was appalled by the conditions at the reservation, the Navajo were finally allowed to return home. Once they began receiving some of the livestock promised them in a treaty, they were able to rebuild their lives and today have the largest Native American reservation in the United States.

I thought Navajo Long Walk was an interesting book that details a little-known piece of American history. I'm familiar with the Trail of Tears, but despite living in Arizona for many years, I'd never heard of this forced march of the Navajo. It's a very sad, tragic tale that makes me angry on behalf of the Native Americans who were affected by the United States policies which caused so much destruction of culture and lives. General Carlton was one of those white people who believed in the "kill the Indian to save the man" approach, so he tried to mold them into the white man's ways. He also seemed to think that the Bosque Redondo was some sort of Indian utopia and appeared to engage in some next-level gaslighting until others finally wised up and removed him from his post. I was happy to learn that General Sherman, a Civil War hero from my own hometown, was apparently a friend to the Indians and was instrumental in them being allowed to return to their lands. Since I've always been rather fascinated by Native American culture and history, I enjoyed learning more about the history of the Navajo. My only small complaint is that there were a lot of players in this story and not a lot of background on who they were, so it was a little hard to keep things straight at times, which might also present an issue for the middle-school audience at which it's aimed. Otherwise, though, this was a well-written book. The illustrations, particularly the larger ones that take up a full page or sometimes even two, are beautifully rendered, museum quality paintings that are very evocative. So overall, this was a great book that was a pleasure to read.


Joseph Bruchac @ GoodReads 

Shonto Begay