Famous Navajo from the historical period.
Chief Hoskininni (d. 1912), also known as Hush-Kaaney (meaning angry one) – Governed the remote lands in the Monument Valley/Navajo Mountain region in the current state of Utah. Hoskininni and his band of Navajo resisted the efforts of the United States military to round up all Navajo and force them to march hundreds of miles east, to Bosque Redondo/Fort Sumner, New Mexico (known as “The Long Walk”).
Chief Hoskininni and his band avoided capture for four years by hiding out in the remote lands of Navajo Mountain, where perennial springs were located. The group subsisted on pinon nuts, game, and the few sheep they had managed to bring with them when they fled the military. Hoskininni’s sound leadership eventually enabled this particular band of Navajo to thrive and prosper in this area.
Legend says that Hoskininni and his band discovered silver in the area because of the large amounts of jewelry that the band possessed, noticed by other Navajos who returned to the area after internment at Bosque Redondo ended. However, no silver mine or deposit has ever been found. Hoskininni died in 1912 in Monument Valley, where he lived with his family.
Manuelito a.k.a. Hastiin Ch’ilhaajinii (1818-1893) – One of the principal war chiefs of the Diné people before, during and after the Long Walk Period. Born near Bear’s Ears, Utah into the Bit’ahni (Folded Arms People). This clan was his mother’s clan. His father was Cayetano, a Navajo leader. When Manuelito was young, he participated in an ambush against the Pueblo Indians. He earned the war name Hashkeh Naabaah (Angry Warrior). Manuelito has also been called Bullet Hole, for a bullet wound to his chest.
He married the daughter of Narbona, a prominent Navajo peace leader, at the age of sixteen. Narbona was later killed. In 1855 Governor David Merriweather of New Mexico appointed Manuelito the “official chief” of the Navajo after Zarcillos Largos resigned. He was one of the twenty-five leaders to sign the Treaty of 1868. This treaty allowed the Navajo to return to their ancestral homelands.
Manuelito was interested in Anglo-American education because he saw it as a way to better his family’s life. His interest in Anglo-American education motivated him to send his two sons and a nephew to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. Sadly, both of his children and the nephew contracted tuberculosis and died of the disease while attending Carlisle School.
Chief Barboncito – Signed the Navajo Treaty of 1868.
Chief Armijo – Signed the Navajo Treaty of 1868.
Navajo Actors / Filmmakers:
Klee Benally, musician and documentary filmmaker
Jeremiah Bitsui, actor
Geraldine Keams, actress, writer, and storyteller
Harrison Begay (1914–2012), Studio painter
Atsidi Sani (c. 1828–1918), First known Navajo silversmith
Raven Chacon (born 1977), Conceptual artist
Lorenzo Clayton (born 1940), artist
R. C. Gorman (1932–2005), painter and printmaker.
- Famed Navajo artist R.C. Gorman dead at age 74
- Navajo artist R.C. Gorman, sculptures and fine art prints from the southwest
David Johns (born 1948), painter
Yazzie Johnson, contemporary silversmith
Hastiin Klah, weaver and co-founder of the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian
Gerald Nailor, Sr. (1917–1952), studio painter
Clara Nezbah Sherman, weaver
Ryan Singer, painter, illustrator, screen printer
Tommy Singer, silversmith and jeweler
Quincy Tahoma (1920–1956), studio painter
Klah Tso (mid-19th century — early 20th century), pioneering easel painter
Emmi Whitehorse, contemporary painter
Melanie Yazzie, contemporary print maker and educator
NOTAH BEGAY – PGA Pro Golfer, of Navajo, San Felipe and Isleta lineage. Begay is the first Native American Indian to join a PGA Tour. He turned professional in 1995 and joined the tour in 1999.
CORY WITHERILL – Race Car Driver, of the Navajo Nation. Witherill has been racing for more than 15 years, including three seasons in the Dayton Indy Lights Championship. In 2001 he finally debuted in the Indy Racing League and then the Indy 500 (placing 19 out of 33).
The first full-blooded Native American to run in the Indy 500, he also holds two U.S. championships for off-road stadium racing and in 2001 became the first person to be a four-time champion at the Motorcross Valvoline de Montreal. His career goal is to be the first Native American to win the Indy 500.
Jacoby Ellsbury, New York Yankees outfielder (enrolled Colorado River Indian Tribes).
Rickie Fowler, American professional golfer.
James and Ernie, comedy duo
Jock Soto, ballet dancer
Blackfire, punk rock band and pow wow drum group
Raven Chacon, composer
Radmilla Cody, traditional singer
R. Carlos Nakai, musician, flutist
Chris Deschene – veteran, an attorney, an engineer, and a community leader. One of few Native Americans to be accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. Upon graduation, he was commissioned as a 2nd Lt. in the U.S. Marine Corps. He made an unsuccessful attempt to run for Navajo Nation President.
Henry Chee Dodge (1857?-1947) – Was the last official Head Chief and the first Tribal Chairman of the Navajo Tribe. He was born at Ft. Defiance, Arizona, to a Navajo-Jemez mother of the Coyote Pass Clan. The exact year of birth and the name of his father are not known. At around six years of age, Dodge’s mother left home and never returned. Dodge lived with various other family members until there was a mix-up and he was accidentally left alone beside a trail.
He met a young girl and her grandfather traveling on the trail, and they adopted him. He was living with this family when, in 1864, he was forced by the United States Government, along with thousands of other Navajos to walk over 300 miles to Bosque Redondo, near Ft. Sumner, New Mexico from their homelands in what is now northeastern Arizona. The Navajo people refer to this forced relocation as “The Long Walk.”
In 1868 the Navajo were finally allowed to return to their ancestral homes. Upon his return to his homeland, Dodge was reunited with an aunt who had married an anglo.
Dodge eventually learned English through his exposure to Anglo culture. He then enrolled in the Fort Defiance Indian School where he learned to read and write in English. He followed the old Navajo custom of marrying multiple wives. It is said that he may have had as many as eight wives at one time.
In 1884 he was named head of the Navajo Police force. Later that same year he was named “head chief” by agent Dennis Riordan. In 1890 he formed a partnership with a white trader, Stephen Aldrich, and opened a trading post at Round Rock, Arizona.
In 1892 his trading post was a major part of a conflict between Indian agent Dana Shipley and a powerful Navajo headman named Black Horse. In the end, Dodge skillfully negotiated a peaceful end to the explosive affair.
In 1923 Dodge was selected the first chairman of the Navajo Tribal Council. In 1942 he was elected tribal chairman for another term. He was reelected in 1946, but contracted pneumonia soon after and died from the disease on January 7, 1947.
Dodge was survived by five of his six children, one of whom was Annie Dodge Wauneka. She became the first woman to be elected to the Navajo Tribal Council.
Peter MacDonald, former Navajo Tribal Chairman
Kenneth Maryboy (Aneth/Red Mesa/Mexican Water), helped initiate the Navajo Santa Program for poverty stricken Navajo families.
Mark Maryboy (Aneth/Red Mesa/Mexican Water), former Navajo Nation Council Delegate, working in Utah Navajo Investments
Lilakai Julian Neil, first woman elected to Navajo Tribal Council (1946–1951)
Ben Shelly, former Navajo Nation President
Joe Shirley, Jr., former President of the Navajo Nation
Annie Dodge Wauneka (1910-1997) – Was born on April 10, 1910 near Sawmill, AZ. Her father was Henry Chee Dodge. She began her education at a boarding school in Ft. Defiance, Arizona at the age of eight. The school experienced a tuberculosis outbreak during the time of Annie’s attendance. Annie was in the first grade and even at this young age, she helped the school nurse tend the sick.
In the sixth grade Annie was sent to the Albuquerque Indian School. Her formal education ended at the end of eleventh grade, but later in life she returned to school where she earned a Bachelors Degree in Public Health from the University of Arizona in Tucson. Annie also received an honorary Doctorate Degree from her alma mater for her tireless efforts to better the lives of the Navajo people.
Annie married George Wauneka in October, 1929. After her marriage she began to work closely with her father until his death in 1947. Two years after his death she was appointed as the first woman member of the Navajo Tribal Council. In 1951 she was appointed to serve as Chairman of the Tribal Council’s Health and Welfare Committee. In 1956, the Surgeon General of the United States invited Mrs. Wauneka to become a member of the Advisory Committee on Indian health.
The greatest award given to Mrs. Wauneka was the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award. President John F. Kennedy sent her the news in the fall of 1963. The actual presentation was made by President Lyndon B. Johnson because President Kennedy had been assassinated. This award is given as the highest civil honor presented to an individual in peacetime. Men and women who make outstanding contributions to the security of the nation, to world peace or to cultural endeavors are considered as possible recipients for this award.
In 1997, at age 87, Mrs. Wauneka died. Her whole life was dedicated to the betterment of her tribe. A great humanitarian, Dodge fought for human rights, rights that she believed all people were entitled to have. Through her work as an activist, Dodge helped health care move into a modern place, one that would better serve Native American interests and needs. Dodge’s past efforts in health care will continue to affect present and future Native needs.
Peterson Zah (b. 1937) – Zah was born and raised in Low Mountain, Arizona. This area encompasses the area of the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute. While living at Low Mountain, Zah gained valuable knowledge of his own tribe and living in close proximity to the Hopi brought him valuable knowledge of the Hopi tribe as well.
He led efforts to reorganize the Navajo tribal government. He became the Navajo Nation’s first president in 1990.
Zah acquired his first political position in Window Rock in 1967. He was hired as the head of the Dine’beiina Nahiilna Be Agaditahe (DNA). The DNA provided legal assistance to the Navajo, Hopi, and Apache Tribes.
In addition, Mr. Zah was elected president of the Window Rock Unified School District Board of Directors in 1973, which was the first all Navajo school board. He advocated for more recruitment of Navajo teachers to work on the Navajo reservation.
In 1982 he was elected Tribal Chairman, replaced long term chairman Peter MacDonald for one term. In 1988 he was re-elected, accepting the position of the President of the Navajo Nation under the newly reorganized government structure.
He held that position until 1995. Mr. Zah is featured in the 100 Native Americans who shaped American History, a publication by Bluewood Books.Education has played a big part in Zah’s life.
Sherwin Bitsui, author and poet
Ivan Gamble, writer/social activist
Luci Tapahonso, poet and lecturer
Elizabeth Woody, author, educator, and environmentalist
Navajo in the American Military:
The Navajo language was used to create a secret code to battle the Japanese during World War II. Navajo men were selected to create codes in the Navajo language and served on the front line to overcome and deceive those on the other side of the battlefield.
Today, these men are recognized as the famous Navajo Code Talkers.Navajo Code Talkers At Iwo Jima, Major Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division signal officer, declared, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.”
Connor had six Navajo code talkers working around the clock during the first two days of the battle. Those six sent and received over 800 messages, all without error.
In May 1942, the first 29 Navajo recruits attended boot camp. Then, at Camp Pendleton , Oceanside , California , this first group created the Navajo code. They developed a dictionary and numerous words for military terms.
The dictionary and all code words had to be memorized during training. Navajos could encode, transmit, and decode a three-line English message in 20 seconds. Machines of the time required 30 minutes to perform the same job. Approximately 400 Navajos were trained as code talkers.
Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Peleliu, Iwo Jima : the Navajo code talkers took part in every assault the U.S. Marines conducted in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945. They served in all six Marine divisions, Marine Raider battalions and Marine parachute units, transmitting messages by telephone and radio in their native language — a code that the Japanese never broke.
Long unrecognized because of the continued value of their language as a security classified code, the Navajo code talkers of World War II were honored for their contributions to defense on Sept. 17, 1992, at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C.
Dr. Fred Begay, nuclear physicist and a Korean War veteran
Joe Kieyoomia, captured by the Imperial Japanese Army after the fall of the Philippines in 1942
Chester Nez, was the last original Navajo code talker who served in the United States Marine Corps during World War II.
Other notable people with Navajo ancestry:
Albert Laughter, Navajo medicine man.
Albert Laughter is a fifth generation medicine man from the Navajo tribe. He has trained most of his life to treat the people of his tribe with traditional healing methods and natural herbs.
But these days, he is employed by the Federal Government to treat military veterans suffering from the trauma of combat.
My family goes back several generations. We were not held captive in Fort Sumner. My family grew up in what is now the Canyon Lands. Over the years I have been asked questions by a number of interested people from universities and I have welcomed the opportunity to share my culture and to learn about their culture.
I have my own language and tradition but I also live in two cultures- my own and my adopted culture, the Anglo society. Presently I am a contractor and build and sell houses. I specialize in making our culture’s type of house, called a hogan. We have some even sided octagon shape and also the traditional dome shape hogans. These are based on the traditional styles that are made of the earth.
Our ways are different. We are not a scriptual type of people. We are not known to be writers, we are known to be symbolizers. We may use a symbol or a color to represent a concept. When we teach something or we are shown something, you will only hear it once – you will not hear it again. If you hear it the second time it will not be the same as you heard it the first time and it will not be as strong a message. That is why we use symbols to represent the meaning of important teachings.
Although we have clans within our tribe, it is the elders in our family who are the ones who answer our questions and give us our tradition. When old people speak we listen because the spirit is speaking through them, the spirit is within them. When we speak with the old people, the old spirits are with them and are speaking through them. That is how we answer the questions from the young people.
The word “Navajo”
I am used to being called Navajo. It is a Spanish word that has a meaning that is not nice. It means renegade. We call ourselves Diné (dee-neh)- like our language. It is our identity and our heritage. I would prefer to be called a Diné.
In my family I am more or less the one who is looked up to because I am asked to explain things to the younger members of the family. I do some chanting with my father, often throughout the night and I assist my father, the Medicine Man, in his chanting and praying.
There are about two hundred sacred songs but we can only use about twenty four or thirty six songs because they must stop when the big morning star is in the sky. We call it the big star and when it comes, about mid-morning, we stop singing. So we sing by these stars. Some of these songs can only be sung in the morning, while some can only be sung from midnight until the time when the big star is in the sky. We also have songs for when the sun comes up and when the sun is in the mid-afternoon.
In healing, there are certain prayers that we say and these prayers are repeated by the patient. He or she will repeat them after the shaman says them. The prayers are to heal whatever the problem is and what is causing it. Maybe the problem is from the thunder or maybe the illness is from the Mother Earth. With each special prayers there can be special offerings. We also use herbs that are prescribed much like modern medicine will prescribe certain pills. The herbs that are gathered are gathered just for that specific individual with that specific illness. We also use what we call prayer bundles. These, like the herbs, are specific bundles of prayers that prescribed for specific conditions. We often have corn pollen in a little bag in one hand and in the other hand we will hold the prayer bundle.
The prayer bundle is difficult to describe because, like the prayer sticks, they are sacred things and we do not want to describe them in detail. The god people, as we call them, do not want these sacred things to be revealed or given away. We believe that if you give up some of these sacred things by revealing them carelessly, we will also lose all of our memory and our thoughts and the memories of our race. This is what my father told me. I am in the last part of my apprenticeship and I am learning certain creative singing right now.
The singing starts with certain ages. There are songs for pregnant women, for babies and for children. Usually, for babies, there is corn pollen that is offered as a blessing. Gestures and direction are important. We always push the corn pollen towards the baby, never from the back or the side – always directly towards the baby. This is how my father, the Medicine Man, taught me and this is how he was taught by my grandfather who was also a Medicine Man.
When we do these ceremonies we do not do them according to a schedule. We do not have a special holy day like a Saturday or a Sunday. We do the ceremonies when they are needed and then we will repeat or continue them in two days, or three days, but we do not use the days of the week as a marker of time. Every week has a Monday and every day has a one o’clock or a two o’clock, so we say that we will do the ceremonies in two days.
That is our way.
I have children and nieces and nephews and a large family with many young people. No one in my family is carrying on these traditions and it worries me. I have enjoyed taking on the tradition of my father, especially at my age. I am 49. But it seems like this long tradition will end with me. My own children do not speak the language. But as far as carrying on with the Anglo society, they can get by much better than even I can do. I do better talking with older people in the traditional ways.
Do you think your children will eventually want to leave this area?
We often talk about it. I try to speak to them about my own experiences. I lived once for six years in Gallup (New Mexico) and Flagstaff. At first the children may want to move there to see what it is like but at a certain age they will want to come back. They want to see what they see here. They often say that they have seen this area in their dreams and they want to come back. They say that even though they do not speak the language – even though they do not understand their grandmother – they have the strong desire to come back. This is the mission that we have in this area. We say that it is important that the traditions be carried on by the next generation and it is very important that they learn the language.
Your destiny is foretold. Like after you pass on someone may mention your name. We may talk about, say, our grandmother. “Remember how grandmother used to say this or that?” Also, we can sometimes see the person who has passed on in a child who has the same expression or temperment. We say, “He or she is just like grandmother!” In this way the person continues. These are some of the ways that a person stays with us. They live on in memories and thoughts. Even tears can mark a continuance. We live within our family who remember us. We all return to the earth and we can come back as the rain.
If you travel around some of the pueblos and the ruins you may hear the conversations of the people who have passed on – you can hear their planning and their laughter, their preparation of food and chatting of the woman folks, old people and the fires. If you close your eyes you can hear the children playing. You can really hear them. These are some of the talk that is left behind within the wind. The winds are the only messengers that we have. As we grew up, that is what our grandparents used to tell us. The only thing that you can have a conversation with is with the wind. There is a certain way that you face yourself and then you can hear them.
The way we were taught was to go out at the dawn – that is the time that you can speak to the old ones. You go out at dawn and make an offering and talk to them. They are the living gods – they are gone to the other side. The only time that you are going to hear them talking back is when there is a thunder or a new plant or a quick glance during which time you can see them. They only come at a certain time but they are around you, they are with you. But they are real and they are your guides. You speak to them in the morning – that is the time to talk to the old ones.
You can make an offering of corn pollen and say something like, “Hear me. You know me.” This other side of the culture, the Christianity, you say “My Father in heaven,” and you are speaking to the Great Spirit, but I will say, “I am your great grandchild, your grandchild, and I, as your child, would like to say something. I talk to you in beauty.” Thats how I learned from my father and he from his grandfather. My grandfather is not here. He is passed on. That is how we say it- we say they have passed on. Some would say that they have passed away but we say that they have passed on, meaning that their life continues. We are their life that carries on.
On History & Tradition
Well, I hate to use the words, but the Hollywood style of viewing us is bad. The “cowboys and indians” view of history is not correct. I can remember when they were filming a John Wayne movie out here and the director had some of our people in the movie. He said that when John Wayne pulled out his gun we were all supposed to fall to the ground. This is what the young people learn about themselves and it is sad.
If I could give a message to any Native children who would listen, I would say to first learn about who you are and then to be proud to be who you are. You should go somewhere very quiet and just feel what kind of person that you are and try to feel the spirit inside and outside and then to not be ashamed or feel bad about who and what you are.
Let nature be nature. Let yourself be who you are. Don’t try to improve or cover up your true self. At the same time, some things should be preserved and kept private. Even within the Navajo people there is a great difference between the so-called East and West Navajos. Around Gallup and Albequerque there are Navajo who are selling souvenirs of sacred items and are making a living off of the culture. This only diminishes the culture when you sell it off. Some things ought to be kept to the people as their sacred traditions.
One thing that is harmful is television. Young people see things and get ideas that are difficult for the older people to even understand. As a result we have young people shooting other young people in schools and we have a problem with drugs and alcohol. It is what they see on television. We have a very bad problem among some of our youth in this area. It is a difficult problem to face.
Some of the other things that I do not feel good about are intermarriage. People will say that he or she is a good person and will be a good mate. We are trying to keep our ways intact. It is hard for me to say what my own children will do. The most important thing is that they should want to learn the language and then they will be able to carry on the ways. I don’t want to be the last one to preserve the ways of my family and my people. My mission is to encourage them to listen and to want to learn these things.
I think I am becoming successful because they are returning again and again. They are coming back and asking questions and they are curious and it is a good sign. Only time will tell.
On the Earth
We have noticed that things are a little bit different from one year and season to the next. Once we did not get burns from the sun but now we notice that even our skin begins to burn when we are out in it for a long time. It was not like that before. Man makes the mistake of trying to understand things and improve upon them when they do not need to be looked at so closely. Once there would be a beauty walk, as we call it, and it was fine. Then someone would decide that it would be better to build a paved road on the same path. And the road is not natural and so things around the road change. Sometimes we do not need to look at trying to improve on natural things. And sometimes it is not really progress.
We thank Albert Laughter for taking the time to share his heritage with us and our readers. We found our time with him to be most rewarding.
Manuelito (1818–1893) was one of the principal war chiefs of the Diné people before, during and after the Long Walk Period. His name means Little Manuel in Spanish. As any Navajo, he was known by different names depending upon context.
He was known as Ashkii Diyinii (Holy Boy), Dahaana Baadaané (Son-in-Law of Late Texan), Hastiin Chʼilhaajiní (“Black Weeds”) and as Nabááh Jiłtʼaa (War Chief, or Warrior Grabbed Enemy) to other Diné. After his first battle at age 17, he was given the name Hashkeh Naabaah, meaning Angry Warrior.
Non-Navajo people nicknamed him “Bullet Hole” and also recorded his name as Manuelita and Manuelito Segundo.
Manuelito was born to the Bit’aa’nii or ″Folded Arms People Clan″, near the Bear’s Ears in southeastern Utah about 1818.
By the time he was 16 years old, the restless and aggressive Manuelito stood over 6 feet tall, with broad shoulders and a muscular, athletic build. He married a daughter of Narbona, and went to live at their camp near the Chuska Mountains.
Narbona’s reputation as a wealthy and powerful headman impressed Manuelito. He especially admired Narbona’s fearless attitude, although Narbona tried to teach him the value of peace as well as war.
Manuelito spent his days shooting arrows and competing with other young men in countless foot races and wrestling matches, always winning. He dressed in well-fitting buckskins and a finely woven blanket. He couldn’t wait for his first battle.
When word came in the winter of 1835 that 1000 Mexicans (from New Mexico) were coming to attack the Navajos, Manuelito fought his first in what would be many violent battles. He was seventeen when he earned the name Hashkeh Naabaah, Angry Warrior.
In the years that followed, Manuelito led one raiding party after another, joining forces with other leaders such as Ganado Mucho and Barboncito to attack not only the hated Mexicans, but also the Hopis in Arizona, the Pueblos of New Mexico, the Utes, the Comanches, and the Apaches.
Food supplies, livestock, and women and children were all fair game, and eventually Manuelito married one of his many Mexican slaves, Juanita.
By the time the Americans gained control of New Mexico Territory in 1846, Manuelito was a recognized naat’aani, with a network of sub-chiefs, each man specializing in one aspect of warfare. Manuelito became famous for his clever war strategy, angrily resisting attempts by some of the elders, such as his father-in-law Narbona, to make peace.
Finally persuaded that the Mexicans’ relentless raids would stop under the rule of the victorious Americans, Manuelito signed the peace treaty at Bear Springs, along with thirteen other leaders, most of them much older than himself. He was 28 years old.
When the Americans killed Narbona in 1949, Manuelito vowed to drive all the white men from Navajo country. He argued violently against every suggestion of peace. During one of his many skirmishes with one of his many enemies, he was shot in the chest, and almost died.
A captive Mexican blacksmith managed to dig the lead ball out, but Manuelito barely survived the infection. The wound healed, but left a large scar that would become yet another of his trademarks.
Some versions say that Commanches had stolen his famous horse Racer, and that Manuelito was shot in the attempt to get him back.
There is another story that tells how he lost a horse race only because someone, presumably the army soldiers in attendance, cut the reins. When Manuelito tried to follow the soldiers into the fort to recover what they had bet, the soldiers opened fire and killed 15 Navajos.
The Navajo people remember the 1850s and ’60s as the troubled period, the fearing time, or Nahonzoodaa’.
As the raids, kidnapping, and killing increased between the Navajos, the other various tribes and the Mexicans, the American government came under pressure from American settlers to make it all stop.
There were always at least two sides to every story. The misunderstandings continued to pile up. The situation finally came to a head at Fort Defiance when Major Thomas H. Brooks, ordered Manuelito to remove his livestock from the nearby “hay camp.”
Manuelito refused, saying, “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.”
After that the troops were ordered to slaughter all the livestock at the hay camp, and Manuelito lost many sheep and cattle. Now outright war began.
The army attacked Manuelito’s camp on the Little Colorado, south of Ganado the next fall. A large band of Zunis rode with the Army and burned his hogans and fields to the ground. Manuelito, however, managed to escape.
In February of 1860 Manuelito and 500 warriors attacked Fort Defiance. The Army fought back hard, and Manuelito retreated. In April, he and Barboncito, along with 1000 warriors returned and tried again, but once more ended up fleeing into the mountains.
From then on, the army came down hard on the Navajos, killing and burning fields and rounding up livestock. Even worse, the enemy came from all directions.
The Mexicans escalated their raids, and the Utes did the same. Although other Navajo headmen and elders were now proposing peace, Manuelito refused to stop fighting.
While the American Civil War distracted the army for a few years, full-scale chaos reigned in Navajoland as the warring continue to rage out of control.
Finally in 1863, Kit Carson was commissioned to find and remove the Navajo people to Fort Sumner (also known as Bosque Redondo) in New Mexico, 175 miles southwest of Santa Fe.
Carson and his troops went on the rampage, terrorizing the people with his “scorched earth” policy, which was to burn all the hogans and fields, cut down peach trees, and round up livestock. Faced with starvation, the people finally began to surrender.
By 1865 most of the Navajo people had made the long walk to Bosque Redondo, and many had already died. There were a few small bands hiding out near Navajo Mountain and Manuelito and his band had hidden down in the Grand Canyon for awhile.
General Carlton, in command of the Navajo relocation, sent a runner with an order for Manuelito to surrender.
From his camp near the Little Colorado, Manuelito answered that he would not leave his country, that he was doing no harm to anyone, and he intended to die there; that he had no fears and did not intend to run away.
In the end it was a Ute raid that finally wiped him out. His herd of 400 to 600 horses and 2000 to 3000 sheep were reduced to about 50 horses and the same number of sheep. The camp was decimated, the people were scattered.
He still offered a brave front, persisting in his desire to be free, saying “his mother and his god lived in the west and that he would not leave either one…that there was a tradition that his people should never cross the Rio Grande, the Rio San Juan, or the Rio Colorado.”
Finally, Manuelito and his band were among the last of the Navajos to come in to Bosque Redondo, beaten down by starvation and the constant harassment of the Utes. He, in fact, left several times, only to return again for the same reasons.
After the Civil War ended in 1968, the army began to admit that Bosque Redondo was a tragic failure. An Indian Peace Commission was formed, and Manuelito was one of those who traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with President Andrew Jackson.
When at last the people were allowed to return to Navajoland, he settled with his family near Tohatchi. There he lived with his sons, Manuelito Chiquito, Manuelito Chow, and Manuelito Segundo, his two wives, and other relatives. He was appointed the main headman of the eastern side of the Reservation.
His home, in fact, was outside of the actual treaty boundary. He would continue to push for the expansion of the reservation for the rest of his life, including another trip to Washington D.C. to meet with Ulysses S. Grant in 1976.
The ensuing years were tough, as the people had to adjust to life back in their homeland without the old ways of raiding.
Although many planted crops and tried to increase their herds, drought and then starvation forced them to return to stealing from their Mexican and Pueblo neighbors.
Manuelito actually became a Navajo policeman, rounding up stolen animals and returning them to their owners, however he never turned in the thieves themselves.
During these years, his militant stance mellowed as his wealth increased. He obtained wagons and began shipping items to and from the railway.
Manuelito chose to adapt in order to survive, and then thrive. His domain included 10 to 20 families that farmed a large irrigated parcel of land.
He made this famous statement which is still often quoted:
“My grandchild, the whites have many things which we Navajos need. But we cannot get them. It is as though the whites were in a grassy canyon and there they have wagons, plows, and plenty of food. We Navajos are up on a dry mesa. We can hear them talking but we cannot get to them. My grandchild, education is the ladder. Tell our people to take it.”
While many people refused to send their children to school, Manuelito sent two of his sons and a nephew to Carlisle, a famous Indian school in Pennsylvania.
Tragedy stuck again, when all three ended up dying of tuberculosis. Bitter and heartbroken, he always regretted sending them to school, but in the end, remained supportive of education, and Tohatchi was the site of one of the first schools.
As time passed the issue of slaves and captives remained unresolved, with both Mexicans and Navajos still “owning” family members claimed by the other side.
In 1884 the Indian agent John Bowman demanded Manuelito free his slaves. Bowman was surprised when Manuelito told them they were free to go; that they were not slaves, they were members of his family.
They all chose to stay with Manuelito, including his wife, Juanita, who said she would rather remain in captivity with her master.
Probably more than any other man, Manuelito symbolized the way the Navajos remembered their resistance.
Handsome and rebellious, with a powerful voice and a compelling intellect, he refused to sign treaty after treaty, riding in battle after battle. But his surrender and his presence at Bosque Redondo made it possible for him to participate in the negotiations for the release and return of his people to their homeland.
He tried to help his people find a new way of life, while remaining true to their traditions.
Unfortunately the new way of life included whiskey, and there were stories of binges and wild antics, including one account of a wagonload of whiskey that he and several of his buddies drove along the mail route on a drunken spree for 134 miles until they were finally forced to turn around. He was quoted as saying that “liquor was a good thing; it made the world happier for a short time.”
In the end his mixing of traditions probably killed him. After contracting measles, a combination of sweat baths and whiskey caused him to come down with pneumonia and in 1893 Manuelito finally fought, and lost his last battle.
Manuelito was a prominent Navajo leader who rallied his nation against the oppression of the United States military. For several years he led a group of warriors in resisting federal efforts to forcibly remove the Navajo people to Bosque Redondo, New Mexico via the Long Walk in 1864.
After being relocated to Bosque Redondo, Manuelito was among the leaders who signed the 1868 treaty, ending a period of imprisonment in United States government internment camps and establishing a reservation for the Navajo. Manuelito was also an advocate for education for Navajo children.