On This Day In History: June 1, 1868 - Navajo Treaty
- June 1, 1868: After the "long walk" to the Bosque Redondo Reservation in
New Mexico, the Navajos suffered from the poor conditions on the
reservation, and from homesickness for their old lands. After numerous
visits from Washington representatives, General Sherman visited the Navajo.
They again asked to go back to their old lands. They promised to keep the
peace and the old treaties. Sherman talked with them, and he listened to
them. With a new treaty in hand, Sherman says he will let them go if they
sign and obey the new treaty. The Navajos agree even though they will lose
some of their land as a part of the new agreement. On this date, Barboncito,
Armijo, Delgadito, Herrero Grande, Manuelito, and others sign the new
From Phil Konstantin's website, http://members.tripod.com/~PHILKON/
Council Proceedings, May 29, 1868
This is the transcript of one of the discussions leading to the signing of
the U.S.-Navajo Treaty of 1868.
[ Note: while spellings and punctuation in this document have been
maintained from the original transcription of these proceedings, paragraph
breaks and colored text have been added to make it easier to read. ]
Fort Sumner, New Mexico
May 29th, 1868
The Council met according to adjournment. Present the Commissioners on the
part of the United States Government. On the part of the Indians the Navajo
nation or tribe.
General Sherman said:
We have come from our Capital, Washington, where our Government consists of
a President and a great Council. We are empowered to do now what is
necessary for your good, but what we do must be submitted to our Great
Father in Washington. We heard that you were not satisfied with this
Reservation, that your crops failed for three years and that you wanted to
go somewhere else.
We know that during the time you have been here the Government has fed and
done for you what was considered necessary to make you a thriving people;
Yesterday we had a long talk with your principal chiefs and then told them,
that any Navajo could go wherever he pleased in this territory and settle
with his fammily but if he did he would be subject to the laws of the
Territory as a citizen, or we would remove you as a nation or tribe to the
lower Canadian and Arkansas if you were pleased to go there--but if neither
of these propositions suited you, we would discuss the other proposition of
sending you to your own country west of the Rio Grande. Barboncito yesterday
insisted strongly on going back to his own country in preference to the
other two propositions.
We then asked him and all the Navajos to assemble here today and for them to
select (10) ten of their number as delegates with whom we would conclude
terms of treaty. We want to know if these ten men have been chosen; the ten
men then stood up, viz:
Murerto de Hombre
and the Navajos upon being asked if satisfied with these ten men,
We will now consider these ten men your principal men and we want them to
select a chief the remaining to compose his Council for we cannot talk to
all the Navajos. Barboncito was unanimously elected Chief --now from this
time out you must do as Barboncito tells you, with him we will deal and do
all for your good. When we leave here and go to your own country you must do
as he tells you and when you get to your country you must obey him or he
will punish you, if he has not the power to do so he will call on the
soldiers and they will do it. You must all keep together on the march. Must
not scatter for fear some of your young men might do wrong and get you all
into trouble. All these things will be put down on paper and tomorrow these
ten men will sign that paper and now we want to know about the country you
want to go to.
We heard Barboncito yesterday, if there are any others who differ from him,
we would like to hear them, we want also to hear if you want schools in your
country--Blacksmiths or Carpenters Shops. We want to put everything on paper
so that hereafter there may be no misunderstanding between us, we want to
know if the whole Navajo nation is represented by those present and if they
will be bound by the acts of these ten men--unanimous response of yes.
What you have said to me now I never will forget. It is true I never liked
this place, and feel sorry for being here, from here I would like to go back
the same road we came by way of Teralote, Bernal, Tijeras and Taralto. All
the people on the road are my friends. After I cross the Rio Grande river I
want to visit the Pueblo villages, I want to see the Pueblo Indians to make
friends with them. I then want to go to Canon de Chelly leaving Pueblo
village Laguna to the left. I will take all the Navajos to Canon de Chelly
leave my own family there--taking the rest and scattering them between San
Mateo mountain and San Juan river. I said yesterday this was the heart of
the Navajo country. In this place there is a mountain called the Sierra
Chusque or mountain of agriculture from which (when it rains) the water
flows in abundance creating large sand bars on which the Navajos plant their
corn; it is a fine country for stock or agriculture--there is another
mountain called the Mesa Calabasa where these beads which we wear on our
necks have been handed down from generation to generation and where we were
told by our forefathers never to leave our own country. For that reason I
want to go back there as quick as possible and not remain here another day.
When the Navajos go back to their own country I want to put them in
different places, it would not do to put them all together as they are here,
if separated they would be more industrious. There is one family whose
intention I do not know, the (Cibollettas) I do not know whether or not they
want to go back to their own country.
General Sherman said:
If the "Cibollettas" choose they can go and live among the Mexicans in this
Territory but if they do they will not be entitled to any of the advantages
of the treaty.
I merely wished to mention it for if they remain with the Mexicans I cannot
be held responsible for their conduct. You spoke to me yesterday about
putting us on a reservation with a boundary line. I do not think it right to
confine us to a certain part we want to have the privilege of going outside
the line to hunt and trade.
General Sherman said:
You can go outside the line to hunt--you can go to Mexican towns to trade
but your farms and homes must be inside the boundary line beyond which you
have no claim to the land.
That is the way I like to be and return the Commissioners my best thanks.
After we get back to our country it will brighten up again and the Navajos
will be as happy as the land, black clouds will rise and there will be
plenty of rain. Corn will grow in abundance and everything look happy. Today
is a day that anything black or red does not look right everything should be
white or yellow representing the flower and the corn. I want to drop this
conversation now and talk about Navajo children held as prisoners by
Mexicans. Some of those present have lost a brother or a sister and I know
that they are in the hands of the Mexicans. I have seen some myself.
General Sherman said:
About their children being held as Peons by Mexicans--you ought to know that
there is an Act of Congress against it. About four years ago we had slaves
and there was a great war about it, now there are none. Congress our great
council passed a law prohibiting peonage in New Mexico. So that if any
Mexican holds a Navajo in peonage he (the Mexican) is liable to be put in
the penitentiary. We do not know that there are any Navajos held by Mexicans
as Peons but if there are, you can apply to the judges of the Civil Courts
and the Land Commissioners. They are the proper persons and they will decide
whether the Navajo is to go back to his own people or remain with the
Mexican. That is a matter with which we have nothing to do. What do you say
about schools, Blacksmiths and Carpenter Shops for the purpose of teaching
We would like to have a blacksmith Shop as a great number of us can work at
the trade, we would like a carpenter's Shop and if a school was established
among us I am satisfied a great number would attend it. I like it very well.
Whatever orders you leave here you may rely upon their being obeyed.
General Sherman said: Whatever we promise to do you can depend upon its
Colonel Samuel F. Tappan asked: How many Navajos are among the Mexicans
Answer: Over half of the tribe.
Question: How many have returned within the five years?
Answer: Cannot tell.
General Sherman said:
We will do all we can to have your children returned to you. Our government
is determined that the enslavement of the Navajos shall cease and those who
are guilty of holding them as peons shall be punished.
All are free now in this country to go and come as they please if children
are held in peonage the courts will decide; you can go where any Navajos are
and General Getty will give you an order or send a soldier and if the Navajo
peons wishes to go back or remain he can please himself, we will not use
force, the courts must decide.
Tomorrow we will meet with those ten men chosen and enter into business with
them committing it to writing which they must sign.
The Council then adjourned until 9 o'clock tomorrow the 30th instant.
By 1867, some American leaders felt that they had made a mistake by sending
the Navajos to the reservation. Several meetings were held with Barboncito,
Manuelito, and other Navajo leaders. The Americans wanted to know how the
Navajos felt about living at Bosque Redondo. They also wanted to know
what should be done about the living conditions there. Some of the Navajo
leaders realized that the Americans were changing their minds about keeping
the Navajos on the reservation. During each meeting, the Navajo headmen
told the American leaders the same thing. They wanted to go home to their
traditional lands. The Americans listened. But did not promise the Navajo
One day Theodore Todd, the Navajo Indian agent at Fort Sumner, brought
Manuelito and Barboncito news that General Carleton had been fired. The
American leaders were unhappy with carleton's Bosque Redondo reservation.
In the three years the Navajos were on the reservation, their farms could
not support the people. The 1867 harvest had been small and the Americans
knew they would have to pay for more rations, in the coming winter.
Keeping Navajos at the reservation cost the American government millions of
dollars. Still, the Navajo people were worse off than they had been on
their own land. The American leaders in Washington were hoping to find a
better way. They wanted to speak with the Navajo leaders. Manuelito and
Barboncito were sent to Washington D.C. to visit with the President.
In April of 1868, agent Todd, Barboncito and other Navajo leaders left for
Washington D.C. When they arrived at their destination, the Navajo leaders
met with American leaders. Finally, they met with President Andrew Johnson.
Barboncito told the President about the problems the Navajos were having on
the reservation at Bosque Redondo. He asked the President to let his people
return to their traditional lands. President Johnson listened to
Barboncito. He agreed to send representatives to Fort Sumner for a meeting
with Navajo leaders in May.
In late May of 1868, General Tecumseh Sherman, and other American visitors,
arrived Fort Sumner. They were led by. Sherman was a famous Civil war
general. Agent Dodd showed Sherman and his group around the reservation.
Sherman was horrified at what he saw. He wondered how anyone or anything
could live there. After the tour, the Americans asked to meet with the
Navajo leaders. The Navajo headmen selected Barboncito to speak for them.
During the morning of May 28th, the American and Navajo leaders met.
General Sherman asked Barboncito to tell him about condition at Bosque
Redondo. Barboncito told them about how sick, hungry, poor, and sad his
people were. He told the Americans about how many Navajos had died and how
many had just disappeared. He told them that the land of the reservation
was not meant for his people. The Navajo gods expected them to live between
the four sacred mountains.
The general told Barboncito the Navajos had to live in peace if they
returned to their traditional lands. Sherman told them the Army would do
the fighting for them. Sherman wanted to meet with ten headmen to create a
On June1, 1868, General Sherman held one last meeting with the Navajo
leaders. Thousands of Navajos circled the place of the meeting. General
Sherman had the new treaty in his hands. During previous meeting, General
Sherman and the Navajo leaders had already agreed on the terms of the
treaty. General Sherman read each term of the treaty and asked Navajo
leaders if they agreed to the terms.
"Shall war between the United States and the Navajo Nation end?
Shall the Navajo Nation belong to the Navajos forever?
Shall the Americans built schools and find teachers for their children?
Will the Navajo people send their children to school?
Shall the Americans buy fifteen thousand sheep, five hundred cattle, and one
million pounds of corn seed for the Navajo people?"
Barboncito and the Navajo headmen agreed to all the terms of the treaty.
General Sherman picked up a pen and signed the treaty. He handed the pen to
Barboncito. The Navajo leader placed his mark on the paper. Following
Barboncito, twenty-nine Navajo leaders signed the treaty. Finally, the
Navajos were going home.