On This Day In History: September 1, 1866 - Manuelito Surrenders
- September 1, 1866: Manuelito and twenty-three of his Navajo followers
surrender to the army at Fort Wingate.
From Phi Konstantin's website, www.americanindian.net
Manuelito was born a member of the To'Tsohnii (Big Water) clan in 1818, in
southeastern Utah, probably near Bears' Ear Peak. He was a powerful warrior
who rose to prominence among his people during years of attacks and raids
against Mexicans, U.S. army troops, and neighboring Indian tribes. In 1855,
he became headman of his tribe, succeeding Zarcillas Largas (Long Earrings)
who resigned because of his inability to control his warriors. Manuelito had
two wives--the first was the daughter of Narbona, the great Navajo leader
and the second a Mexican woman named Juana.
The Navajo Indians then lived in the southwest, in what is now the states of
Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico. Their territory was bordered by
four mountains which they considered sacred. They believed they could only
be happy if they stayed within the confines of those boundaries. They called
themselves Dineh or Dine, which means "the people." Navajo was a name given
to them by the Spanish. They made their living by raising sheep, by hunting
wild game, by growing wheat, corn, melons, and peaches, and by gathering
wild pinon nuts and berries.
The Navajo's territory had been claimed by many nations, including the
Spanish, the Mexicans, and the Americans, for many years. The signing of the
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, marked the end of the Mexican-American
War. Under this treaty Mexico ceded to the United States the present-day
states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and
California. All Mexicans who were living in that region became U. S.
citizens automatically, but the Indians did not. The U.S. government
considered itself responsible to protect its citizens from the Indians and
instructed the Navajos to stop all raids against Americans and Mexicans.
THE GOVERNMENT MOVES IN
In 1855, Fort Defiance was built in the heart of Navajo country in Canyon de
Chelly. The same year the Navajo signed a treaty decreasing the size of
their territory to 7,000 square miles, of which only 125 square miles were
suitable for cultivation. The Navajo leaders found it too difficult to keep
their people from raiding neighboring Indian or American settlement, and
clashes between the Indians and the settlers continued.
In 1858, the pasture land around Fort Defiance became a point of contention
when the new post commander, Major William T. H. Brooks decided that he
wanted to use the land as grazing ground for the army's horses. Brooks
ordered Manuelito to move his livestock or they would be killed. Manuelito,
whose father and grandfather before him had used the land to graze their
livestock, refused to give it up. Under Brooks' orders, the army shot and
killed 60 of Manuelito's horses and over 100 of his sheep. The Navajos were
outraged by the slaughter of their leader's livestock and retaliated by
killing a negro slave who belonged to Major Brooks. Brooks ordered the
killer to be found and turned in, and the army began to harass the Indians.
Manuelito attempted to settle the matter, but assaults against the Navajo
continued. After several weeks of fighting, the Navajo chiefs went to the
fort to sign a peace treaty promising to remain on their land.
In 1860, many of the troops began to leave the fort to join the Civil War.
With the strength of the army decreased, the Indians saw an opportunity to
attack the fort and run the intruders out of their country. The headman held
a council to discuss their plans. Manuelito, Barboncito, and Herrero were in
favor of the attack. Ganado Mucho, another headman, opposed the plan. The
Navajos invited other tribes of the region, including the Utes, Apaches, and
Pueblos to join them in war. On April 30, 1860, between 1000 and 2000
warriors stormed the fort. However, the army had been warned of the
impending attack and was prepared with canons and guns ready when the
Indians arrived. The warriors made an impressive show against the well armed
troops, but were driven back. Many warriors were killed, and the rest
retreated to their stronghold in the Chuska Mountain canyons. Colonel Edward
R. S. Canby pursued them but the Indians eluded him in the many hiding
places of Canyon de Chelly.
The government stepped up its efforts to control the hostiles. On June 23,
1863, General James H. Carleton sent a message from Fort Wingate to the
Navajo headmen, demanding that they turn themselves in by July 20th and
threatening war against them if they did not. Carleton wanted to convince
the Indians that they could no longer resist the power of the U. S.
government. He believed that they had no choice but to give up their land
and relocate to a new home beyond the Rio Grande. The deadline passed but
the Navajo refused to surrender. Carleton then recruited Colonel Christopher
"Kit" Carson to help him to persuade the Indians to leave their homeland.
Carson began a scorched earth campaign to drive the Navajos out. He and his
troops confiscated as much of the crops and livestock as they could use for
their own purposes and destroyed the rest. Fields of crops were burned,
hogans were destroyed, and livestock was slaughtered.
With nothing left to eat but wild berries and pinon nuts, some of the
Indians moved on to join other tribes. Manuelito and his band, however, went
down into the Grande Canyon. Kit Carson and his men went back to Fort
Defiance to wait for the winter when the Indians would be forced by
starvation to surrender. The Indians who stayed begin in the Chuska
Mountains struggled to survive as best they could on whatever wild foods
they could gather. Many died of starvation or froze to death during the
winter, yet they still refused to surrender. It was not until February of
1864 that thousands of weak, sick, and hungry Indians began to turn
themselves in at Fort Defiance.
THE LONG WALK
On March 6, 1864, the soldiers at the fort formed the 2,500 refugees into a
long line and started them on a long trek past the borders of their homeland
to the reservation of Bosque Redondo near Fort Sumner. This was "The Long
Walk," a part of Navajo history still remembered with great sorrow and
bitterness. Many people died or were killed on that journey. The army had
not supplied enough food, but the Indians were forced to continue marching
onward in spite of hunger and cold. Those who were too sick, weak, or old to
keep up were killed or left behind.
By the time the group reached the Rio Grande the spring melt had flooded the
river, making it very treacherous to cross. The Indians tried to get across
any way they could but many were swept away and drowned. At the end of their
ordeal they arrived at the wasteland that was to be their new home, the
Bosque Redondo reservation. This place that Carleton had promised would be a
"garden of Eden" was nothing but a desolate, barren flatland with no means
of support for the Indians. Carleton had not provided enough food or
supplies for the large number of new inhabitants to the remote reservation,
nor had he realized how difficult it would be for the Indians to become
self-supporting as farmers on such a worthless piece of land.
Delgadito, Herrero Grande, Armijo, and Barboncito had all surrendered with
their bands by September of 1864. However, Manuelito and his followers held
out longer than any of the others. Carleton sent Herrero Grande and five
other Navajo headmen to find Manuelito and give him a message. He was
advised to turn himself in peaceably or be hunted down and killed. Dee Brown
records Manuelito's response in his book, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.
According to Brown, Manuelito replied to his fellow tribesmen, "My God and
my mother live in the West, and I will not leave them. It is a tradition of
my people that we must never cross the three rivers--the Grande, the San
Juan, the Colorado. Nor could I leave the Chuska Mountains. I was born
there. I shall remain. I have nothing to lose but my life, and that they can
come and take whenever they please, but I will not move. I have never done
any wrong to the Americans or the Mexicans. I have never robbed. If I am
killed, innocent blood will be shed." Herrero Grande went back to Carleton
In September of 1866, however, Manuelito and twenty-three of his still
surviving people were forced by hunger to surrender at Fort Wingate. He then
joined the others at Bosque Redondo. The conditions at the reservation
continued to worsen as each year the crops failed. About 2000 Navajos died
at Bosque Redondo of disease or starvation. The horrific conditions that the
Indians were forced to live under, as well as their continued longing to
return home, increased anger and unrest among them.
(1818 - 1893)
Hastiin Ch'ilhaajinii -- (Man of the Black Plants Place)
Bít'aa'níí -- Folded Arms People Clan
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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.
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
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,"
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.