Manuelito (1818-1893) was a Navajo leader during the Navajo War of 1863-66. Unlike the peaceful Navajo leader, Ganado Mucho, Manuelito carried out a number of attacks and maintained resistance against U.S. Army troops.
Manuelito was a tribal leader who led his warriors in the Navajo wars of 1863-1866. He and his followers were the last to surrender after Kit Carson's scorched earth campaign to force them to relocate to the Bosque Redondo Reservation near Fort Sumner. As their leader, Manuelito was a source of support and encouragement during their days in confinement. He pleaded with the government for the release of his people to be returned to their homeland, and lead them back from exile in 1868. There he was selected to be the head of tribal police. In his later years he advocated education for his people in the hopes that they might improve their lives.
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 Diné, 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 alone.
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.
In the late 1860s Manuelito traveled to Washington, DC, to petition on behalf of his people for their return to their homeland. On May 28, 1868, General William D. Sherman and General Samuel F. Tappen called a council with the Navajo headmen Manuelito, Barboncito, Delgadito, Herrero, Armijo, Largo, and Torivo. Manuelito pleaded for his people to be allowed to return to the Chuska mountains. General Sherman offered them land in Indian territory in Oklahoma instead. After much debate it was finally decided that the Navajo would be allowed to return home. They were happy to agree to any terms just to be in their beloved lands again.
The new treaty was signed June 1, 1868, at Fort Sumner. The Navajo promised never to fight again and to remain on the 5,500 square mile reservation in their former homeland that the treaty provided for them. The U. S. government promised to provide sheep, goats, farm tools and a yearly clothing allowance, as well as schools for their children.
Home from Exile
In the early morning hours on June 18, 1868, more than 7,000 Navajo people began their six week journey home from exile. Manuelito was one of two men in charge of leading the people safely home. Once they were back in their familiar environment the Navajo began to rebuild their lives. The area of land that was allotted to them was much less than what they had been accustomed to before their forced evacuation. They were no longer free to roam between the four sacred mountains that had previously been their boundaries. The U. S. government was slow to follow through with their promises and the Indians had many setbacks with their crops.
To try to maintain some sense of order the people were divided into groups with appointed leaders. Barboncito was appointed head chief, and Manuelito and Ganado Mucho served as subchiefs. All three of them urged their people to live peacefully on the reservation and work hard to rebuild their herds and fields. Slowly the Navajo people began to recover and prosper. In 1870, Barboncito died and Ganado Mucho became head chief, while Manuelito became second in command. A Navajo police force, led by Manuelito, was established in 1872 to guard the reservation. He lived in an area the people called the "place dark with plants," which is now called Manuelito Springs. He was a popular leader, and his hogan was always full of his followers.
Even though Manuelito still commanded the respect of his people, the pressures of reservation made living difficult. After traders brought whiskey to the reservation, Manuelito began to drink. His last years were spent in and out of prison for drinking. Even so he continued to represent his people. In 1875, he traveled again to Washington, DC, to meet with President Ulysses S. Grant to discuss his concerns about the construction of the railroad through Navajo grazing lands. Before his death in the winter of 1893, he traveled to the World's Fair in Chicago, where he was once again impressed by the white man's accomplishments. His counsel to his people is recorded by Marie Mitchell in her book, The Navajo Peace Treaty, 1868. On his return home he advised his people for the last time, "The white men have many things we Navajo need but we cannot get them unless we change our ways. My children, education is the ladder to all our needs. Tell our people to take it."
Further Reading on Manuelito
Brown, Dee, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Holt, 1970, pp. 11-33.
Dockstader, Frederick J., Great North American Indians, Van Nostrand Rheinhold, 1977, pp. 164-165.
Loh, Jules, Lords of the Earth: A History of the Navajo Indians, Crowell-Collier Press, 1971, pp. 9, 19, 23, 49, 87, 92, 104.
Mitchell, Marie, The Navajo Peace Treaty, 1868, Mason and Lipscomb, 1973, pp. 46, 73, 105, 122.
Native North American Almanac, edited by Duane Champagne, Gale, 1994, 1100.
Navajo Stories of the Long Walk Period, Navajo Community College Press, 1973.
Underhill, Ruth M., The Navajos, University of Oklahoma Press, 1956, pp. 119, 134, 142, 152, 206.
Waldman, Carl, Who Was Who in Native American History, Facts on File, 1990, pp. 219.
Wood, Leigh Hope, The Navajo Indians, Chelsea House, 1991, pp. 30.