At Twin Rocks Trading Post, the Long Walk is often a topic of intense conversation. Many visitors to the store want to know what led to the removal of Navajo people from their traditional lands. Others wish to understand what caused comments like those of Col. Canby, who, in the mid-1880s, concluded, “[R]ecent occurrences in Navajo country have so demoralized and broken up the nation that there is no choice between their absolute extermination or removal and colonization at points so remote . . . as to isolate them entirely from the inhabitants of the Territory. Aside from all considerations of humanity the extermination of such a people will be the work of greatest difficulty.”
The Long Walk was caused by persistent difficulties between the Navajo people and the government. As a result of this conflict, in 1863 the Navajo were ordered to surrender themselves into the custody of the United States Army. When none did, Kit Carson was ordered to enter Navajo country to forcibly persuade them to come in. In doing so, Carson engaged in a scorched earth campaign intended to starve them into submission. Carson succeeded, and in January of 1864 thousands of Navajo men, women and children gave themselves up and were escorted from their ancestral homeland to Bosque Redondo, a miserable location situated on the Pecos River in northern New Mexico. Along the way hundreds died.
The government’s goal was to turn its Navajo internees into farmers, but the experiment failed miserably. Water and fire wood were scarce, the river often washed out their irrigation systems and crops repeatedly failed. Finally, after four years of disease, malnutrition and subjugation, in June of 1868 the Navajo people imprisoned at the Bosque were released and allowed to return home. The occurrence left such a great scar on the psyche of these people that even today traditional Navajo elders refer to Bosque Redondo as Hwe’eldi, the place of great suffering.