The Long Walk- Kit Carson vs. the Navajo (Diné) Nation

Colonel Christopher Carson versus the Navajo (Diné) Nation

Two Wrongs, Don’t Make One Right         

The Long Walk – Two wrong’s, don’t make one right.  This can definitely be said of the disastrous events that took place starting in the fall of 1862 with the round-up of the Apache, then followed by the round-up of the Navajo (1863-1864)  in what became known as, The Long Walk.

One blemish can destroy a flawless diamond – this would be the case for Colonel Christopher Carson (known at Kit) during the time period of 1862 to June 1864.

Christopher “Kit” Carson had become known for years as a fur trapper, scout and explorer; a pioneer well-traveled west of the Missouri.  Kit Carson had learned the tongue of the many Indian tribes and was fluent in Spanish and French. His proficiency continued in sign language.  Kit Carson was the man to have in one’s company when crossing the Rocky Mountains or when traversing the buffalo plains.  For all his known skills and knowledge of the untamed land west of the Missouri, he wasn’t without faults. While in command from 1862-1864, his military command during the Mescalero Apache and the Navajo command lacked in humanistic dignity.

In the fall of 1862, Colonel Carson was working under the instruction of Brigadier General James H. Carleton.  General Carleton’s orders were: “The men are to be slain whenever and wherever they can be found.  The women and children may be taken prisoners . . . they are not to be killed.”[1]

March 1863, 400 to 450 Mescalero Apaches surrendered while others headed south into Mexico.  In 1865, the Mescalero Apaches escaped from Bosque Redondo (Spanish for “round forest” and called Hwéeldi by the Navajo).

The round-up of the Navajo people followed, but not before the new post of Fort Sumner on the Pecos was established Nov. 04, 1862 by Special Order Number 193.[2] The site became known as Bosque Redondo[3] and became the Indian reservation site for the Apaches and the Navajos between 1863 – 1868.

A Period of Chaos 1846 to 1868

Different interpretations of the chaos that surrounded the people of the 1800s have been written by many and sometimes the events have not been accurately described.  Going back to the time that Christopher Columbus landed in the Bahamas in his attempt to reach the East Indies from Spain there has been injustice, but the lack of written recorded documentation and translation of languages has led many journalists and writers to fictionalize.  Chaos started shortly after Columbus landed in the islands with Lucayan inhabitants; it wasn’t long before they were taken as slaves, between the years of 1492 and 1520.  Slavery and slave trade continued until 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation took effect in the United States of America under President Abraham Lincoln.

Lawlessness ruled in North America and the gun (or other weapons) was a means for survival.  In 1791 the Second Amendment thinking of the security of the people provided the right of the people to keep and bear arms.

Mathematical problem to the 1800 chaos of the America Southwest

SR = Slave raiders, IR = Indian raids, O = Outlaws, RR = Retaliation raids, T = Traders,

D = Discrimination

Chaos = SR +IR+O+ RR + T+D

A number of attempts had been made at seeking a peaceful treaty with the Navajo, but the Navajo again and again would find themselves on the defense.  Like the saying goes, “Hell if you do, or Hell if you don’t,” it just appeared as though many of the peaceful Navajos were always there to take the blame for someone else’s actions.  This didn’t mean that the Navajo were saints for there were the “Anas” or ladrones (enemy Navajo); they were a thorn to the rest of the Diné.  Then there were slave raiders and the Mexican banditos, Ute raiders and the Comanche, it was a circus of raiding, stealing, killing and destroying.  If the Diné retaliated against their enemies in hopes of taking back their kin folks or livestock, the Navajo for sure were at fault, right, wrong or indifferent.  It appears that morality was lacking from the military code of conduct.

Solving the Navajo problem was not an easy one as the Diné had many different independent groups with their own headmen and chiefs. Frustration with the repeated breakdown of the peace treaties all came to a head on September 1862 when the Adjutant General was informed by Brigadier General James H. Carleton of his plans to round-up the Navajo.  It appears that Carleton’s frustration had peaked and saw no other solution to ending the ongoing turmoil than to round-up the Navajo.  As time would show, this was a wrongful solution proposed by General Carleton.

Military forts played a big part at the time. Fort Defiance was originally established on Sept. 18, 1851 and was the first military post that was re-established on June 15, 1863 as Fort Canby and served as a base for Colonel Carson and his men.  Next came Fort Wingate in 1862, but was moved in 1868 to Fort Lyon at Ojo del Oso (eye of the bear).  In 1868, the Navajo people returning to their home land temporarily settled at Ojo del Oso.  Next on Aug. 31, 1860, there was Fort Fauntleroy for a short period before being named Fort Lyons and then it closed in 1861.   In 1861, many Navajo were killed after a disputed horse race at Fort Fauntleroy.  This became recorded as the Fort Fauntleroy Massacre; Colonel Manuel Chavez the commandant of the post was a hater of the Navajo.

On April 11, 1863 Brigadier General Carleton gave Colonel Carson orders to begin preparations for moving his men west in pursuit of the Navajo.  In the meantime, General Order No. 15 had been issued for the building of Fort Canby.  On June 23, 1863, messages were sent out to the Diné informing those that didn’t wish to participate in the military war round-up that they had until July 20 to report to either Fort Canby[4] or Fort Wingate.

Colonel Carson eventually wound up in command of the Navajo round-up.  Brigadier General Carleton had first asked Carson to do this “dirty” work, but Carson had denied.  Carson was actually asked or ordered to do this 3 times and each time Carson denied.  Carson was forced by Carleton to follow orders.  This was after Carson tried to resign from the military.[5]

Colonel Carson and his detachments started the war on July 1863 with 13 Indians being killed with women and children captured.[6]  Next Colonel Carson and his men entered into Navajo red canyon lands with the Scorched Earth Policy mentality against the Diné destroying everything in their path while leaving nothing behind but bare earth.

Carson knew what made the Navajo a strong warrior and he respected their methods of fighting. Another reason Carleton had asked Carson to lead the round ups is because, the Navajos had the upper hand in the war in 1862. The “War against the Navajo” was almost unsuccessful because the Navajo used their knowledge of the land to their advantage. They used the many mountains, mesas, canyons, and washes or arroyos to their advantage to hide from soldiers, out run soldiers, and ambush soldiers. The Navajos were also strong warriors because they fought for their families, their homes, and the land. Carson knew this, and used the Scorched Earth Policy to destroy the homesteads. When this occurred, many of the Navajos were either fighting elsewhere or in their hiding places. Much of the policy was enacted when Navajos were not even home. But the aftermath led to many Navajos being homeless and shelter-less with no food, water and livestock. That’s what really led to many Navajos surrendering to the military.[7]

The Navajo pursuit had started and it became a free-for-all war campaign; slave traders were taking hundreds of Indian children that later would be sold. Colonel Carson hired 100 Utes to serve as guides and trackers and other New Mexican volunteers to some degree all participated in this unthinkable event.  During this period of time a couple of chiefs or headman had begged for a peace treaty, but the military was determined to move forward on the raid of the Navajo.

By October 1863, farmland crops, fruit orchards, and grazing lands had been burned.  Livestock had been driven away or slaughtered, and the water was contaminated, [8] nothing remained for the Diné people to live on.

These Navajos stated that they would have gladly surrendered earlier had they not thought that this was one of extermination.  Owing to Colonel Carson’s Scorched-Earth Policy, many of their women and children had already died of exposure and starvation.[9]


The first assault of the Diné people started on July 1863 under Colonel Carson and his detachments where 13 Navajos were killed and women and children were taken into captivity.[10] Raids continued into January 1864 where approximately 150 Diné had been captured.  On March 04 the first Long Walk from Fort Canby to Fort Sumner accounted for more than 2000 Dinés.  At Fort Canby over 126 Dinés died of dysentery and exposure prior to the first Long Walk.[11]

In mid-April, 1864, a second group of Navajos totaling 2,400 commenced their 400 mile walk to Bosque Redondo.  This long walk encountered a snow storm and many died from exposure or suffered from frostbite and dysentery.  Frozen corpses marked the route of what would forever live in the minds of the Diné people as “The Long Walk.”

There was a total of 53 different groups taken from Navajo country to Bosque Redondo. Each group was different in size and they each took a different route to get to Bosque Redondo. Some had as little as 60 people while other groups had upwards of 500 or 600 people. Depending on the routes that soldiers escorted the Navajos, routes could be as little as 300 miles one way to Bosque Redondo, or nearly 500 miles one way.[12]

National hero or not, Colonel Carson failed to recognize the humanitarian aspect of the Diné people.

The round-up was all part of Brigadier General James H. Carlton’s idea to create an Indian reservation in the middle of nowhere that became known as Bosque Redondo.  The reservation turned out to be one disaster after another, as planted crops failed to produce as expected and water from the Pecos river caused dysentery.  Thousands of Native American Indians (Navajo & Apache) were rationed food when the military could not procure sufficient quantities to feed them.  The Navajo and Mescalero Apache were miserable at Bosque Redondo as they were cold, sick and hungry.

In 1866, Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving brazed a trail from Weatherford, TX to Fort Sumner trailing some 2000 Texas Longhorns.  The Texas Longhorns were a welcome relief to an Indian reservation that struggled to feed upward of 8000 Native American Indians. Goodnight and Loving were the only bright stars during this miserable ordeal.

When the four year disaster ended in 1868 at Bosque Redondo, the one name heard above all others was Colonel Carson.  Colonel “Kit” Carson to this day lives on as an evil military man that brought on such devastation, pain and loss of life to the Diné.   Colonel Carson had been in command of companies of hundreds of men during the time of rounding up the Dinés at Canyon de Chelly.  During his intervention at Canyon de Chelly, Colonel Carson and the rest of his men used what was known as the Scorched Earth Policy[13]  where the military destroyed anything that could be of subsistence to the Diné people. Therefore, Carson and his men burned crop fields, and killed and drove away livestock. [14]  With the Navajos food supply destroyed, the Diné people would fall to a state of starvation.  Many Dinés relinquished their well-being by going to Fort Wingate where the Long Walk would remove them from their native land and force-drive them to Bosque Redondo in New Mexico some 400 miles away.

The very way that Colonel Carson destroyed everything in sight using the military Scorched Earth Policy in pursuing the Navajo people would blemish Carson’s reputation as a legendary American frontiersman in the eyes of the Native Americans and many other North Americans.

Mercy does not appear to have been of consideration for Carson as the Navajos suffered, starved, and hundreds of them died while being driven from their land. The Southwest was at war with the slave traders, with the ladrones (thieves), the New Mexicans, the Mexicans and then there were all the Indian tribes that included the Comanche, Kiowa, Navajo, Ute and the following Apache tribes: Jicarilla Apache, San Carlos Apache, Chiricahua Apache, Lipan Apache, Gila Apache and White Mountain Apache.[15]

The Civil War, from April 1861 to April 1865, was playing out its part between the Union and the Southern Confederates, but the Southwest had its own war with no end in sight.

On November 1867, Lieutenant R. McDonald after one final investigation of Bosque Redondo “recommended the Navajos be removed to a suitable location where wood, water and grass abound.”[16]

In June of 1868, the Diné people were finally returning to their native land after years of being detained at Bosque Redondo; a reservation on the Pecos River in the middle of New Mexico prairie lands.  Colonel Carson had blemished his reputation as hundreds of Navajos died before, after and during what became known as The Long Walk. The event has been described as one of the most pathetic and tragic episodes in the history of Anglo-Indian relations[17] and as written in the book Blood and Thunder, Carson was a curse to the Diné people.

Information on the Navajo Nation, the Peace Treaties and The Long Walk is available at: the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe, NM; the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, AZ, Univ. of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM and at the Diné College, Tsaile, AZ.  Additional historical information of Bosque Redondo is available at Fort Sumner, NM.    Many books have been written and are available at libraries and on the web.

As many events during the 1800s clearly demonstrated the lack of good leadership and sound judgment by many so called outstanding leaders in the Americas, the round-up of the Navajo and Apache to Bosque Redondo stands as one of the worst in United States history.

From the time William Becknell made tracks from Independence, MO to Santa Fe in 1821, the Anglo American quickly set foot on Indian and Mexican territory and so the story begins.

Visit Canyon de Chelly National Monument[18] or Navajo Nation on the web at

At an early age of nineteen, Kit was said to have killed his first Indian while on a trapper’s party on the Gila River tributaries and from there on who was keeping count?

In the so-called end to Bosque Redondo, many changes were made:

  • September 1864, Colonel Carson received new orders to lead an expedition against the Comanche on the plain of Texas
  • September 19, 1866, Brigadier General James H. Carleton was relieved of his command and sent back to the 4th Cavalry on the Gulf
  • December 31, 1866, General US Grant gave orders to turn over the Diné to the Indian Department under Special Order 651
  • The Commission of Indian Affairs gained control for the Diné people.
  • All agents and special agent of the Administration of Indian Affairs were replaced with men of reputable character and integrity.[19]
  • June 01, 1868 a treaty was signed and on June 15, 1868, 7304 Dinés returned to their beautiful red rock native canyonlands and Canyon De Chelly. The government assisted in issuing livestock and other life sustaining essentials to the Diné people who needed to restart their lives again.  Three million five hundred acres were granted to the Navajo people for their home land in 1868.

In studying this terrible disaster of the Diné there is no easy answer to what lead to the round-up of the Navajos and Apaches, but the involvement of the military was a wrong choice.  There were many other factors starting with the hundreds of immigrants moving westward, the New Mexican slave trade, and the wars that went on between the many Indian tribes.  Chaos abounded throughout the Southwest with no easy answers on how to stop the ongoing killing, raiding and stealing.   The list of what lead to this disaster is endless, but the lack of good leadership takes center stage.

One can spend hours deciphering the period starting with the year of the Mexican American war of 1846 to February of 1848 and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.  The deciphering list could be endless for there were those well kept secrets that even Carson himself wouldn’t disclose.

So where did this all end for the Diné people?  The Long Walk was a part of history that everyone wishes would have never happened.

Between 1863 and 1868, thousands died during the 400 mile march known as The Long Walk,

and from inhumane conditions at the camp.  Nearly one-third died before the U.S.

Government intervened and allowed the Diné people to return to their native homeland.[20]


Within a 150 years the Navajo Diné people have demonstrated resilience and contributed to the United States of America in the following ways:

  • The Navajo Code Talkers created a code that was used from 1942 to 1945 at a time when communications were vital in winning battles during World War II. Honors were issued on Sept. 17, 1992 at the Pentagon to Navajo Code Talkers for their role in national defense.
  • Oil discovery in the early 1920’s created a wealthy Navajo Nation
  • From 3.5 million acres of land granted during the 1868 treaty, the Navajo Nation has grown to over 27,000 square miles[21]
  • The“Navajo government has evolved into the largest and most sophisticated form of American Indian government. The Navajo Nation Council Chambers hosts 24 council delegates representing 110 Navajo Nation chapters.”[22]
  • The Navajo Nation has stood strong during the 20th and 21th centuries.



Article by:  Bob Silva, Western author              b.silva46                02/05/18

Historical editing by: Ravis Henry a Diné from the Navajo Nation who works at Canyon de Chelly National Monument, AZ as a Park Ranger and historical interpreter

Map –

Navajo Nation Reservation – Land area 17, 544,500 acres or 27,413mi

Population:  173,667 (2010)

Driving mileage & travel time – E. to W. – Farmington, NM to Page, AZ – 227mi, 4 hours

  1. to S. – Bluff, UT to Chamber, AZ – 170 mi, 3 hours


[1] Bailey L.R., The Long Walk, Westernlore,1978, pg. 150

[2] Ibid pg. 150

[3] Bosque Redondo is located 160 mi south of Santa Fe on the Pecos River.

[4] Ft. Canby was originally established in Sept. 1851 as Ft. Defiance

[5] Information by:  R. Henry, Navajo Diné, Navajo Nation; Canyon de Chelly Monument Park Ranger &  Historical Interpreter

[6] Bailey L.R, The Long Walk, Westernlore Publications, 1978, pg. 159

[7] Information same as footnote five (5)

[8] The Bosque Redondo Memorial,

[9] L.R. Bailey, The Long Walk, Western Lore Publications , 1964, pg. 165

[10] Ibid, pg. 159, 160

[11] Ibid, pg. 168

[12] Information by:  R. Henry, Navajo Diné, Navajo Nation; Canyon de Chelly Monument Park Ranger &  Historical Interpreter

[13] Under Article 54 of the 1977 Geneva Convention the practice of destroying water, food, livestock, agricultures used in

sustenance of life is no longer part of the Scorched Earth Policy.

[14] Ibid, pg. 161

[15] Information by: R. Henry, Navajo Diné, Navajo Nation; Canyon de Chelly Monument Park Ranger &  Historical Interpreter

[16] Bailey L.R., The Long Walk, Westernlore, 1978, pg. 232

[17] Sides H, Blood and Thunder, Anchor Books, 2006


[19] Bailey L.R, The Long Walk, Westernlore, 1964, pg. 233


[21] History Navajo Nation,

[22] Ibid,

History Navajo Nation,

[1] Ibid,

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