The Long Walk

By the early 1860s, Americans of European descent began settling in and around Navajo lands, leading to conflict between Navajo people on one side and settlers and the U.S. Army on the other. In response to the fighting, the Army created a plan to move all Navajos from their homeland.

Navajo captives, Bosque Redondo. United States Army Signal Corps, courtesy Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA), 028534.

Navajo captives under U.S. Army guard at Fort Sumner, Bosque Redondo, New Mexico, circa 1864–1868. (See enlarged photograph.)

The forced removal of the Navajo, which began in January 1864 and lasted two months, came to be known as the "Long Walk." According to historic accounts, more than 8,500 men, women, and children were forced to leave their homes in northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico. In the dead of winter, they made the 300-plus-mile trek to a desolate internment camp along the Pecos River in eastern New Mexico called the Bosque Redondo Reservation, where the military maintained an outpost, Fort Sumner. Along the way, approximately 200 Navajos died of starvation and exposure to the elements.

Four years later, having endured overcrowded and miserable conditions at Bosque Redondo, the Navajo signed the historic U.S.-Navajo Treaty of 1868. The treaty allowed the Navajo to return to only a small portion of their original homeland in Arizona and New Mexico. The U.S. government promised basic services in exchange for peace, and the Navajo began the long walk home on June 18, 1868.