The Long Walk—A four-year nightmare on the Navajo people
In 1864, around 9,000 men and women were taken from their homes on the reservation and, subsequently, forced to participate in a 300-mile long march to Fort Sumner in New Mexico. Stories passed down through the generations spoke of the treatment of captive Navajo people. Frightening and tragic accounts of terror, misery, and starvation followed as the tribe was forced from their homeland and out of the sacred four mountains that held a large significance to their culture. The Navajos dubbed the march "The Long Walk." The march forced tribal members to walk up to 15 miles a day, leaving them weak and exhausted, often from extreme hunger. Those who were too weak to continue were left to die along the trail. Pregnant women and the elderly were killed for being too slow. Family members of those who perished along the trail were not allowed to bury their dead.
Reports of the march declared it an ultimate failure, due to the lack of resources available to tribe members. Many died from disease and starvation. Others became ill and succumbed to the different foods offered that they were unable to properly prepare. Poor quality clothing and blankets were not sufficient enough to keep people warm through the nights and into the winter. General Carleton quickly learned his dream of Navajo farming and education at the fort was a failure. Severe storms, insects, and even drought ruined any chance of successful crops. Lack of crops led to an inadequate food supply and caused further starvation among the Navajo people. Firewood became limited, forcing some to travel up to 30 miles to find any. Around a thousand others escaped and risked starvation or slavery to avoid the deplorable conditions at the fort. Those who were caught were killed. Rumors of miserable conditions at the fort led to an investigation of General Carleton. Speculation of corruption was brought to the attention of lawmakers and government officials, which led to the ousting of General Carleton from his post at Fort Sumner in August 1866. The Treaty of 1868 was signed by President Andrew Johnson on August 12 and brought forth negotiations that freed the Navajo people and created sovereign land. Negotiations on the Treaty began in the spring of 1868 with the remaining Navajo people at the fort. Barboncito became the chief spokesman for the tribe. The Treaty was signed on June 1, just two months before it was ratified, and became an important document for the tribe as it declared them a sovereign nation and allowed tribal members to return to their homeland.