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Bosque Redondo, Long Walk, treaty are Southwest survival stories

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By Harold Morgan

It’s a human thing, I think, that nearby things and people get less attention. So it was for the Fort Sumner Historic Site/Bosque Redondo Memorial and George Dodge Jr., a Santa Rosa businessman. Then Dodge, a Democrat, became a state representative. With De Baca County, home to the Bosque Redondo Memorial, in his district, Dodge’s perspective changed.

Dodge shared the story on a hot Saturday, June 9, at the memorial, as part of events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the June 1, 1868, signing of the treaty releasing Navajos from the concentration camp (today’s common term), allowing them to go home, and establishing the Navajo Nation.

For the Navajo Nation, 2018 is the Year of the Treaty.

June was full of commemoration events at Window Rock and other locations.

One of three treaty documents is now displayed at the Memorial, which is seven miles southeast of Fort Sumner. It’s a big deal; it’s important.

Navajos came to Bosque Redondo as prisoners of war, rounded up by soldiers led by Col. Kit Carson. Carson also got some of the Mescalero Apache people to Bosque Redondo, though without the scorched earth campaign conducted against the Navajos.

The Navajo population peaked at 8,557 in January 1865, according to the monthly Army census. The Mescaleros they were able to count numbered 498 in June 1865. One night in November 1865 most of the remaining 370 Mescaleros escaped. By May 1868, there were 7,176 Navajo people. Crop failure, disease, escape, sloppy counting and murder explain the difference.

March 1868 saw the greatest number of Army personnel, 628. Large photographs in the memorial building illustrate one job for soldiers – standing guard, rifle in hand.

The Navajos’ journey here is called the Long Walk.

Dodge can be forgiven. New Mexico’s rich history spreads across 121,335 square miles and four centuries. Stuff gets forgotten. Navajo people and Mescalero Apache people remember. It was a nasty time.

Attendance at the commemoration appears to have been much less than anticipated. The two-day visitor total was 1,133, said Patrick Moore, New Mexico Historic Sites director, in an email.

Chairs offer a measure, For Saturday events, 450 chairs were arrayed under a large tent. I counted fewer than 100 clustered in the limited shade. Porta-potties suggest another measure of crowd size. There were more than 40 in two rows.

Wondering about the crowd size starts with Bosque Redondo, like many other places, being a long way from bigger places. Getting there is inconvenient.

There is the matter of the occasion – a serious commemoration of an ugly episode embedded in consciousness linked to it. This was not a celebration. This was the sort of occasion that moved a Gallup resident to bring her grandchildren from Texas to see and feel their spiritual heritage.

Two other legislators came. Sen. Stu Ingle, R-Portales, has Bosque Redondo in his district.

Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, R-Kirtland, is a descendant of Long Walk survivors. She said, “I am very moved by what (is) here. My strength also comes from the Navajo women who stayed behind so that the men could go and fight. I’m here because of the history. That history gives me a lot of power.”

Media somehow didn’t get the memo either, not for lack of trying. Expecting major mainstream media, I saw only the Navajo Times and two Public Broadcasting crews.

Joseph Nez, Navajo Nation vice president, was the commemoration star. He spoke of resilience, reconciliation and telling young people the story. He said, “We have to teach this dark time in our history. It’s for all people to know that we can change. This is not just a Navajo story. We’re all survivors. This is a southwest story. We need each other.”