Fort Fontleroy incident, prelude to the Long Walk

September 24, 1860

On this day, what started as a friendly competition between soldiers and Navajo at the fledging Fort Fauntleroy, unexpectedly went off the rails.

Records are sketchy and sources are about equally divided as to the date; September 24 or September 25.  Whatever day, a large number of Navajo had camped at New Mexico’s newest fort for the distribution of rations.  Horse races between the tribe’s men and members of the New Mexico Volunteers were also planned.  What could possibly go wrong.

A dispute erupted over the last race of the last day and a Navajo competitor was shot.  In the melee that followed, soldiers killed a dozen Navajo, women and children included, and wounded 40 more. Peaceful detante went downhill quickly.

Fort Fauntleroy has, at best, a sketchy history.  Founded August 31, 1860, some say Colonel Thomas (Little Lord) Fauntleroy, (right) who headed the Department of New Mexico from 1859 to 1861, immodestly named it for himself.  It was quickly renamed Fort Lyon in 1862 when the Colonel  defected to the Confederacy. The name was permanently changed in 1868, when it became Fort Wingate

New Mexico’s Native Americans had already encountered the American military in 1846 when General Stephen Kearney invaded Santa Fe during the Mexican-American War.  That same year Captain John Reid led a small party of soldiers into Navajo country to meet with Narbona, (right) the Nation’s 80-year-old head man. 

The elderly leader had seen his people through the bloody years of Spanish occupation and was eager for peace with these new Anglos in charge.  On November 21 that year, Narbona, too ill to walk, was carried on a litter to sign a negotiated settlement with Colonel Alexander Doniphan at the future site of Fort Fauntleroy.

Narbona was killed two years later in a confrontation with the Army. After signing a final peace treaty, soldiers under the command of Colonel John Macrae Washington, (right) opened fire on the Navajo treaty delegation in yet another dispute over a horse.  Washington ordered a cannon fusillade and Narbona was killed in the crossfire.  One unverified account says he was scalped by one of the New Mexico militiamen.

During the next decade, American forces established a number of frontier outposts along the Santa Fe Trail, ostensibly to protect travelers and settlers.  Hostilities between the Spanish and the Navajo continued, however, and in 1861 General James Carleton, Commander of the District of New Mexico, ordered legendary frontiersman Colonel Kit Carson, (right) to conduct a punitive expedition against the Navajo.  

Carson’s men, aided by members of the same New Mexico Volunteers, killed untold numbers of Native Americans, burned crops, destroyed livestock and sacked villages.  By July of 1863, the last of the Navajo surrendered at Canyon de Chelly and were taken to Fort Defiance as prisoners.

In the spring of the next year, some 9,000 Navajo men women and children were force-marched over 300 miles to Fort Sumner to face internment at Bosque Redondo, a million acre reservation surrounding the fort.  

Remembered forever as “The Long Walk,” a substantial number of Navajo died of disease and starvation or were stolen by slave traders en route.

Navajo at bosque Redondo

Once they arrived  at Bosque Redondo, they joined 500 Mescalero Apache, swelling the detainees to nearly 10,000. The Army, having estimated their numbers at just 3,500, faced immediate shortages of food, shelter and firewood.  In addition, there was no plan to house the Navajo, who were forced to live in brush covered dugouts.  

When cutworms ate the corn crop three years in a row, in 1865, 1866 and 1867, the military was finally forced to provide food, costing the  U.S. government some $1.5 million a year, more than $13 million today.  Civil War General, William T. Sherman, (left) of Sherman’s March to the Sea fame, was dispatched to Fort Sumner in 1868.  

When Navajo headmen were offered an all-expense-paid trip to Oklahoma to survey a new reservation, they said no.  Sherman finally agreed to let the surviving Navajo return to a portion of the Four Corners area, considered their traditional homeland.

Narbona’s son-in-law, Manuelito, (right) was one of the signers of the Treaty of Bosque Redondo, ending the Long Walk.   Becoming head of the Navajo Nation police in 1872, he died of measles 21 years later at age 75.

Fort Sumner was closed following the Bosque Redondo episode and the land and buildings were sold to prominent New Mexico businessman, Lucien Maxwell.  Maxwell’s son, Pete, befriended Billy the Kid Bonny and it was in Maxwell’s house that sheriff Pat Garrett shot and killed the famous outlaw.  Bonny is buried in Fort Sumner’s old military cemetery.

Today, descendants of the Long Walk occupy more than 27,000 square miles of land in Arizona, Utah and New Mexican, the largest jurisdiction in the country assigned to Native Americans.

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site, Highway 264, Ganado, Arizona, is one of the oldest trading posts in Navajo country.  Administered by the National Park Service, it welcomes visitors to the more than 150-year-old establishment still operating today.  In addition to the trading post, the site features a visitor center, and the John Lorenzo Hubbell House.  Hubbell purchased the trading post in 1878 shortly after the Navajo returned from Fort Sumner and became an important promoter of Navajo silversmithing and weaving.  The Hubbell family owned a total of 24 trading posts, freight and stage lines. 

Admission to the visitor center is free as well as a self-guided tour of the authentic kiva and scenic walking trail.  Guided tours of the Hubbell House are available by reservation.  Admission is $5 for adults and visitors 15 and younger are free.  The park is open 8 to 6 daily, May through October and 8 to 5 daily, November through April.  For more information go to (Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site),  call (928) 755-3475 or write Hubbell Trading Post, National Historic Site, P.O. Box 150. Ganado, AZ 86505-0150.

© Text Only – 2018 – Headin’ West LLC  – All photos – public domain or fair use.

*Head On West strives for historic accuracy and uses a number of sources considered reliable.  When research differs on significant facts, the various points of view will be cited.