Canyon de Chelly
Administrative History
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1300-1500: Sometime during this period the Apaches de Nabajo arrived in the Southwest. Exact time of arrival and routes of travel are still uncertain and various writers, basing their ideas on the best evidence available, (which is very limited), have quite divergent theories. All we can say with certainty is that they came ultimately from the North. Just how rapidly they spread over the country and occupied places such as Canyon de Chelly are matters on which we need further data.

1582: First mention of people who were probably Navajos, encountered at the base of Mount Taylor by the Espejo Expedition. This group was perhaps ancestral to the present-day Canyoncito Navajos. They were referred to as "Corechos" or "Querechos," traded and apparently also fought with Acoma, grew corn and hunted. Supplied Espejo's men with food on his way west to Hopi, but on his return fought him with bows and arrows to free Corecho women received as slaves from the Hopis.

1598: Arrival of Spanish colonists in New Mexico and first efforts by missionaries to convert the various Apache groups, including no doubt some of the Apaches de Nabajo.

1625-29: Fray Alonso de Benavides, Custodian of the New Mexico missions, arranged peace with the Apaches de Nabajo, who had been at war with the Spaniards, and made further efforts at missionary work among them. He described them as farmers, hunters, and valiant warriors, and as a very numerous people extending far to the west of the settlements, which might imply that Canyon de Chelly was already within their territory.

1626: Earliest surviving use of the name "Apaches de Nabaju" in Relacion of Zárate Salmerón.

1678: First definite documentation that the Navajos were using horses, although there is less explicit evidence that they had horses by 1653 if not earlier. Considerable warfare with the Spaniards and taking of Navajos as slaves during this century.

1680: The Pueblo Revolt, which drove the Spaniards from New Mexico. The Navajos aided the Pueblos in the revolt and obtained some captives, who were founders of new clans.

1692-93: The Reconquest of deVargas, subjecting all Pueblos except the Hopis to Spanish rule again.

1696: An unsuccessful second revolt by some of the Pueblos. Flight of numerous refugees to Navajo country, founding several new clans, settling mostly in the Dinetah area east of Farmington, N. M.

1700: Destruction of Awatovi, the easternmost Hopi town, by the other Hopis, in part due to willingness of the Awatovians to allow the missionaries to return. Some refugees from this event also joined the Navajos and founded one or more new clans. A part of them settled in Canyon de Chelly, but apparently sometime later.

1706: Earliest known mention of sheep and weaving among the Navajos, probably introduced by the Pueblo refugees.

1716: Last campaign against the Navajos during the early part of this century. There followed more than a half century of peace between the Navajos and the whites.

1740s: Another effort to convert Navajos, accomplishing only the establishment of two missions, which lasted less than a year, near Mount Taylor.

1749-53: Navajo population of the Dinetah, of mixed Athabaskan and Pueblo ancestry, moved out due to drought and Ute raids, spreading over the area to the southwest as far as Manuelito, Ganado, and Nazlini by 1764. Some of these people probably arrived in Canyon de Chelly about the same time.

1750s-1760s: Spanish settlement within the eastern fringes of Navajo country, especially around Mount Taylor and along the Rio Puerco of the East (Cuba, N. M. to the Acoma-Laguna region).

1774-75: Navajo war against the Spaniards, driving the settlers from their settlements.

1777-78: Earliest Spanish mention of Canyon de Chelly appears on maps made by Don Bernardo de Miera y Pacheco. On one of his maps dated 1778 it is spelled "Chegui" and is surrounded by several little hogan-like symbols. The mountains immediately to the east are called the "Sierra de Chegui." I suspect that the Canyon de Chelly area was penetrated by troops during the war of 1774-75, giving rise to better knowledge of it among the Spaniards, but thus far no campaign reports have been located in any archival collections.

1780: Juan Bautista de Anza made an expedition to Hopi to bring 40 families of Rio Grande refugees back to their missions. On arriving he learned that the 40 families had gone to join the Navajos instead. According to reports the Navajos killed the men and kept the women and children. This was during a war between the two tribes. It is sometimes assumed that these families went to Canyon de Chelly.

1786: "Chelli" was listed as one of the "five divisions" of the tribe.

1794: Mention of Canyon de Chelly as a place where Navajos pastured their livestock.

1796: "Chelle" was listed as one of ten Navajo settlements.

1804: New war by Navajos against renewed Spanish expansion into eastern Navajo country.

1805: The war continuing, Lieutenant Antonio Narbona brought troops and Opata Indian allies from Sonora late in 1804. On being joined by some New Mexican troops and Zuni Indians, he attacked the Navajos in Canyon de Chelly (or del Muerto) in January 1805, killing 115 people and taking 33 captives. This was probably the battle at Massacre Cave, but there are a number of discrepancies between Narbona's report and the Navajo tradition. He reported the canyon bottom as being fertile, but did not mention cornfields or orchards, perhaps merely because at that time of year they were not especially obvious.

1807: Gila Apaches visited the Navajos in Canyon de Chelly and invited some Navajos to go back with them on a return visit, but on the return trip stole the Navajos' horses, thus starting a war between the Apaches and the Navajos.

1816: Navajos from the Mount Taylor area moved temporarily to the de Chelly area because of war with the Comanches.

1818-19: War with the Spaniards, caused in part perhaps by Navajo belief in Spanish complicity in Comanche attacks. It is probable, but not certain, that Spanish troops operated part of the time in or near Canyon de Chelly.

1821: Another war with the Spaniards with inconclusive results. Mexico gains its independence.

1822: A war with Mexico caused by the killing by treachery of several Navajo emissaries at Jemez.

1823: Vizcarra' s campaign into Navajo country. On the outward march the army camped one night at the mouth of Canyon de Chelly after scouting some side canyons. In the morning Navajo skirmishers attacked the camp, wounding one of Vizcarra's men and suffering no losses themselves. This was on July 13. From here Vizcarra went west to the Hopi area and beyond. The baggage train seems to have stayed behind and was still there on August 8 when a Mexican soldier was killed at the mouth of the canyon. It is possible that troops assigned to protect the baggage penetrated the canyon, but if so they did little damage, because all Navajo casualties are accounted for in the journals of the main column and other detachments. On August 18 Vizcarra returned to this base camp, which he called Tierra Blanca, and was joined on the same day by another detachment, coming up the Chinle Wash from the north, which had been harassed by Navajo warriors until it arrived about at Many Farms. The army rested at Tierra Blanca most of the next day, getting a late start, and began a slow return to New Mexico, taking 2 days to reach Little Canyon de Chelly—probably on its upper portion.

1825: Another campaign into Navajo country, route unknown.

1833: Still another campaign, route unknown.

1834: And again.

1835: A campaign that got only as far as Washington Pass, where it was defeated when the Navajos ambushed it. Three of the officers, including Blas de Hinojos, the leader, were killed. Navajos from Canyon de Chelly may well have participated in this battle, one of the tribe's major victories in the wars with Mexico.

1836: Three campaigns invaded Navajo country, but places visited unknown.

1836-37: Another campaign in the winter that camped at least one night at a place called Ojo del Carrizo near Canyon de Chelly.

1838: A campaign into the Tunicha Mountains, but whether it got close to de Chelly is not known.

1839: Campaign by three columns of troops. Two columns operated in the Canyon de Chelly area early in November. On the 5th a party of 500 men under Captain Juan Cristobal Armijo was sent to explore Canyon de Chelly. On the 7th a second detachment of 100 men was sent to assist him. He returned on the 8th, having detached 300 men to lay siege to a mesa on which Navajos were holding out. The mesa was apparently near the canyon and a second detachment was sent by way of Little Canyon de Chelly to attack the mesa after the others returned without having had any success. They managed to catch a half dozen stray Navajo horses and mules, but also failed to take the mesa. Setting out toward the Carrizo Mountains, one column then had an encounter with "a multitude of Navajos" at the mouth of the canyon, which resulted in no action, the troops camping there for the night. Marching northward, various small detachments were sent to scout the country, one of which made an attack on some Navajos on the "Mesas de Chelly" in which they killed a man and captured a woman and 160 sheep but had four men injured in a fall over a precipice.

1840: Two columns of troops again invaded Navajo country. One operated east of the mountains and the route of the other is unknown. The Navajos held a Naach'id or tribal assembly that winter near de Chelly, probably somewhere in the Chinle Valley, to discuss making peace with Mexico. Negotiations took most of the winter, but a treaty was made in the spring of 1841.

1843: Two campaigns, routes unknown.

1846: U.S. war with Mexico. Major Gilpin visited Canyon de Chelly in November, inviting Navajo headmen to the council with Doniphan at Bear Springs (present Fort Wingate) where the first treaty between the United States and the tribe was signed. Which, if any, headmen from the canyons attended the treaty negotiations is not reported in the surviving records.

1847: Major Robert Walker led the first U.S. expedition to enter Canyon de Chelly. They marched only 6 miles up the canyon and seeing no Navajos, turned around and marched out, noticing a few Navajo spies only on the rims of the canyon.

1849: Treaty signed at mouth of canyon with Col. John Washington and part of canyon explored by Lt. James Simpson.

1850: A private campaign led by Ramon Luna, after attacking the Navajos on Black Mesa, on their return journey camped at the mouth of Canyon de Chelly, where six men who strayed from camp were killed.

1851: Navajos reported planting extensively at Canyon de Chelly. Colonel Sumner's expedition, with the rather unsuccessful entry into Canyon de Chelly and his precipitous withdrawal, but resulting in the establishment of Fort Defiance.

1853: Agent Henry L. Dodge and Maj. Henry L. Kendrick, with troops from Fort Defiance and the post chaplain, Rev. John Shaw, visited Canyon de Chelly in an effort to settle differences between the whites and the Navajos. They found the crops good and the Navajos, who supplied them with green corn, melons, milk and cheese, friendly. It was about the end of July and they were invited to return when the peaches were ripe. The headmen encountered in the canyon were Fairweather and Amagoso, the latter a war chief. As they do not appear in later reports under those names, they cannot be identified with known leaders. There are indications that Amagoso died later that year, apparently of natural causes.

1854: A Navajo, said to be from Canyon de Chelly, killed a soldier at Fort Defiance. A Mexican captive, said by the Navajos to be the murderer, was executed, but he may have been substituted for the real culprit and the army deceived in the case.

1856: Treaty negotiated by Governor Meriwether, never ratified by Congress however. Mariano Martinez of Canyon de Chelly, who had signed the Treaty of 1849 with Colonel Washington, also signed this treaty. Whether he was the man called Fairweather by Dodge is uncertain.

1857: Ute raid between the mouth of Canyon de Chelly and the Carrizo Mountains, in which eight Navajos were killed. The Navajos retaliated, killing five Utes.

1858: January—Another Ute attack, in which the headman Pelon, a wealthy stockman, was killed. This is perhaps the raid depicted in the famous Ute raid pictograph panel.

April—Navajos of Cuentes Azules' ("Blue or Turquois Beads") band raided Abiquiu, taking some sheep, which they drove to the vicinity of Canyon de Chelly.

June—A major meeting was held at Canyon de Chelly by the Navajos to decide whether to have peace or war, the major trouble being disputes with Major Brooks at Fort Defiance over grazing land used by military livestock, and perhaps other matters.

July—Killing of Major Brooks's slave at Fort Defiance, leading to war.

September—Colonel Miles led troops of his command into the upper end of Monument Canyon and westward through the canyons to the mouth of de Chelly. He reported cornfields and peaches in the canyon, but the invasion accomplished little with regard to the war, the main action taking place in other locations.

November—Miles's troops, after a roundabout march east of the mountains and crossing to the west to Lukachukai, marched southward to the mouth of Canyon de Chelly where they camped, using nearby hogans for firewood. Here they were met by Barboncito who tried to arrange a truce to end the war and a day was spent in camp negotiating and planning for Barboncito to bring a delegation of headmen to Fort Defiance to meet with the agent. The next day the troops marched for the fort. A second column under Major Backus passed southward across the headwaters of the canyon to the east.

1859: Winter to Spring, exact dating uncertain. The last Naach'id was held at Tsin Sikaad, about 12 miles northwest of Chinle. The Treaty of 1858 was rejected, but Zarcillos Largos and Manuelito split on the issue of war and peace and no definitive consensus was reached. Although the decision for war was made, Zarcillos Largos walked out and warfare did not break out for several months. Tribal leadership remained split, and the traditional political organization of the tribe was no longer effective.

July—Capt. John G. Walker led troops on an exploring trip to the canyon, entering at the head of Canyon de Chelly and emerging at the mouth, passing cornfields and wheatfields in the canyon and, at the mouth, holding a meeting with about 200 Navajo men and their families. The new Navajo agent, Silas F. Kendrick (not to be confused with Capt. Henry Kendrick who commanded Ft. Defiance a few years earlier) accompanied this expedition and later wrote that he ate, drank, and danced with the Navajos.

September—Captain Walker, on his return march from another exploring trip over Black Mesa and back through Marsh Pass camped again near the mouth of Canyon de Chelly. He reported the Navajos busily engaged in harvesting their corn, some drying it "in kilns heated with hot stones." He saw some horses and sheep and was given peaches.

1860: July—A private campaign from Abiquiu passed near the mouth of Canyon de Chelly to pursue herds seen to the west on Black Mesa, where Navajos in great numbers drove them back.

October—Canby's troops, on campaign, marched in two columns, one north and one south of the canyons, from east to west and met at the mouth of de Chelly, from there turning northward toward Marsh Pass.

1861: Navajos which attended horse races at Fort Wingate in September, which ended in an attack by the troops, were said to include people from Canyon de Chelly.

1863: August—Kit Carson led his troops on a march that went north past the mouth of Canyon de Chelly, near which place they destroyed over 100 acres of corn, thence east around the northern side of the canyons and south over the headwaters. He reported only a few Navajos, all very poor, in the vicinity.

October—Navajos stole 89 sheep from the corral of an army grazing camp at Black Lake and successfully got away with them to Canyon de Chelly.

1864: January—Carson's famous invasion of Canyon de Chelly. He and his troops arrived near the mouth of the canyon on the 12th, where he scouted the south rim for 10 or 11 miles, a detail scouting the night before attacking some Navajos with livestock as they were about to enter the canyon, killing 11 and taking four captives and a herd of sheep and goats. Having sent Capt. Albert Pfieffer directly to the eastern end of the canyon, he next scouted both rims of the canyon on the 13th and 14th. Pfieffer's command entered the upper end of Canyon del Muerto on the 11th, reaching the mouth of de Chelly on the 13th. His column spent two nights in the canyon and engaged in a number of minor skirmishes, during which they killed three Navajos. The fighting prevented them from destroying orchards observed on the way. Following this on the 16th, Capt. A. B. Cary led a column of troops up the main canyon. After accepting the surrender of 150 Navajos at his camp 18 miles up the canyon that night, he marched another 2 miles the next morning to a trail leading out to the south and proceeded thence directly to Fort Defiance. While no major battle took place in the canyons, the penetration of them and the fact that Carson and his officers were able to convince the starving Navajos that they could surrender without being killed soon led to the surrender of large numbers destined for Fort Sumner.

August—Capt. John Thompson led a small force into Canyon de Chelly and destroyed the peach orchards. He also accepted the surrender of Barboncito and his few remaining followers.

1865: It was reported in March that only about 60 Navajos were still trying to hide out in Canyon de Chelly.

1866: March—Captain S. A. Gorman marched from Ft. Wingate to the mouth of Canyon de Chelly. He found evidence that many Navajos were hiding in the canyons but, having a small force and having used most of his ammunition before reaching that point, turned back.

1868: Return of the Navajos from Fort Sumner.

1871: Death of Barboncito following a long illness. J. H. Beadle, a newspaperman and writer, visited Navaho country. Leaving Ft. Defiance with a young Navajo man as guide, he visited the mouth of Canyon de Chelly, where he found some 2 or 3 square miles of land under cultivation but doing very poorly due to drought.

1873: Visit to Canyon de Chelly by T. H. O'Sullivan, photographer for the Wheeler Survey.

1878: Hastiin Biwosi, a signer of the Treaty of 1868 and a resident of Canyon del Muerto, killed as an alleged witch near Ganado.

1880-82: Building of A&P (A.T. & S.F.) Railway through southern part of Navajo country.

1882: Nakai Yazhi, a Spanish-American, legal name not known, traded from a tent at Chinle. First archeological survey, by James Stevenson.

1883: Agent Dennis M. Riordan and Henry Chee Dodge arrest Klah in Canyon de Chelly. Klah was a Navajo accused of killing a trader named Tracy near Aneth. Further archeological survey by Cosmos Mindeleff.

1883-84: Various evidence suggests trading at Chinle by Samuel E. Day, Anson C. Damon, and John Lorenzo Hubbell.

1885: C. N. Cotton bought out J. L. Hubbell's interest in a trading post at Chinle and hired Charles Hubbell to run it for him.

1886: Cotton was unable to get a license to trade at Chinle. Michael Donovan took over the post, with former Navajo agent John H. Bowman as his clerk. First Government efforts to develop irrigation in the area.

1887: Donovan died and Cotton again took over the store, with John W. Boehm as his manager.

1888: Cotton still operating the store with a "Mr. Hubbell," probably Charles, as his manager, but unable to get license.

1889: John W. Boehm had the license and was trading at Chinle. [Note: All these early changes in traders were the result of the political intrigue involved in getting a trading license at this time. Other traders at Chinle in this period seem to include two brothers, Washington P. Lingle and Thomas J. Lingle, about 1888-89, and Bernard J. Mooney and James F. Boyle in 1889.]

1892: "The Trouble at Round Rock"—Black Horse and his followers beat up Agent Dana Shipley in protesting the kidnapping of children for the schools.

1902: Samuel Day I built a trading post at Chinle.

1903: Catholic missionary, Father Leopold Osterman, assigned to Chinle.

1905: Catholic mission at Chinle built. Day sold his post to Charles Weidemeyer, who hired Charles Cousins to operate it. Agent Reuben Perry beat up at Chinle by supporters of Tol Zhin when he tried to arrest him on a charge of rape. Tol Zhin and six others were later arrested by troops from Ft. Wingate and spent short periods in jail. The others involved were Winslow, Dlad or Linni Dlad, Ts'osini' Biye', Dinetigai, Doyatti and Ush Dilly, most being of the Taachii'nii Clan.

At this time the Government already had an agency farmer and two field matrons stationed at Chinle. Just when the first Government personnel were assigned there is a bit uncertain. Reportedly the field matrons ran a small school rather informally.

1909: Construction was begun on a Government boarding school in the fall. Opened in 1910.

ca. 1915: J. L. Hubbell built the two-story trading post that stood where the Chinle Post Office now is. Mike Kirk and Cozy McSparrow ran it.

ca. 1917-18: Hubbell sold his trading post in Chinle to C. N. Cotton who hired Camille Garcia to operate it for him.

1919: Flu epidemic.

1923: Camille Garcia, Cozy McSparrow, and Hartley T. Seymour (Cotton's son-in-law) bought all three stores then operating in Chinle.

July—first tribal council meeting.

1928: Dourine epidemic among horses; many killed, others vaccinated.

1930: First major efforts at erosion control. (Probably local programs earlier.)

1932: First clinic at Chinle.

1933-34: First effort at stock reduction by purchase of sheep during this winter.

1934: Second effort at stock reduction, summer into fall, by purchase of goats and some sheep.

1936: Grazing districts layed out.

1940: Stock permits issued.

1954: Trailer school opened at del Muerto.

1955: July—Chinle Subagency established. Many Farms Clinic opened by PHS - Cornell.

1959: Opening of the new PHS Clinic at Chinle.

1960: New BIA boarding school at Chinle completed.

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Last Updated: 08-Mar-2004