Rainbow Bridge
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Life Before the Monument: Human Habitation at Rainbow Bridge and Its Environs (continued)

By the time the Navajo were in the Southwest, the Glen Canyon region was a very active place. Ancestral Puebloan peoples were moving south to the Arizona mesas while Paiutes were forming their own bands along the San Juan river. The environs of Rainbow Bridge, Navajo Mountain, and the greater Glen Canyon were becoming a nexus of Indian activity. The Navajo occupied areas near the upper Chama and San Juan drainages in northern New Mexico around 1500 A.D. This area became the Dinétah (Navajo country). Navajos trace their emergence from the Fourth World, or Glittering World, to this region. A more complete version of the Navajo origin story, told by residents of the Navajo Mountain community, is detailed in Chapter 5. Based on Spanish sources, the Navajo first encountered Euro-Americans in 1541. In that year, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado made his historic trip into the Southwest. After crossing the San Pedro River into what would become Arizona, Coronado and his army pressed through what is now central New Mexico and onto its sprawling eastern plains. Near the Pecos River, Coronado encountered some of the ancestors of the Navajo, the Querechos. Based on the diaries of various observers, these early Navajos were unimpressed with Coronado and unafraid of the Spanish military presence. [41] Indeed, the Querechos were well established in the Southwest, evidenced by their use of horticulture. Spanish colonists arrived in the late sixteenth century, distinguishing the Navajo from other Athapascan peoples as Apaches de Nabahu ("Strangers of the Cultivated Fields"). [42]

Navajo oral tradition places the Diné in the Navajo Mountain area between 900 A.D. and 1150 A.D. As the Navajo emerged from the Fourth World, they eventually wandered into the area bounded by the Four Sacred Mountains. [43] During the wandering, they came by Navajo Mountain, finding many wild berries such as chokecherries, wild grape, and wild plum. The Diné stayed in the Navajo Mountain area for many years, enjoying the fruits of their natural surroundings. [44] Although there are large disparities between the archeological record and the oral tradition of the Diné, they were well ensconced in the larger Southwest by the time the Spanish arrived.

Relations between the Navajo and Spanish colonists remained fluid throughout the 17th century. As early as 1629, Friar Alonso de Benevides brokered with the Navajo, arranging peaceful ties between the Spanish at Santa Clara Pueblo and their Navajo neighbors. However, as more and more Spanish moved into the traditional Navajo homeland, the Navajo realized more opportunities to raid and prosper. The Spanish regional government was unaware of the ancestral Navajo tradition of raiding. Raiding was conducted for staples and prestige. The Navajo were accomplished raiders, developing their skills before the Spanish arrived by raiding the Pueblo Indians in the region. Rarely was anyone injured or killed at the hands of Navajo raiding parties. The Spanish brought horses and sheep into the region, animals that provided much needed bounty to the Navajo way of life. Spanish livestock was the primary goal of Navajo raids throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Early on, the Navajo focused on Spanish settlements along the Rio Grande. [45]

What could have been a source of extensive economic and geographical expansion proved just the opposite for the Navajo. Although Navajo power was great in the region, Navajos still had to compete with northern tribes for territorial hunting grounds on the southern Great Plains. These tribes, including the Comanche, Pawnee, and Wichita, were better armed with weapons acquired from English and French traders. The Navajo only expanded for about one hundred years, finding their military match not in the Spanish but in the northern tribes. As a result of being squeezed between the Plains tribes to the north and the fortified Spanish to the south, the Navajo expanded within their traditional Dinétah. Spanish settlers and their Indian allies began reciprocating Navajo raids during this time. The Spanish raided for livestock and slaves. By the time the American military arrived in the region in the mid 19th century, the local Navajo and New Mexican populations had been raiding each other for well over one hundred years. Immense resentments and feuds were extant which did not favor the Navajo.

Raiding on the Spanish changed the Navajo lifeway forever. The introduction of horses, cattle, and most importantly sheep, to the Navajo economy helped the Navajo become the most self-sufficient Athapascan group in the Southwest. Dobyns and Euler refer to this period of mixed hunting, agriculture, and livestock domestication as the development of the triadic economy. Other Athapascan groups relied on the dual economy of hunting or raiding for meat and minimal agriculture for vegetable nutrients. These non-Navajo groups did not domesticate the livestock they acquired. Conversely, the Navajo, specifically Navajo women, began raising sheep for sustained use. While economic raiding was primarily a male dominated activity, Navajo women assumed the task of tending flocks of sheep while also trying to maintain horticulture. The Navajo sheep provided an enormous source of protein to the Diné. Sheep could be raised easily in the climate of the Southwest, and natural predation was extremely low. With this consistent source of fat and protein available to the Diné year-round, Navajo populations flourished during a time when most northern Native American groups were dwindling. Dobyns and Euler contend that the strong nutritional basis of the Navajo diet made all the difference when Navajos encountered disease or drought. [46]

The emerging clan structure of the 17th century Navajo made for great cultural fluidity. Men moved into their new spouse's camp, often marrying their new wife's sister as well. As the extended family units grew, various families interacted with each other and formed semi-formal land use communities. These communities always remained faithful to their primary clan affiliations but managed to coexist in pursuit of mutually beneficial land management. During this period the clans and extended family groups remained non-centralized; the contemporary concept of "tribe" was still forthcoming. Family groups operated relatively independently of the larger clans and were not responsible for or to each other. [47] This lack of a larger political structure proved very troublesome to the United States military in the 19th century when it tried to negotiate treaties that would oblige all Navajos to the terms of the treaty. The Diné simply had no centralized structure that would allow these treaties to be effective.

The Navajo expanded within the confines of the Four Corners region throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. The 19th century was not as hospitable for Navajo culture. Like the Great Plains to the north, the American Southwest was a target of Anglo westward expansion. After Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821, Mexican settlers expanded in every direction throughout the Southwest. During this period the incidence of violent contact between Navajos and Mexican settlers increased. Mexican military personnel were scattered along the southern edge of the traditional Navajo homeland. However, the newly formed Mexican government endured extended periods of turmoil during its early years Mexico found it difficult to maintain the frontier to the north and gradually phased out military control. The steady influx of Americans also added to the broil. American grazing and mineral interests soon eclipsed those of the Mexicans. But they shared a common foe in the Navajo, who were immune to the political imbroglio that was mounting between the United States and Mexico. Raiding continued to be an important activity to the Navajo and a constant source of anger to settlers. Mexican and American settlers retaliated frequently against Navajo bands. After 1848, however, Navajo fortunes took a dramatic turn for the worse.

In 1845, the United States government declared war on Mexico. The war concluded with the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which placed the Navajo and their homeland squarely under the control of the United States government. The Americans were less than sympathetic to Navajo land claims in the region. The interests of American settlers, as well as those New Mexicans that fell under American control, were first and foremost to the new government. In Arizona, the Navajo also felt the pressure of expanding Anglo grazing interests which forced the Navajo and their flocks further north. Fortunately for the Diné in the Navajo Mountain region, this pressure was minimized by distance. Navajo Mountain was too far removed from the southern periphery of Dinétah, and so the basic pattern of Navajo life continued near Navajo Mountain. There were also very few Navajos in the mountain's environs in the mid 19th century [48]

The United States government, through its growing military presence in the Southwest, tried to negotiate with the Navajo. American military commanders signed five separate treaties with the leaders of various bands between 1846 and 1860. Each treaty was designed to accomplish three objectives: end Navajo raiding, limit the land base of the various bands, and encourage all Navajos to adopt a farming lifestyle which would make them more productive as Indians and less combative as neighbors. [49] In each instance, the Navajo violated the treaty's terms. The United States government as well as local military personnel did not understand Navajo culture well enough to comprehend the truly independent structure of Navajo bands. When one band leader signed a treaty, his authority extended only to the members of his band, not to the Navajo tribe as a whole. But the Americans thought just the opposite. As a result, raiding continued and Anglo hostility toward the Navajo intensified. In 1846, General Stephen Watts Kearny announced that the American military would end Navajo raids and bring order to the Southwest. It was a promise New Mexicans and Navajos would never forget. [50]

By 1862, American military personnel were unable to stop Navajo raiding. Hostilities were at their apex when Brigadier General James H. Carleton arrived on the scene. Because of the failure of numerous treaties and the increasing number Navajo attacks on civilian and military targets, Carleton felt he had to act. He ordered the removal of all Navajos to a reservation at Fort Sumner, near Bosque Redondo. Some historians claim that Carleton was simply bowing to the pressures of recent gold fever in New Mexico. By the summer of 1863, Carleton was not satisfied with the removal process. He brought Colonel Christopher "Kit" Carson from Taos to lead troops into the heart of Dinétah and eliminate the Navajo "threat."

Carson embraced his new duty with vigor, waging a "scorched earth" campaign against any and all Indians in the region. Carson and his men burned orchards, crops, destroyed hogans, and killed thousands of Navajo sheep and cattle. Within eight months, most of the remaining Navajos surrendered to Carson. They were marched to Fort Sumner and incarcerated. [51] This event is now know as the Long Walk. The Navajo Mountain community achieved historical prominence as a result of the Carson campaign. During the conflict, an unknown number of Navajos fled northwest to the canyons of Glen Canyon and avoided the Long Walk. Hashkéniinii was the most famous of these fleeing Navajos. [52] Historians vary on the estimated number of Navajos that Hashkéniinii led into the canyons below Navajo Mountain. The numbers range from two dozen to over one hundred. Regardless, he and his followers remained unmolested at Navajo Mountain during the remainder of Carson's campaign.

After word spread of the excellent protection afforded by Navajo Mountain's canyons and mesas, hundreds of Navajos joined Hashkéniinii. Navajos found the terrain formidable but suited to their need for concealment. Carson never pursued the Navajos beyond the San Juan River and so the environs of Navajo Mountain became home to a healthy population of Diné. The mountain's ecosystem provided wild foods and grazing land for Navajo flocks. These Navajos were quite taken with their new surroundings and with the divine providence that its protection represented. [53] Navajos viewed the mountain and its surrounding canyons with great reverence, identifying the region as a gift from the gods. [54]

In their new home, the Navajo Mountain Diné found a safe and compatible lifeway. Their presence around Navajo Mountain intensified the region's reputation among Anglos as "hostile territory" and thereby limited Anglo encroachment. In addition, by 1868 the American government no longer wanted the financial commitment of feeding more than 5,000 Navajo at Bosque Redondo's Fort Sumner. The Navajo endured four years of privation and internment before the Americans gave up. On May 28, 1868, General William Tecumseh Sherman and Colonel Samuel Tappan arrived at Bosque Redondo and began negotiating terms for a new treaty that would let the Navajos go home. On June 1, 1868 twenty-nine Navajo headmen placed their marks on the treaty and the Navajo were free. The Treaty of Bosque Redondo allowed for a large, defined reservation in the Dinétah, supplies of grain, and the return of 14,000 sheep to support the Navajo lifeway. [55]

The Diné at Navajo Mountain avoided the Long Walk as well as Fort Sumner. The events of the Carson campaign and the Long Walk made the Navajo Mountain community unique among the Navajo Tribe. They were immune from American attempts to make Navajos dependent on federal largesse. They also managed to retain a strong sense of their traditional culture and belief structures without the pain of American retribution. Effectively, the Navajo Mountain Diné endured prolonged conflict with the Americans and gave up little more than geography as the price of survival. Under the terms of Bosque Redondo, the Navajo Tribe continued to expand and profit for the remainder of the 19th century. The best data available indicate that the Navajo population increased an average of 2.4 percent each year between 1870 and 1900. In addition, sheep populations multiplied from 15,000 in 1869 to nearly 650,000 by 1907. [56]

In terms of proximity, the San Juan Band of Southern Paiutes is the next most significant group of Native Americans living in the Navajo Mountain/Rainbow Bridge area. The San Juan Paiute are an offshoot of Southern Paiutes. Approximately 3,000 years ago, Uto-Aztecan groups expanded south from their northern homelands. By 1000 A.D. these groups, consisting mainly of Northern Paiute, Southern Paiute, and Shoshonean peoples, were well ensconced in the Great Basin. During this period, these Numic speaking peoples intermingled with Fremont Complex peoples. [57] They gradually moved southwest into California and southeast into southern Utah and northern Arizona. The Southern Paiute refer to themselves as Nuwuvi. The official Nuwuvi tribal history claims that "although culturally related to such tribes as the Shoshone, the Utes, and the Northern Paiutes, the Nuwuvi spoke a slightly different language and had their own separate cultural identity." [58] In general, the term Southern Paiute refers to Uto-Chemehuevi groups.

The San Juan Paiutes replaced much of the Pueblo culture they encountered. In southwestern Utah, archeologists have excavated the distinctive ceramic remains of the Southern Paiutes in direct connection with Pueblo remains dated approximately 1150 A.D. The Southern Paiute pottery was rust colored and conical in shape, decorated with small incisions in circular patterns. Their pottery was highly differentiated from the Pueblo remains which were characterized by black/white or black/yellow coloring. The Southern Paiute probably first occupied the San Juan River region 1200 A.D. and 1300 A.D. The group closest to Navajo Mountain became known as the San Juan Band. [59]

Upon their arrival in the Southwest, the San Juan Paiute were a hunting and gathering population. They possessed no territory-wide political structure but did demonstrate a broad, uniform culture evidenced in both language and pottery. They employed highly adaptive subsistence patterns, making use of an array of food stuffs and natural materials. Archeological evidence suggests that the San Juan Paiute, operating northwest of Navajo Mountain, gathered various wild plants and hunted both rabbits and mountain sheep. They employed long bows and arrows as well as nets for this pursuit. Their homes during this period were a combination of temporary camps in their larger home territory and permanent settlements along the Little Colorado and San Juan rivers. During their occupation of the Southwest, they probably learned the rudiments of horticulture and corn processing from their Puebloan neighbors. This made it possible for the San Juan Paiute to establish sedentary lifeways and allowed them to become ensconced in the area west and north of Navajo Mountain. Various excavations have yielded milling stones used to grind corn, piñones, seeds, and meat. These stones differ from those used by Pueblos. [60] By the end of the 16th century, San Juan Paiutes were firmly settled along the San Juan River and in close proximity to Navajo Mountain. [61]

There is early documentary evidence of San Juan Paiute north of Navajo Mountain. In 1776, Franciscan Fathers Atanásio Dom&iacuite;nguez and Silvestre Vélez de Escalante led an expedition out of southern New Mexico into Utah. They moved north, circling much of the Wasatch Range, after which they headed south to present day Cedar City. There they encountered Paiute groups with semi-developed horticultural practices. Dominguez and Escalante then traveled east to the Colorado River, stopping at what is now called Lee's Ferry. The expedition traveled another forty miles before finding a fordable section of river. This spot is known today as the Crossing of the Fathers. On the south side of the river the expedition encountered a small group of San Juan Paiutes. Escalante wrote that "eight or ten leagues [25-30 miles] to the northeast of the ford there is a high, rounded peak which the Payuchis, whose country begins here, call Tucane [Navajo Mountain]." [62] Later in the trip and further southeast, Dominguez and Escalante stopped on the rim of the canyon above Navajo Creek. At a point on the mesa they saw "ranchos of the Yutas Payuchis, neighbors and friends of the Cosninas." [63]

As the number of competing groups increased in the larger Navajo Mountain region, raiding patterns and politics also changed. The role of various Ute groups as well as Hopi in the area suggests that the Navajo Mountain region was on the territorial periphery of both Utes and Hopis. Eventually the San Juan Paiute occupied a fairly distinct area near Navajo Mountain. Ethnographer Isabel T. Kelly defined their territory as "the area extended from Monument Valley to the Little Colorado and from the San Juan River to Black Mesa and the Moencopi Plateau." [64] This was a wide area, only the core of which was shared with the Navajo. Ute bands, specifically Weeminuche and Capote Utes, lived further east on the San Juan River but ranged in and out of the Navajo Mountain area. To the south were Hopi peoples who also made use of the resources on the southern slopes of Navajo Mountain. Moving to the San Juan region after 1300 A.D., the San Juan Paiute found much of the land they needed inhabited by Utes. The Weeminuche Ute claimed much of the San Juan as their own. Even though these eastern Ute groups shared a Numic linguistic pattern with the San Juan Paiute. the Weeminuche took advantage of their own mastery of horses in their pursuit of San Juan Paiute slaves. The Weeminuche preyed heavily on the San Juan Paiute all through the 18th and 19th centuries.

These Ute bands also targeted Navajos in their slave raids. The San Juan Paiute were not as quick to adopt sedentary livestock activities, perhaps because of their unwanted status as valuable slaves. [65] Navajos reciprocated against the Utes in terms of slaving and conducted a semi-profitable trade with their southern neighbors. These hostilities existed right up to the 1860s when the American government decided it would no longer tolerate tertiary aggression against its white citizens. However, it is fairly clear that the dynamics of the Navajo Mountain region as well as the larger Southwest were well established before the arrival of Americans and Mexicans. The politics of cooperation and conflict preceded any Anglo attempts to corral Native Americans and force them into the ill-fitting role of yeoman farmer.

It was around this time that the San Juan Paiute who were closest to Navajo Mountain were absorbed by the local Navajo population. Sometime after 1800, tensions between the San Juan Paiute and the Navajo became less important than the pressure both groups were encountering from the Utes to the northeast and the Hopis and New Mexicans to the south. San Juan Paiutes intermarried with Navajos and adopted clan affiliations along matrilineal lines. [66] There was always a distinct cultural fluidity among the Navajo when it came to adopting non-Navajos into clans. Navajo raiders often returned with female Ute, Mexican, or Puebloan captives. These captive women would usually bear children as monogamy was not the common practice among Navajos during this period. The Navajo response was to expand the aboriginal clan structure to account for these new additions to the population while maintaining the matrilineal structure of marriage and property ownership. Like other Native American societies, the Navajo assigned a less important social status to non-Navajos and their descendants; however, these assimilated captives retained the full benefit of Navajo rights in terms of property and inheritance. [67]

Another important part of the history of Rainbow Bridge NM occurred in the late 19th century as a result of the Treaty of Bosque Redondo. That treaty authorized the creation of the Navajo reservation, which surrounds the present-day monument. The original treaty reservation covered over three and a half million acres. Although the reservation represented only a fraction of the original Dinétah, it did offer some geographic continuity to Navajos. During a period when most tribes were being removed from their ancestral homelands to wholly unfamiliar areas, the Navajos were allowed to return to their own territory. Historian Peter Iverson notes that the ability of the Navajo to remain in their traditional lands and expand their territory almost four-fold is a testament to their tenacious roots in the region as well as the degree of value the United States government assigned to Navajo lands. [68] Another section of the Navajo reservation, known as the Paiute Strip, became a contentious issue to early visitors to Rainbow Bridge. The history of this specific section of the reservation, which surrounded Rainbow Bridge, is detailed in Chapter 4. Briefly stated, the conflict between whites and Navajos in the late 19th century did not conclude with the Treaty of Bosque Redondo. The area that the present-day monument occupies was embroiled in dispute long before Anglos ever laid eyes on the span of Rainbow Bridge.

There is excellent documentation of early Anglo travels in the canyons of Rainbow Bridge. The possibility that Spanish explorers found Rainbow Bridge in the 17th or 18th centuries remains remote. Generally these expeditions, such as the Dominguez-Escalante expedition of 1776, were heavily laden with men, horses and supplies. Moreover, given the religious motivations of many Spanish conquerors, there would have been little incentive to deviate from less difficult trails if there were no potential converts to be gained in the remote canyons surrounding Rainbow Bridge. If one accepts the veracity of a Latin inscription at Inscription House, located some fifty miles from the bridge, then Spanish explorers were in the region as early as 1661. But there is still little chance that large-scale expeditions made it up or down the narrow terrain of Bridge Canyon or Forbidding Canyon. The fact that no artifactual evidence has been discovered to support claims of early Spanish intrusion suggests it is a theory waiting to be proven.

In the 19th century, Anglos did encounter Rainbow Bridge and left certain evidence of those sightings. Many historians have inferred early 19th century visitation by fur trappers based on evidence found in areas near the bridge. Historian Stephen Jett contends that inscriptions left by Herman Wolf, Fred Smith, and W.C. Seifert near Navajo Mountain indicates Rainbow Bridge was likely observed during fur-trapping reconnaissance. [69] Historian C. Gregory Crampton claims that an 1836 inscription found in Cataract Canyon, attributed to French trapper Denis Julien, suggests an equal probability that Bridge Canyon and Forbidding Canyon were scouted during the great American fur-trading epoch. The inscription was first noticed by Robert B. Stanton in 1889 during an extended survey of Glen Canyon and the Colorado River. [70]

During the 19th century a rumor evolved about a great silver mine somewhere between the San Juan River and Navajo Mountain. It was the same El Dorado-style legend that developed elsewhere in the Southwest. Miners came and went throughout the middle of the 19th century in search of this great lost mine. In the 1880s, Cass Hite came to Glen Canyon and found placer gold near Dandy Crossing. Word spread and a small rush took place until the end of the decade. But in 1892, after miners discovered gold on the San Juan near Navajo Mountain, Crampton claims that every canyon nearby was prospected from top to bottom. [71] Neil Judd, one of the members of the first "official" expedition to locate Rainbow Bridge in 1909, acknowledged in a 1967 article that his party found mining tools at the mouth of Forbidding Canyon, less than five miles from the bridge. [72]

Given the topographic allure of Navajo Mountain as a mineral-bearing source, it seems altogether likely that prospectors hungry for wealth traversed all of its nearby canyons. The search for gold often led to new geographic data in the American West, and there is no reason to believe that the environs of Rainbow Bridge would be an exception to that pattern. In a statement taken by his daughter in 1929, William F. Williams claimed that he and his father, along with Chief Hashkéniinii, went in search of the infamous silver mine of the San Juan. Hashkéniinii led them to Bridge Canyon where they all saw the bridge first hand. Williams dated his first trip to the bridge as November 20, 1884. Williams also claimed that on the east buttress of the bridge, the names of Billy Ross, Montgomery, George Emmerson, Jim Black, Ed Randolph, and Wydel were clearly etched in the stone. [73] Secondary confirmation of these claims came in the form of a personal statement made by Jim Black, a prospector in the area during the late 19th century. In July 1930, Black claimed that during his three trips to the bridge in the 1890s he observed more than thirty names carved into the bridge and its nearby walls. In his statement, Black corroborated many of the same names Williams had detailed in 1929. [74] Why all these inscriptions were absent when the Cummings/Douglas party arrived in 1909 might never be known. Climatic patterns after 1884 could account for erosion of the original inscriptions. Vandalism is another possibility. In his article tracking the historical debate over who "discovered" Rainbow Bridge, Stephen Jett went so far as to volunteer personal observations of inscriptions near the foot of Navajo Mountain. These inscriptions were dated in the 1880s, corroborating some of the anecdotal proof that men like Emmerson, M.S. Foote, and J.P. Williams located the bridge before 1900. [75] Regardless, there is enough circumstantial evidence from mining related activity near Rainbow Bridge to say that non-Indians observed the bridge some time before the 20th century.

It is not surprising that the history of early human activity at Rainbow Bridge has taken a back seat to the more popularized 20th century accounts of "discovering" the bridge. Human contact with the bridge before the 20th century was characterized by minimal artifactual evidence, rumors, and a lack of photographs. But there is little doubt that humans have known of the bridge for many thousands of years. There is enough archeological evidence near Rainbow Bridge to suggest that it may have been seen by humans as early as 6000-4000 B.C. Evidence closer to the bridge, including the hearth uncovered in 1994, confirms that the bridge was utilized for any number of purposes at least one thousand years ago. This reality was not lost on those Anglos who first documented the location of Rainbow Bridge. As explained in Chapter 3, men like John Wetherill and Neil Judd admitted readily that other humans had come before them. As the 19th century closed, however, word of the bridge was out. Trapper, miners, and Navajos living nearby knew the great stone arch was in a tight canyon just off the north slope of Navajo Mountain. Having traveled in and around the region throughout the 19th century, seeing its many wonders and natural features, those men and women probably felt awe at the bridge's span without feeling the need to boast of its existence. They simply left their marks on the bridge or nearby canyon walls, just as men like John Wetherill and Zane Grey did in the 20th century.

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Last Updated: 07-Feb-2003