Archaeologists believe that the Navajo people first arrived in their ancestral homeland around 1025 AD. Today, this area covers parts of four states. Situated on the lower part of the Colorado Plateau, their homeland stretches across southern Utah, northern New Mexico and Arizona. We call this area the Southwest. Navajo is a Pueblo Indian word that refers to a particular area of land. When the Spanish arrived they called them Apaches de Navajo. This was in an attempt to distinguish the Navajo from their neighbors the Apaches. At the time, the Navajo called themselves the Dine, which translates into “the people.” Their homeland was called Dinetah.
When the Navajo first arrived in their ancestral homeland they survived as hunters and gatherers. Before long they joined the Apaches and began raiding the Pueblo Indians for food, women, and slaves. Gradually, through contact with the Pueblo Indians they learned to farm, weave, paint, and make both pottery and baskets. They lived in small homes called hogans. At this time they were generally cone shaped and held up by logs and poles. In the early 1600's the Navajos began to acquire sheep, cows, horses, and goats from the Spanish.
Then, in the mid-1700's the Spanish made an unsuccessful attempt to convert the Navajo's to Catholicism. Shortly afterward, both the Spanish and the Mexicans rode into the Navajo homeland and started taking slaves. The Navajo responded by attacking the new settlers. This started a cycle of raids and counter attacks that went on for more than 80 years.
In 1863, U.S. Colonel Christopher “Kit” Carson was chosen to lead a campaign against the Apaches and the Navajo. First, Carson and his men defeated the Mescalero Apaches. Then shortly afterward, he and his troops turned their attention towards the Navajo. Colonel Carson launched a scorched-earth offensive. He burned and destroyed Navajo fields, orchards, and homes. Then, in January of 1864, Carson defeated the Navajo in Canyon de Chelly.
Over the next two years 12,000 starving Navajos surrendered to army outposts. They were all to be relocated on reservations, but before they could get there they would have to walk 300 miles eastward to the barren flats of the Pecos River Valley. Along the way over 200 Navajos died. The Navajos call this time in history the Long Walk. The relocation camp was named Bosque Redondo. The Navajos hated Bosque Redondo. Almost everything that they were promised by the United States Government never materialized. They found that the soil was infertile, and they couldn't grow food. There was nothing to hunt. In addition, there were constant outbreaks of disease, and a chronic shortage of supplies, It is believed that as many as 2,000 died during the time they lived here. Then in 1868, a group of chiefs went to Washington D.C. to ask for the return of their homeland. The federal government listened. They granted the Navajos 3.5 million acres in the Chuska Mountains, and they were able to return to their homelands. Today, the Navajo Reservation is mostly in Arizona and it is 16 million acres.