The Long Walk of 1864 is a time in Arizona and New Mexico history in which the Navajo people had to give up their land and travel to the Bosque Redondo reservation and Fort Sumner camp by foot, some traversing almost 500 miles to get there. This grueling journey became known as the Long Walk, with remembrance honoring those who suffered from starvation, cold, and eventual death. The deportation was viewed as a type of ethnic cleansing enforced by the government at the time. The point of origin was the state now known as Arizona to the eventual end point of what is now the eastern part of New Mexico. Between the dates of August of 1864 to the year end of 1866, there were more than 50 imposed marches.
Controversial points in history such as the Long Walk are always viewed from two sides. There are many anthropologists around the world claiming this historical event has laid a heavy burden on the Navajo as a people and has collectively and critically become a major part of their sense of identity as people. The history behind the Long Walk runs deep and is complicated. Traditionally the Navajo people claim their homelands, called Dinetah, to be within the confines of the Four sacred Mountains from Arizona’s northeast to New Mexico’s west end. This was the disputed land. Once Spanish colonists began arriving in the late 16th century, conflict also began and spread between the Navajo and Americans. Conflict runs rampant amid these groups between 1846 and 1863.
Eventually the four sacred mountains were lost to the Navajo Nation. They were forced to leave behind a vast patchwork of magnificent canyons, vibrant desert plains, sacred mountains, and rich forests. They also relinquished clean streams, pastures, pine forests, and an abundance of game. From this Eden they traveled to a prairie mostly overcrowded, with limited workable soil, sparse grass, reduced firewood, and hardly any trees. There was little game to speak of and the water was nothing short of alkaline. There were endless feuds between the Navajo and the Mescalero Apaches, their prison neighbors at Fort Sumner and Bosque Redondo camps. They were also attacked by Kiowa and Comanches, traditional rivals from the vast plains. They lost their wives and children to Anglo and Hispanic settlers. In 1868, the Navajo exile and imprisonment ended, and the people were allowed to return to their ancestral lands, which now comprise the largest Native American territory in the United States.