Episode: The Long Walk: Tears of the Navajo

Original Airdate: 
November 2007

In a lost chapter of our nation’s history, eight thousand Navajo men, women and children were marched at gunpoint through the scorched desert of the American Southwest to a barren reservation along the Texas border. The 300 mile forced relocation to Bosque Redondo, ignored as it played out far removed from the carnage of the Civil War, was aimed at crushing American Indian resistance in lands that would eventually become the states of Arizona and New Mexico. Hundreds of Navajo died during the march and four years of forced isolation, far removed from their sacred homelands in the Southwest. The Navajo remember this tragedy simply as “The Long Walk."

"The Long Walk: Tears of the Navajo," a new KUED documentary by award-winning producer John Howe, tells one of the most important stories of the American West. It's a story of heartbreak and triumph against enormous adversity. Narrated by actor Peter Coyote, "The Long Walk" is produced in high definition television with 5.1 surround sound. Producer Howe worked with Navajo Elders in the production of this documentary and they tell this story from their own historical perspective for the first time.

The story reveals the campaign of the U.S. military against the Navajo in the early 1860s, the events leading to it, and the aftermath of the Treaty of 1868 -- all of which would change the world of Navajos. "The landscape of the American West is washed by a thousand tears," says producer John Howe. "The Long Walk of the Navajo is a story that should never be forgotten."

As the Civil War played out in the East, tensions between Natives and Anglo settlers in the Southwest escalated as the United States sought to control and relocate tribal nations. The Navajos and other tribes saw soldiers and settlers, “The New Men", coming to their homeland as a threat to their survival.

In the summer of 1863, General James Henry Carleton initiated a military campaign against the Navajo. Former mountain man and frontiersman Kit Carson, now a colonel with the New Mexico Volunteers, led the effort. Carson and his soldiers waged war on the Navajo and destroyed crops, livestock and homes. While few shots were fired in this war of starvation, the Navajos surrendered with promises of food and shelter, and in 1864 the forced relocation -- The Long Walk -- to Bosque Redondo began.

After four years the bleak reservation was deemed a complete failure. The Treaty of 1868 returned the Navajo to their sacred homeland and declared the Navajo a sovereign nation. A line of some 7,000 Navajos stretched across the desert for almost 10 miles as they returned to the Southwest. But their return was beset with further difficulties; the treaty's provision for Navajos to educate their children in Anglo boarding schools would shake their identity for generations.

"It's very difficult for us to talk about these stories," Dr. Jennifer Nez Denetdale, a Navajo historian, says in the documentary. "It makes me cry, and it makes me sad and it makes me angry. And at the same time, we are also very appreciative that our ancestors had the courage and resilience to keep on going in the face of just incredible catastrophe and incredible trauma."

Length: 
1 hour
Presented In: 
KUED Stereo Icon
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