The joy of books is real. The world would be a better place if more people knew this.
Expressing that joy is a common theme of my writings. A lot won’t understand that joy. But some will. Especially those who find the Southwest wondrous, yet have never read books like The Lost World of the Old Ones, may one day be inspired to take that wonder to a new level, and read more, and explore more, and live more.
I wrote about another chapter of this book in a Southwest bookish adventure here. The point was to present how emotions can course through your body as you read books that feel like an adventure. They can be sharp and pleasurable like the real thing. And they are free!
So I must share another chapter. It’s actually one of the best I’ve read in any book, ever. It’s dedicated to the search of the hideout of a band of Navajos, led by one named Hoskinini, during the time of Kit Carson’s merciless military campaign of scorched earth that forced the Navajos on their Long Walk to a land far away from their sacred home.
Some words grab you by the throat. Here Roberts did:
For 150 years, the secret hideout has remained pristine wilderness. Prospectors and explorers have tried, but no Anglo has yet conclusively rediscovered that sanctuary among the sandstone domes and slot canyons. For more than two decades, I had studied the scraps of history and the threads of oral tradition about Hoskinini’s escape. And by 2013, I thought I knew where the hideout was.
Now, I’ve crisscrossed the Rez. I’m familiar with its red deserts and cold mountains that could hide people almost indefinitely – though there’s still too much to see. And I’ve read Navajo histories. I’m familiar with the volume of blood spilt across Arizona and New Mexico from the time the Spanish first came until the final American triumph.
Most aren’t so familiar though. Words like above wouldn’t grab them.
But maybe those words would if they knew something of that history. Maybe they would enjoy a history they sure as hell never learned in public schools. After all, all men fundamentally enjoy stories of wars and empires.
But historical understanding requires foundations. I’ve got to lay foundations. That’s why this post is in three parts – don’t want to overload with words. Thus, here goes…
Now, much of American Indian history can never be known. Their lack of written languages obscured the perpetuation of their historical experiences from the remote past. Yes, it would fascinating to get an accurate glimpse of the Americas at the time of Christ. But they didn’t write. Thus, these times are mystery.
Nonetheless, much can be known.
First, an orientation of where the Navajos are and where they come from…
The Navajo call themselves “Dine”. Their traditional lands are bound by four sacred mountains. Look at the map above. The sacred mountains are in black. The area across Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado encompassed by those mountains is called the “Dinetah”. They believed their gods gave them this land to protect. And their gods would thus would thus protect them.
Nowadays their reservation is as shown on the above left map. It covers over 27,000 square miles, mostly in Arizona, but also in Utah and New Mexico. It was first created in 1868 – not too long after Kit Carson’s destruction. But, because of their growth in population thereafter – because peace finally came to the land – the Rez got bigger and bigger. It became the biggest in America.
Navajos speak an Athabascan language. So do their cousins the Apache. The Athabascans most likely emigrated to the Southwest 700 to a 1000 years ago from Canada and Alaska where there are many other thousands of Indians that also speak Athabascan languages. Those languages are almost intelligible to one another, even though those peoples are separated by thousands of miles.
When Athabascans first came to the Southwest, those that migrated further south into more desert-like lands – from what’s now Tucson to San Antonio – remained nomadic. Bison was the primary source of sustenance. Those Athabascans evolved into Apache. The name Apache most likely comes from “ápachu” which is the Zuni word for “enemy” (4) – and Apaches were enemies to many Indians.
Upon higher lands where more snow fell other Athabascans learned agriculture from the Pueblo Indians, who were in the Southwest long beforehand. The dark-shaded land, surrounded by the blue circle in the map above, are trees at higher elevations of snowy mountains. Those mountains make something of a natural circle. Inside that circle was the Dinetah.
(Incidentally, the Pueblos were so named by the Spanish because those Indians – who called themselves Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, Taos, Tewa and other lesser known tribal names – lived in villages, or pueblos, and were not nomadic.)
However, those northern Athabascans remained semi-nomadic. They ranged over wide swaths of land and planted corn wherever they could in isolated fields where enough water ran off the mountains. (Navajos of course also supplemented their food supply by raiding Pueblos.) In fact, “Navahu comes from the Tewa language, meaning a ‘large area of cultivated lands’. By the 1640s, the Spanish began using the term Navajo to refer to the Diné.” (5) Undoubtedly the time of the origination of “navahu” represents the time of the firm break with their cousin Athabascans the Apache.
But the above history is murky. We must use deduction for a lot. Regardless, the separation between Navajo and Apache had probably solidified in the 1500’s before Spaniards started planting colonies along the Rio Grande in the early 1600’s. The above map show the locations of Southwestern tribes, more or less, at the time of the Spanish arrival.
As happened in Mexico, as happened in Peru, the arrival of Spaniards unleashed killing like the Southwest had never seen before.
Of course woke, revisionist historians like to portray the Indian tribes only as victims. And many were victims. But many killed innocent Spaniards too. Many killed innocent Indians too.
The history of the Navajos after the arrival of Francisco Coronado is coming next. I say it is a history all should know. That’s because from it shines an historical argument that may not be politically correct, but should make all honest intellects think.
And it’s part of that bookish adventure…
- Apache Indians (aaanativearts.com)
- Navajo – Wikipedia