The Long Walk


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      painting titled 'Journey of Despair' by artist Carlos Ortiz

    The Bosque Redondo Memorial at Fort Sumner, a New Mexico State monument, hidden away on the outskirts of tiny town of Fort Sumner needs to be visited and needs to be absorbed. It's a memorial honouring the Navajo and Mescalero Apache, and "the long walk," a sad period of history which lasted lasted from 1863-1868.

    The "Manifest Destiny" doctrine of the 19th Century believed a dominant culture had the right to spread across a continent regardless of the local established culture.

    The US military leader in the Territory of New Mexico was Gen. James Carleton, a true believer of this doctrine. He directed a scorched earth campaign in the Four Corners region, which is a Navajo homeland. The soldiers destroyed homes, crops and livestock and drove the Navajo to surrender. Then, in 1863, the army rounded up thousands of Navajo and force marched them 450 miles in fearful conditions to their detention in a concentration camp located in a highly unsuitable place. The Navajo death toll during interment in the camp was 3,000, they'd already lost 20% of the tribe during the long walk.

    A section of the mural depicting the Navajo's long walk by Navajo aertist Shonto Begay
    A section of the mural depicting the Navajo's long walk by Navajo aertist Shonto Begay

    The Mescalero Apache were likewise brutalized with the directive with one of the instructions being, "all Indian men of the Mescalero tribe are to be killed whenever and wherever you can find them." The Navajo and Mescalero Apache were kept together in the Bosque Redondo Indian Reservation with the idea they would suddenly become farmers and settle down. It was a dismal failure. The land was unsuitable for agriculture and the river water unhealthy.

    The Mescalero Apache took action in to their own hands and disappeared one night. A few elderly and ill members stayed behind keeping the camp fires burning thus tricking the solders in to thinking all was okay. A few days later those left behind also slipped away. The tribe is believed to have retreated to Mexico until they could safely return and reestablish their homeland in south central New Mexico.

    When it finally dawned on the authorities in Washington this was a disaster, General William Sherman was sent to meet with the Navajo. As a result the Treaty of 1868 was signed, recognising the Navajo nation as a sovereign nation and they were allowed to return to their homeland.

    A section of mural showing the military escort by artist Mike Scovel
    A section of mural showing the military escort by artist Mike Scovel

    Most of the memorial is explained through art, and it's some of the most powerful I've seen in a long time. Without a doubt the biggest impact is from two murals facing each other about 4 feet apart, along curving walls depicting the forced march. On the one side the fluid, flowing, full of movement style of talented Navajo artist Shonto Begay depicts the long walk from the Navajo view. . On the other side the crisp, clear military might shown controlling the forced march by talented artist, Mike Scovel. The two artist's styles are so different, yet they mesh together perfectly. They are charged with emotion and are breathtaking. I had to return time and again to try and take it all in.

    scene showing a soldier picking up a Navajo child's doll
    A poignant scene showing a soldier picking up a Navajo child's doll
    by artist Mike Scovel.

    The staff told us more foreigners visit than Americans. That's a shame, it really is. Especially because Billy the Kid's grave is right next door and that's visited a lot. He was a hoodlum with a gun. It's unfortunate he gets more attention.

    History shows us every nation has it's bad periods. They must never be ignored and hidden, we need to learn from them. This memorial is deeply moving. It was a long time in coming, it opened in 2005 under Governor Bill Richardson, and is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. The header is a painting titled 'Journey of Despair' by artist Carlos Ortiz

    Information: It is open Wednesday - Monday 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. and is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas. New Year's Day and Eater. It is located at 3647 Billy the Kid Road, Fort Sumner, NM88110. Telephone 575-355-2573. There is an excellent small gift and book shop in the lobby.

    A scout and tracker depicted in the military mural by artist Mike Scovel.
    A scout and tracker depicted in the military mural by artist Mike Scovel.

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    I recently learned of a FTC law requiring web sites to let their readers know if any of the stories are "sponsored" or compensated.  American Roads and Global Highways' feature writers are professional travel writers. As such we are frequently invited on press trips, also called fam trips. Most of the articles here are results of these trips. On these trips most of our lodging, dining, admissions fees and often plane fare are covered by the city or firm hosting the trip. It is an opportunity to visit places we might not otherwise be able to visit and bring you a great story. However, no one tells us what to write about those places. All opinions are 100% those of the author of that feature column.  

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