FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 30, 2019
(Santa Fe, NewMexico) — The Bosque Redondo Memorial, a New Mexico Historic Site, International Site of Conscience and division of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, as part of its ongoing partnership and exhibit collaboration, assisted with the transfer of the third and last-remaining original copy of the Navajo Treaty of 1868 to the Navajo Nation on May 24, 2019. This copy of the treaty has been on display at Bosque Redondo Memorial at Fort Sumner Historic Site since June 6, 2018, as part of the 150th commemoration of its signature. The subsequent donation of the treaty took place May 29, 2019, at 9 a.m. at the Navajo Nation Museum, Window Rock, Arizona, with great reverence and ceremony.
The history of the Navajo and Mescalero Apache internment at Bosque Redondo Reservation, the peace negotiations, the signature of the treaty, the end of the reservation period, and the return of the people to Diné Bikéyah (Navajo Homeland), is truly remarkable. However, the history of how the Peace Commission’s copy of the Navajo Treaty of 1868 was rediscovered and donated to the Navajo Nation is just as noteworthy.
The treaty’s former owner was author and historian C.P. “Kitty” Weaver, great-grandniece of Indian Peace Commissioner Samuel F. Tappan (1831–1913), who, along with General William T. Sherman in May 1868, negotiated with Navajo Chief Barboncito, 11 other Navajo Chiefs, and 17 Head Men, to draft the Navajo Treaty of 1868. Originally, Sherman’s instructions were to relocate the remaining captives of the Bosque Redondo Reservation to Oklahoma’s Fort Sill, where a new reservation was being established for native people. Instead, Chief Barboncito proposed that the people be allowed to return to their homelands—and the representatives from the Indian Peace Commission listened. On June 1, 1868, three copies of the Navajo Treaty of 1868 were drafted and signed. The first copy was sent by express courier to Washington D.C. where the U.S. Senate ratified it July 25,1868, and President Andrew Johnson proclaimed it Aug. 12, 1868. The Washington copy currently remains in the care of the National Archives. The second copy was presented to Chief Barboncito and taken back to the Navajo Nation. While its whereabouts is unknown, the most popular oral traditions suggested that it was buried with Chief Barboncito after his passing in 1871. The third copy, often referred to as the Peace Commission copy, was given to Tappan. Tappan placed the treaty along with a copy of the Treaty Proceedings, letters, a diary of his travels, as well as other personal effects, inside a wooden travel trunk. Ideally, the treaty was to be filed away in the Peace Commission papers in Washington D.C. However, it never made it to Washington D.C. and its whereabouts remained a mystery for the next 150 years.
This historic treaty ended the forced internment of Navajos and Mescalero Apaches at the Bosque Redondo Reservation near present-day Fort Sumner, allowed them to return to their homelands, acknowledged the sovereignty of the Navajo Nation, and effectively ended the period of history from 1863 to 1868 commonly known as the “The Long Walk.” During this time, the U.S. Army removed 9,500 Navajo and 500 Mescalero Apache people from their homelands and forced them to walk 400 miles to an internment camp known as the Bosque Redondo Reservation. Though considered “prisoners of war” many were, in fact, elders, women and children. Many died during the marches and many more died of starvation and disease at the camp. This landmark decision greatly influenced the recovery of both tribes and their autonomy today. In the time period since the Navajo Treaty of 1868 was signed, the Navajo Nation has grown to a population of over 330,000 and the Mescalero Apache to over 3,000.
For many years after the treaty signing in June 1868, the Navajo Nation honored the ancestors of the Long Walk period, as well as those responsible for their return to the homeland through commemorative events and ceremonies. In 1968, the 100th Commemoration of the signing of the Navajo Treaty of 1868 took place at the site of the original fort. This commemoration generated a considerable amount of momentum to acknowledge this history and led to the designation of the site of Fort Sumner State Monument. In 1970, a new visitors center opened to the public to interpret the history of the fort and the surrounding reservation. This museum ultimately failed in its interpretation, primarily because it was devoid of native voices. However, this would all change the morning of June 28, 1990, when a note signed by 17 Navajo students, was found at the site Travel Shrine. It read “We the young generation of the Diné were here June 27,1990, at 7:30 p.m. We find Fort Sumner’s Historical Site discriminating and not telling the true story behind what really happened to our ancestors in 1864-1868. It seems to us there is more information on ‘Billy the Kid’ which has no significance to the years 1864-1868. We therefore declare that the museum show and tell the true history of the Navajos and the United States Military. We are a concern(ed) young generation of the Navajos for the future.”
This letter, which still resonates today, permanently changed how the site history is interpreted. As well, this letter was the driving force behind the New Mexico State Legislature to fund the construction of the Bosque Redondo Memorial, which was opened in 2005. Until recently the site continued to struggle with its new responsibility to interpret all sides of this complex culturally sensitive history. It is through this acknowledgement of responsibility to the people that change began to occur.
In August 2016, a renewed partnership with the Navajo Nation and the Mescalero Apache Tribe was established to address the shortcomings of the past interpretations as well as to rewrite the site interpretive plan and create an accurate permanent exhibition. Following the completion of the interpretive plan in April 2017, the same team began work on the memorial’s permanent exhibit design. During this time, both the memorial and the Navajo Nation were in the planning phases for the 150th commemoration of the signing Navajo Treaty of 1868. Manuelito Wheeler, Director of the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona, informed Aaron Roth, Site Manager of Fort Sumner Historic Site/Bosque Redondo Memorial that then Vice President Jonathan Nez would like to visit the site to see our progress and to offer prayer for the past and the future. At the end of Vice President Nez’s visit, he asked Roth if he had heard of an individual by the name of “Kitty” Weaver. Roth explained that he had been corresponding with Ms. Weaver for the last three years to aid in her research as she drafted a biography on her ancestor Samuel Tappan. Vice President Nez went on to explain that it was rumored that Ms. Weaver held the last remaining original copy of Navajo Treaty of 1868.
After the Vice President’s departure from the site, Roth wrote to Weaver to verify if the rumor was true. Kitty immediately responded and stated that in 1975, her mother willed her a travel trunk, belonging to Tappan that was full of documents related to his work as a Peace Commissioner including a pristine copy of the Navajo Treaty of 1868. The red ribbon, which bound the treaty together, which has since turned pink, still bound the document together. Roth asked if anyone had approached her about displaying the Peace Commission’s copy in commemoration of the 150th year. More specifically, he asked if the memorial could display her copy to commemorate both her ancestor and the resilience of the Navajo Nation. Weaver explained that James Zeander (Senior Registrar Exhibits Division of the National Archives) would like to see it first. If he had no interest in displaying it, she would discuss bringing it back to Fort Sumner. The following day, both Weaver and Zeander contacted Roth and stated that the Peace Commission copy, after its visit to the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, Massachusetts, would be traveling back to Fort Sumner for the commemoration. However, before it could be displayed, a special case had to be created that could meet strict conservation standards set by the National Archives. To handle this task, Roth contacted Museum Resources Division of New Mexico along with the Department of Conservation to build a case capable of meeting these standards under short notice. While it was not an easy task, the team created a vitrine within a half-ton gun safe that exceeded the National Archives standards.
Later, on June 6, 2018, Kitty and husband David traveled to Bosque Redondo Memorial to loan and display the Peace Commission copy. During the installation, Navajo quilter Susan Hudson witnessed the unveiling. Hudson took the opportunity to offer yellow corn pollen, which is still visible in the left corner of the former treaty case, as well as prayer. Hudson then asked to speak to the Massachusetts woman who brought the treaty to the site. Hudson and Weaver approached one another, but no words were exchanged, only tears. This was the first of many eye opening, powerful experiences that Kitty would encounter over the coming commemorative weekend.
On June 8 and 9, the site held a 150th commemoration of the signing of the treaty and the 50th anniversary of the historic site’s establishment. During the events, Roth, along with Patrick Moore, Historic Sites Director, met with Kitty to discuss her thoughts about the treaty’s final resting place, namely it going to the Navajo Nation. Kitty was noticeably conflicted. She initially felt that it belonged in Fort Sumner, where it was drafted. However, Moore and Roth insisted that there was a more fitting place to house this living and still relevant document. Later, a special meeting was arranged between Vice President Nez and Weaver to discuss the significance of the treaty to the Navajo Nation.
Kitty was moved by what she had experienced over the commemorative weekend but she knew a decision would need to be made regarding the treaty’s final resting place. As the year progressed, talks continued between the Department of Cultural Affairs, Navajo Nation and Kitty Weaver. Ultimately, with great solemnity, Kitty announced that the Peace Commission copy of the Navajo Treaty of 1868 would be donated to Navajo Nation Museum. This moment marked a major turning point in the history of U.S. and Navajo relations.
The New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs is proud to be a partner of the Navajo Nation and will continue to support their endeavors and promote their resilience. This relationship is further bound and preserved in the fact that the Navajo Nation included an addendum in their donation paperwork, which ensures that the Peace Commission treaty will be shared with Fort Sumner Historic Site/Bosque Redondo Memorial for generations to come. Through this foundation of trust, the Navajo Treaty of 1868 will continue to be a bridge between sovereign nations.