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“Barboncito’s Speech to General Sherman at Fort Sumner”

by Barboncito

Barboncito was a Navajo leader who, like Manuelito, refused to give up when Colonel Kit Carson’s troops rounded up the Dineh in 1864. His people remained free, but their livestock were starving, so Barboncito surrendered to try to save the animals. In April 1868, Barboncito and his headmen were taken to Washington, DC, to plead their case with President Andrew Johnson. On June 1, General Tecumseh Sherman came to Bosque Redondo and signed a treaty with 29 Navajo leaders that called for the People’s release. Below is a paraphrase of Barboncito’s speech to General Sherman on May 28, 1868.

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“When the Navajo were first made, First Woman pointed out four mountains and four rivers that was to be our land.”

Bringing us here has made many of us die, also a great number of our animals. Our Grandfathers had no idea of living in any other place except our own land, and I don't think it is right for us to do what we were taught not to do. When the Navajo were first made, First Woman pointed out four mountains and four rivers that was to be our land. Our grandfathers told us to never move east of the Rio Grande River nor west of the San Juan River. I think that because of this so many of us and our animals have died here. First Woman gave us our land and made it especially for us. She gave us the whitest corn and the best sheep and horses.

You can see our headmen here, as ordinary as they look, but I think that “We know this land does not like us. Neither does the water.” when the last of them is gone our world will come to an end. It’s true we were brought here. It’s also true that we have been taken care of well since we came here. As soon as we got here, we started working on irrigation ditches. I myself went to work with my men. We made all the fort buildings you see here. We always did as the soldiers told us to do. But this ground does not give crops. Every time we plant, nothing grows. All the stock we brought here has nearly died. We worked as hard as we could, but for nothing. That is why we haven’t planted or tried to do anything this year. The plants never grow more than two feet high. I don’t know why, only I think this land was never meant for us, even though we know how to plant and raise livestock. The General can see for himself that we have hardly any sheep or horses left, and we are so poor that we cannot buy any others.

There were many of us who were once rich and well off. Now they have nothing in their houses to sleep on except gunny sacks. It's true some of us have a little stock, but not near what we had years ago in our own country. For that reason my mouth is dry and my head hangs in sorrow to see those Navajos who were once so well off, but poor now. When we lived in our own way, we had plenty of stock. We had nothing to do but just look at our stock grow and when we wanted meat, all we had to do was kill it. These headmen were once rich. I myself feel sorry at the way I am here. I cannot sleep at night. I am ashamed to go to the fort store for my food. It is like I must depend on someone to hand it out to me. Since the time I was very small, I had my mother and father to take care of me. I had plenty. I always followed my father's advice to live in peace.

I want to tell the General that I was born in Canyon de Chelly. Now we have been living here (Bosque Redondo) for five years. The first year our corn crop was destroyed by worms. The second year it was the same. The third year it grew two feet high when a hail storm completely destroyed all of it. We have done everything we could to raise a crop of corn and pumpkins, but we were disappointed. I used to think at one time that the whole world was just like my own land, but I fooled myself. Outside my own country, we cannot raise a crop, but in it we can grow food almost anywhere. Our families and livestock get larger. Here they get smaller. We know this land does not like us. Neither does the water. I think it is true what my grandfathers said about crossing out of my own country. It seems that everything we do here causes death. Men working in the ditches get sick and die. Some die with the hoe still in their hands. Some go to the river to get water and suddenly disappear under it. Others have been struck and torn to bits by lightning! When a rattlesnake bites us here, it kills us. In our own country the rattlesnake would give us a warning so we could stay out of its way. If it bit us, we easily found a medicine for it. Here there are no plants for medicine.

“Before I am sick or older, I want to go see the place I was born.”

When one of our headmen dies, the crying women make tears roll down onto my moustache. Then I think about my own country. When we first came here, there were mesquite roots to burn for firewood. Now there isn't any for twenty-five miles around. During the winter, many die from cold and sickness and from working too hard carrying firewood such a long way on their backs. For that reason we cannot be happy here. Some years ago I could lift my head up and see flocks of cattle in every direction. Now I feel sorry I can’t see any. I raise my head and see herds of stock on my right and left, but they are not mine. It makes me sorry when I think of the time I had plenty. I can barely stand it. All the different peoples around us are against us, the Mexicans and other Indian tribes. That is because we work hard, and if we had the tools we could be much better off than either the Mexicans or other Indians. The Comanches are against us. I know, for they came here and killed a good many of our men. In our own land, we knew nothing about the Comanches.

Last winter I heard that you were coming here. Now I am happy you are here, and I am waiting to hear why you came. I thank the General and I think of him like I think of my father and mother. As soon as I heard you were coming, I made three pairs of moccasins, and I wore out two pair waiting for you. As you see, I am strong and healthy. Before I am sick or older, I want to go see the place I was born. Now I am just like a woman. I am sorry like a woman in trouble. I want to go and see my own country. If we are taken back to our land, we will call you our father and mother. If you would only tie a goat there, we would all live off it. We all feel the same. I am speaking for all Navajos and for their children who aren’t born yet. All you hear me say is the truth. I hope you will do all you can to help us. I am speaking to you, General Sherman, as if you were a holy spirit. This hope goes in at my feet and out of my mouth. I wish you would tell me when you are going to take us to our own country.

“We do not want to go right or left, but straight back to our own land.”

I hope to God you will not ask me to go anywhere except my own country. If we go back, we will follow whatever orders you give us. We do not want to go right or left, but straight back to our own land.