Bit'aa'nii - Folded Arms People Clan
Photo from Smithsonian Institute's Anthropological Archives
Born in the Bear's Ears country of southern Utah in 1818, Manuelito was
also called 'Ashkii Diyinii, or Holy Boy and Ch'il Haajin. By the time
he was 16 years old, the restless and aggressive Manuelito stood over
6 feet tall, with broad shoulders and a muscular, athletic build. He married
a daughter of Narbona, and went to live at their camp near the Chuska
Narbona's reputation as a wealthy and powerful headman impressed Manuelito.
He especially admired Narbona's fearless attitude, although Narbona tried
to teach him the value of peace as well as war.
Manuelito spent his days shooting arrows and competing with other young
men in countless foot races and wrestling matches, always winning. He
dressed in well-fitting buckskins and a finely woven blanket. He couldn't
wait for his first battle.
When word came in the winter of 1835 that 1000 Mexicans (from New Mexico)
were coming to attack the Navajos, Manuelito fought his first in what
would be many violent battles. He was seventeen when he earned the name
Hashkeh Naabaah, Angry Warrior.
In the years that followed, Manuelito led one raiding party after another,
joining forces with other leaders such as Ganado Mucho and Barboncito
to attack not only the hated Mexicans, but also the Hopis in Arizona,
the Pueblos of New Mexico, the Utes, the Comanches, and the Apaches. Food
supplies, livestock, and women and children were all fair game, and eventually
Manuelito married one of his many Mexican slaves, Juanita.
Manuelito and Juanita
Photo from Denver Public Library Genealogy Dept.,
Noah H. Rose, Photographer | Call Number X-32996
By the time the Americans gained control of New Mexico Territory in 1846,
Manuelito was a recognized naat'aani, with a network of sub-chiefs, each
man specializing in one aspect of warfare. Manuelito became famous for
his clever war strategy, angrily resisting attempts by some of the elders,
such as his father-in-law Narbona, to make peace.
Finally persuaded that the Mexicans' relentless raids would stop under
the rule of the victorious Americans, Manuelito signed the peace treaty
at Bear Springs, along with thirteen other leaders, most of them much
older than himself. He was 28 years old.
When the Americans killed Narbona in 1949, Manuelito vowed to drive all
the white men from Navajo country. He argued violently against every suggestion
of peace. During one of his many skirmishes with one of his many enemies,
he was shot in the chest, and almost died. A captive Mexican blacksmith
managed to dig the lead ball out, but Manuelito barely survived the infection.
The wound healed, but left a large scar that would become yet another
of his trademarks.
Some versions say that Commanches had stolen his famous horse Racer,
and that Manuelito was shot in the attempt to get him back. There is another
story that tells how he lost a horse race only because someone, presumably
the army soldiers in attendance, cut the reins. When Manuelito tried to
follow the soldiers into the fort to recover what they had bet, the soldiers
opened fire and killed 15 Navajos.
The Navajo people remember the 1850s and '60s as the troubled period,
the fearing time, or Nahonzoodaa'. As the raids, kidnapping, and killing
increased between the Navajos, the other various tribes and the Mexicans,
the American government came under pressure from American settlers to
make it all stop. There were always at least two sides to every story.
The misunderstandings continued to pile up. The situation finally came
to a head at Fort Defiance when Major Thomas H. Brooks, ordered Manuelito
to remove his livestock from the nearby "hay camp."
Manuelito refused, saying, "the water there is mine, not yours,
and the same with the grass. Even the ground it grows from belongs to
me, not to you. I will not let you have these things."
After that the troops were ordered to slaughter all the livestock at
the hay camp, and Manuelito lost many sheep and cattle. Now outright war
began. The army attacked Manuelito's camp on the Little Colorado, south
of Ganado the next fall. A large band of Zunis rode with the Army and
burned his hogans and fields to the ground. Manuelito, however, managed
In February of 1860 Manuelito and 500 warriors attacked Fort Defiance.
The Army fought back hard, and Manuelito retreated. In April, he and Barboncito,
along with 1000 warriors returned and tried again, but once more ended
up fleeing into the mountains.
From then on, the army came down hard on the Navajos, killing and burning
fields and rounding up livestock. Even worse, the enemy came from all
directions. The Mexicans escalated their raids, and the Utes did the same.
Although other Navajo headmen and elders were now proposing peace, Manuelito
refused to stop fighting.
While the American Civil War distracted the army for a few years, full-scale
chaos reigned in Navajoland as the warring continue to rage out of control.
Finally in 1863, Kit Carson was commissioned to find and remove the Navajo
people to Fort Sumner (also known as Bosque Redondo) in New Mexico, 175
miles southwest of Santa Fe.
Carson and his troops went on the rampage, terrorizing the people with
his "scorched earth" policy, which was to burn all the hogans
and fields, cut down peach trees, and round up livestock. Faced with starvation,
the people finally began to surrender.
By 1865 most of the Navajo people had made the long walk to Bosque Redondo,
and many had already died. There were a few small bands hiding out near
Navajo Mountain and Manuelito and his band had hidden down in the Grand
Canyon for awhile. General Carlton, in command of the Navajo relocation,
sent a runner with an order for Manuelito to surrender. From his camp
near the Little Colorado, Manuelito answered that he would not leave his
country, that he was doing no harm to anyone, and he intended to die there;
that he had no fears and did not intend to run away.
In the end it was a Ute raid that finally wiped him out. His herd of
400 to 600 horses and 2000 to 3000 sheep were reduced to about 50 horses
and the same number of sheep. The camp was decimated, the people were
scattered. But he still offered a brave front, persisting in his desire
to be free, saying "his mother and his god lived in the west and
that he would not leave either one
that there was a tradition that
his people should never cross the Rio Grande, the Rio San Juan, or the
Finally, Manuelito and his band were among the last of the Navajos to
come in to Bosque Redondo, beaten down by starvation and the constant
harassment of the Utes. He, in fact, left several times, only to return
again for the same reasons.
After the Civil War ended in 1968, the army began to admit that Bosque
Redondo was a tragic failure. An Indian Peace Commission was formed, and
Manuelito was one of those who traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with
President Andrew Jackson. When at last the people were allowed to return
to Navajoland, he settled with his family near Tohatchi. There he lived
with his sons, Manuelito Chiquito, Manuelito Chow, and Manuelito Segundo,
his two wives, and other relatives. He was appointed the main headman
of the eastern side of the Reservation. His home, in fact, was outside
of the actual treaty boundary. He would continue to push for the expansion
of the reservation for the rest of his life, including another trip to
Washington D.C. to meet with Ulysses S. Grant in 1976.
The ensuing years were tough, as the people had to adjust to life back
in their homeland without the old ways of raiding. Although many planted
crops and tried to increase their herds, drought and then starvation forced
them to return to stealing from their Mexican and Pueblo neighbors. Manuelito
actually became a Navajo policeman, rounding up stolen animals and returning
them to their owners, however he never turned in the thieves themselves.
During these years, his militant stance mellowed as his wealth increased.
He obtained wagons and began shipping items to and from the railway. Manuelito
chose to adapt in order to survive, and then thrive. His domain included
10 to 20 families that farmed a large irrigated parcel of land.
He made this famous statement which is still often quoted:
"My grandchild, the whites have many things which we Navajos need.
But we cannot get them. It is as though the whites were in a grassy canyon
and there they have wagons, plows, and plenty of food. We Navajos are
up on a dry mesa. We can hear them talking but we cannot get to them.
My grandchild, education is the ladder. Tell our people to take it."
While many people refused to send their children to school, Manuelito
sent two of his sons and a nephew to Carlisle, a famous Indian school
in Pennsylvania. Tragedy stuck again, when all three ended up dying of
tuberculosis. Bitter and heartbroken, he always regretted sending them
to school, but in the end, remained supportive of education, and Tohatchi
was the site of one of the first schools.
As time passed the issue of slaves and captives remained unresolved,
with both Mexicans and Navajos still "owning" family members
claimed by the other side. In 1884 the Indian agent John Bowman demanded
Manuelito free his slaves. Bowman was surprised when Manuelito told them
they were free to go; that they were not slaves, they were members of
his family. They all chose to stay with Manuelito, including his wife,
Juanita, who said she would rather remain in captivity with her master.
Probably more than any other man, Manuelito symbolized the way the Navajos
remembered their resistance. Handsome and rebellious, with a powerful
voice and a compelling intellect, he refused to sign treaty after treaty,
riding in battle after battle. But his surrender and his presence at Bosque
Redondo made it possible for him to participate in the negotiations for
the release and return of his people to their homeland.
He tried to help his people find a new way of life, while remaining
true to their traditions. Unfortunately the new way of life included whiskey,
and there were stories of binges and wild antics, including one account
of a wagonload of whiskey that he and several of his buddies drove along
the mail route on a drunken spree for 134 miles until they were finally
forced to turn around. He was quoted as saying that "liquor was a
good thing; it made the world happier for a short time."
In the end his mixing of traditions probably killed him. After contracting
measles, a combination of sweat baths and whiskey caused him to come down
with pneumonia and in 1893 Manuelito finally fought, and lost his last
A History of Utah's American Indians, Forrest S. Cuch. Utah Division
of Indian Affairs and the Utah State Historical Society, 2000.
Chiefs, Agents & Soldiers, William Haas Moore. University
of New Mexico Press, 1994.
The Northern Navajo Frontier 1860-1900, Robert S. McPherson. Utah
State University Press, 2001.
Sacred Land, Sacred View, Robert S. McPherson. Brigham Young University,
The Navajos, Ruth M. Underhill. University of Oklahoma Press,
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