Monday, February 04, 2013

Trail Dust: Defection created long-lasting rift in Navajo tribe

by Marc Simmons

There is a hidden story lurking in the shadows of Navajo history that has never been fully told. Some pieces of the tale are missing, yet enough remains, allowing a brief sketch to be drawn.

The matter begins with a Navajo headman known to the Spaniards as Joaquín. It is uncertain how he acquired that name, but it may have been borrowed from New Mexico Gov. Joaquín del Real Alencaster (1803 to 1805).

Joaquín, the Navajo, first appears on the scene in mid-July 1818, when he showed up at Jemez Pueblo. This was at the tag end of the colonial period, just three years before Mexico’s independence from Spain.

According to records in the State Archives, Joaquín sought out the Spanish alcalde, Ygnacio Sánchez Vergara, serving at Jemez. He informed the official that the Navajo nation was making preparations for war against the Spaniards.

The Navajo leader said that he had been strongly opposed to this, and in council argued for keeping the peace. His main reason was that the full weight of Spanish arms would be brought against them and could spell disaster.

But Joaquín admitted that he had been overruled. So he led his band of Navajos in a separation from the war faction that now dominated the tribe.

Alcalde Sánchez Vergara was astonished and sent a message to Gov. Pedro María Allande at Santa Fe. In it he wrote of the helpful and friendly attitude of the headman and of his promise to accompany the Spaniards in campaigns against the Navajos.

Historian Frank McNitt, a Navajo history expert, has written that Joaquín’s defection produced a lasting division within the tribe. No one at the time, however, fully understood that.

Immediately apparent, though, was the betrayal and the band’s new alliance with the Spanish forces, which placed all of them in grave danger, facing as they did, retaliation from their former co-tribesmen.
Joaquín’s answer to that threat was to pull his people out of their mountain homes to the west and to relocate them in new encampments close to Jemez Pueblo. That move was later approved by a Spanish treaty.

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