The development of federal Indian policy toward the Navajo, 1846-1852



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The purpose of this study was to demonstrate that the development of federal Indian policy toward the Navajo was not the mature evaluation of the best means to achieve peace that it should have been. On the contrary, it reflected a clear determination to favor that ambitions of a local interest group at the expense of the Navajo tribe. For centuries a Pueblo-New Mexican coalition had engaged the Navajo in a bitter struggle for control of New Mexico. When the United States seized the territory in 1846, it quickly identified its own national interests with those of this coalition. An alliance between the United States and the Pueblo-New Mexican coalition set that nation upon a collision course with the Navajo. Except for an introductory chapter dealing with the historical background of the Pueblo-New Mexican coalition, almost all research in this study was done in government documents, private diaries, and official correspondence taken from the period under examination. Of particular value was the official correspondence of James S. Calhoun. Calhoun served as the first Indian agent for New Mexico in 1849 and became its first territorial governor in 1851. In both positions he had primary responsibility for the implementation of a federal policy toward the Navajo. It was through Calhoun that the Pueblo-New Mexican coalition exercised its greatest influence. This study revealed that the distinctive feature of federal Indian policy in New Mexico was that the national government at Washington had very little to do with its development. The problem of Indian relations was left almost entirely to local federal officials residing in New Mexico. Those officials received very little support from the central government and almost no guidance. Left to their own deices and whatever resources were at hand, the policies developed by those officials represented the attitudes and interests of the people of New Mexico, not the federal government at Washington. The conclusion of this study, then, was that the policy of the federal government toward the Navajo Indians was a product of local influences. The interests of the Pueblo-New Mexican coalition were the most prominent of those influences.



Navajo Indians--Government relations.