From New Tracks in North America,
By William A. Bell
London: Chapman and Hall, 1869; rpt. New York: Scribner, Welford & Co., 1870

Sioux Lodges or Tents
Navajo Braves
1870 Illustration
Navajo Indians

[From] Chapter III. Life on the Plains.

Never before had hostility to the pale-face raged so fiercely in the hearts of the Indians of the plains, and never had so large a combination of tribes, usually at war with each other, been formed to stop the advance of the road-makers. From Dakota to the borders of Texas every tribe, save the Utes, had put on war paint, and had mounted their war steeds. Reports came from the north that the Crows and Blackfoots had made friends with the Sioux, and from the south that the Cheyennes and Arapahoes, the Kiowas and Comanches, had been seen in large bodies crossing the Arkansas, and moving northward. The horrors of the last summer were fresh in the minds of the frontier men, who remembered many a comrade scalped by the red-skins. They laughed at the treaties of the Fall, at General Sherman's councils, and Samborn's wagon-trains laden with gifts. They said, "Wait till the spring, till the frost is out of the ground, and the grass is green and abundant, and then see how the savages will keep their treaties." This season had arrived, and the Indian horizon looked blacker than ever. The Fort Kearney massacre, in which some of the wives of the officers were brutally murdered, and the energetic demands of the railway company on the State had resulted in a considerable military force being sent into Nebraska to protect the road to Salt Lake. This had the effect of driving many additional bands of Indian warriors southward, to harass the poorly-guarded route along the Smoky Hill Fork.

The warriors in many a big talk had sworn to clear their hunting-grounds of the hated intruder. He should no longer drive away their game, or build embankments and put down stakes across their broad lands. So they commenced the fight in their own fashion.

[From] Chapter V. A Fortnight at Fort Wallace.

I have seen in days gone by sights horrible and gory--death in all its forms of agony and distortion--but never did I feel the sickening sensation, the giddy, fainting feeling that came over me when I saw our dead, drying and wounded after this Indian fight. A handful of men, to be sure, but with enough wounds upon them to have slain a company, if evenly distributed. The bugler was stripped naked, and five arrows driven through him, while his skull was literally smashed to atoms. Another soldier was shot with four bullets and three arrows, his scalp was torn off, and his brains knocked out. A third was riddled with balls and arrows; but they did not succeed in getting his scalp, although, like the other two, he was stripped naked. James Douglas, a Scotchman, was shot through the body with arrows, and his left arm was hacked to pieces. He was a brave fellow, and breathed out his life in the arms of his comrades. Another man, named Welsh, was killed, but all subsequent search failed to discover his remains. Sergeant Wylyams lay dead beside his horse; and as the fearful picture first met my gaze, I was horror-stricken. Horse and rider were stripped bare of trapping and clothes, while around them the trampled, blood-stained ground showed the desperation of the struggle.

I shall minutely describe this horrid sight, not for the sake of creating a sensation, but because it is characteristic of a mode of warfare soon--thank God!--to be abolished; and because the mutilations have, as we shall presently see, most of them some meaning, apart from brutality and a desire to inspire fear.

A portion of the sergeant's scalp lay near him, but the greater part was gone; through his head a rifle-ball had passed, and a blow from the tomahawk had laid his brain open above his left eye; the nose was slit up, and his throat was cut from ear to ear; seven arrows were standing in different parts of his naked body; the breast was laid open, so as to expose the heart; and the arm, that had doubtless done its work against the red-skins, was hacked to the bone; his legs, from the hip to the knee, lay open with horrible gashes, and from the knee to the foot they had cut the flesh with their knives. Thus mutilated, Wylyams lay beside the mangled horse. In all, there were seven killed and five wounded.

As I have said, almost all the different tribes on the plains had united their forces against us, and each of these tribes has a different sign by which it is known.

The sign of the Cheyenne, or "Cut arm," is made in peace by drawing the hand across the arm, to imitate cutting it with a knife; that of the Arapahoe, or "Smeller tribe," by seizing the nose with the thumb and fore-finger; of the Sioux, or "Cut-throat," by drawing the hand across the throat. The Comanche, or "Snake Indian," waves his hand and arm, in imitation of the crawling of a snake; the Crow imitates with his hands the flapping of wings; the Pawnee, or "Wolf Indian," places two fingers erect on each side of his head, to represent pointed ears; the Blackfoot touches the heel, and then the toe, of the right foot; and the Kiowa's most usual sign is to imitate the act of drinking.

If we now turn to the body of poor Sergeant Wylyams, we shall have no difficulty in recognising some meaning in the wounds. The muscles of the right arm, hacked to the bone, speak of the Cheyennes, or "Cut arms;" the nose slit denotes the "Smeller tribe," or Arapahoes; and the throat cut bears witness that the Sioux were also present. There were, therefore, amongst the warriors Cheyennes, Arapahoes, and Sioux. It was not till some time afterwards that I knew positively what these signs meant, and I have not yet discovered what tribe was indicated by the incisions down the thighs, and the laceration of the calves of the legs, in oblique parallel gashes. The arrows also varied in make and colour, according to the tribe; and it was evident, from the number of different devices, that warriors from several tribes had each purposely left one in the dead man's body.

I had made the acquaintance of poor Sergeant Wylyams only the day before. He was an Englishman, educated at Eton, and of good family, but while sowing his wild oats, he had made a fatal alliance in London, and gone to grief.


Disowned by his family, he had emigrated to America, joined the army, and was daily expecting promotion out of the ranks.

The day on which he was killed he had promised to help me in printing off some copies of the photographs which I had taken on the way. I had to print off my negatives alone, and to take a photograph of him, poor fellow, as he lay; a copy of which I sent to Washington, that the authorities should see for themselves how their soldiers were treated on the plains.

[From] Part II: The Native Races of New Mexico.
[From] Chapter II: The Wild Tribes.

IN nature, the productive and the destructive elements are everywhere found side by side, and not only is this true as an abstract principle of actual existence, but there is not a creature without natural enemies who prey upon it and live by its destruction.

Civilised man, however, although he lives by the destruction of life, animal as well as vegetable, takes care to reproduce by artificial means as much as, if not more than, he destroys; the savage, however, does not always do so, and when he does not, this is surely a proof that he is not destined by Providence permanently to exist. . . .

Governor Charles Bent thus spoke of them in 1846:--"The Navajos are an industrious, intelligent, and warlike race of Indians, who cultivate the soil, and raise sufficient grain and fruits of various kinds for their own consumption. They are the owners of large herds and flocks of cattle, sheep, horses, mules, and asses. It is estimated that the tribe possesses thirty thousand head of horses, mules, and asses. It is not rare for one individual to possess from five to ten thousand sheep, and four or five hundred head of other stock. Their own horses and sheep are said to be greatly superior to those reared by the Mexicans; but a large portion of their stock has been acquired by marauding expeditions against the settlements of this territory. They roam over the country, between the waters of the River San Juan on the north, and those of the Gila on the south. This country is about 150 miles wide, consisting of high table mountains, difficult of access, affording them as yet effectual protection against their enemies. Water is scarce, and difficult to be found by those not acquainted with the country, affording them another natural safeguard against invasion. Their numbers are variously estimated at from one to two thousand families, or about fourteen thousand souls. The Navajos, so far as I am informed, are the only nation on the continent, having intercourse with white men, that is increasing in numbers. They have in their possession many prisoners--men, women, and children--taken from the settlements of this territory, whom they hold and treat as slaves."

Such was their condition in 1846; since then their history has been one long series of misfortunes. As far back as any information can be obtained about them, they have been at war with the Mexicans and white men, the system of reprisals being sytematically carried out on both sides. The Mexicans of one settlement would collect together, and make a raid on a marauding band of Navajos, capturing all they could, not only in stock, but in women and children. The Indians would retaliate, not caring particularly whether it was the aggressors or some peaceful neighbours they attacked in return. This being the state of affairs, we find even as early as the autumn of the first year of possession, that General Kearney (United States army) gave orders to Colonel A. W. Doniphan, then in California, to march against the Navajos; and to Governor Bent, advising him that "full permission should be given to the citizens of New Mexico to march in independent companies against these Indians, for the purpose of making reprisals, and for the recovery of property and prisoners."

From this time until 1863 war has been unceasing with this hardy tribe. Their hand has been against every one, and every one's hand has been against them; even the Pueblos left their villages and joined the whites against them; and as they had actual property in corn-fields, flocks, and herds, they could not, like their wild neighbours, the Apaches, who lived by the chase and marauding only, altogether escape from the hands of the military. It was cruel work, however necessary.

I have spoken to many who helped to humble the Navajos. As soon as harvest time approached, the soldiers would enter their country, year after year; they say that the corn-fields were splendid, but they cut them all down, and fired the district wherever they went, driving off sheep, sometimes to the number of seventy thousand in a single raid, and oxen also by thousands. When them were no crops to destroy, and no apparent enemy to be found, or flocks to drive off, the military would encamp at the different springs, and try by this means to destroy the remnant of their stock; but in this, for a long time, they were unsuccessful, for the Navajo sheep, probably from force of habit, could thrive if only watered once every third or fourth day, and thus it happened that when the troops had guarded a spring long enough, as they supposed, to prove that no Indians or flocks were in that district, and had left to go to another, the Navajos, who were quietly grazing their cattle in the secluded nooks amongst the hills hard by, came down to the spring and refreshed themselves with perfect impunity.

Year after year they boldly held out, and plunder became to them a necessity of existence, for they had no other means of support. At last, however, this never-ceasing hostility reduced the whole tribe to utter destitution, nor did they give up until they were literally starving. In 1863 the first large section of them--I believe about five thousand in number--delivered themselves up to the government. They were removed from their own country, and placed upon a large reservation on the Rio Pecos, and old Fort Summer, which had been abandoned, was re-established in the centre of the reservation, for the purpose of carrying out the design of the government towards them. Since then, nearly all the remains of the tribe have delivered themselves up, and to the number of about seven thousand five hundred have been placed on the reservation Mr. Ward is of opinion that a very small fraction indeed of this once powerful tribe is now at large in the country north of the Rio Colorado, and in Utah Territory; but since, for y ears before they gave in, the advantage has been on the side of the settlers against the Navajos, he assures me that there are at the present time not less than two thousand captives in the hands of the Mexicans, who profess to bring them up, and to take care of them as members of their families and households.

As regards the present condition of the Indians on the Bosque reservation, I cannot do better than give a short quotation from the Report of Colonel A. B. Norton (Superintendent of Indian Affairs in New Mexico) for the year 1866:--"At Fort Summer this tribe has about two thousand five hundred acres of land under cultivation, mostly in Indian corn, with an admirable system of irrigation. The water, however, is very poor in quality, and wood so scarce, that it has to be hauled from twenty-five to thirty miles to the post, while the mezquit root, the only wood used by them for fuel, must soon give out. Add to this that the Comanches make constant raids upon them, to within a few miles of the fort, and as they are very little able to protect themselves, this adds still more to their discontent. Of the state of health and morals of these Navajos, the hospital reports give a woeful account. The tale is not half told, because they have such an aversion to the hospital that but few of those taken sick will ever go there, and so they are fast diminishing in cumbers; while the births are many, the deaths are more. Discontent fills every breast of this brave and light-hearted tribe, and a piteous cry comes from all as they think of their own far-off lands, 'Carry me back, carry me back !'" They have had a severe lesson and a terrible punishment, but when a railway traverses the country, they may with perfect safety be allowed to return to their own land, now parched and desolate, but still so yearned for by these unhappy prisoners.

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