FORT SUMNER — Gov. Bill Richardson and other state officials broke ground on a Bosque Redondo Memorial for the Navajo and Mescalero Indian Tribes on Wednesday morning, more than a century after American military officials forced 8,500 Navajos to relocate here from their homelands.
The history department at Eastern New Mexico University has a vested interest in focusing on the 1863-1868 Bosque Redondo Experience, where more than 1,000 Native Americans died in what is now called the “Long Walk.”
Officials at ENMU have agreed to provide technical assistance in developing and monitoring the project. And by 2004, ENMU educational programs will assist in the understanding and reconciliation of the historical events associated with the Bosque Redondo experience.
“There is a history here on this land and it does have some meaning for Native American people,” said Department of Cultural Affairs secretary Stuart Ashman, who is a member of the Navajo Nation.
State officials said getting the memorial to Fort Sumner has been at least a 10-year project. It will be located near Billy the Kid’s grave about 3 miles southeast of Fort Sumner.
Sporting a denim shirt, tan suit and one of his classic bolo ties, Richardson praised community effort — from De Baca county commissioners to state senators — in finally getting the memorial to Fort Sumner.
“This recognition is a long time coming,” Richardson said. “We’re not here to celebrate this historic event. What we’re here to do is pay tribute to the Navajo and Mescalero Apaches that persevered and overcame diversity.”
On a chilly, overcast day about 300 people attended the ceremony, including ENMU President Dr. Steven Gamble, Sen. Stuart Ingle and students from Fort Sumner schools.
The relocation efforts began for the Navajo Tribe in 1864, when troops led by Kit Carson destroyed crops and animals belonging to more than 8,500 Navajos. Carson forced the Navajos to submit to a 350-mile walk away from their homes to the wind-battered plains of Fort Sumner.
In contrast, the 400 Mescalero Apaches were offered refuge at the Bosque Redondo to wait out peace treaty negotiations. Historical accounts reveal the Mescalero were never incarcerated or forced to live in Fort Sumner like the Navajo.
By the fall of 1865, the Mescalero returned to their homelands to the south. And in 1868 the United States signed a treaty with the Navajo Tribe.
Richardson said he believes the memorial would be open to the public next summer.