|The Navajo Indian: Culture, Customs, Beliefs
and the WW II Code Talkers
Though poor, the reservation looks peaceful. But, this was not always the case. The Navajo
Indians penchant for raiding others to obtain needed food and items, which all Southwest
tribes had always done, actually led them into a war with the U.S. Military.
When the Mexican-American War ended in 1848, as part of the treaty agreement Mexico
had given the U.S. the Indian lands in the Southwest, including the Navajo homeland.
Following 10 years of back and forth raiding and conflicts between the Navajo and
Americans, over one thousand Navajo warriors attacked Fort Defiance (now part of Arizona).
It fierce fighting, the Navajo almost took the fort, but were beaten back.
The focus by the U.S. Military during the Civil War caused a lull in the conflict with the
Indians, but in 1863, Col. Kit Carson was sent to subdue the Navajo Indians once and for all.
Carson's soldiers laid waste to everything the Navajo had. They burned and pillaged crops
and villages, and took the Navajo livestock, which forced many to surrender because they
could not survive the Winter without food and shelter.
The surrender led to the "Long Walk," forcing 8,000 Navajo Indians to relocate to a
reservation in New Mexico. Many died on the way or while in captivity.
The Apache, who had also been consistently raiding settlers and other tribes, was also sent
to Bosque Redondo, meaning "Round Grove of Trees." which referred to a grove of
standing alone in the vast barren flat of the Pecos River Valley where both the Navajo and
Apache tribes were held captive until 1868.
Raiding settlers or the military could no longer supplement their traditional hunting and
gathering methods of survival. They turned to herding sheep, growing corn and making
beautiful jewelry to sell to tourists. Read About the silver Navajo Squash Blossom
Navajo Code Talkers
During World War II, the Navajo joined forces with the U.S. Military providing a unique
service. A secret code was created making use of the Navajo language, which could be
deciphered only by Navajo speaking people, who were called "Code Talkers."
A group of 29 Navajo Indians went to boot camp at Pendleton, Oceanside, California in 1942.
They helped to create the code, developed a dictionary, which had to be memorized during
One of the Navajo Code Talkers was Carl Gorman, father of the famous Navajo painter R.C.
Gorman. Carl painted 2 pictures of his memories as a code- talker. We proudly own a signed,
first edition of the painting pictured below.
WW II code talker, Carl Gorman
painted "The Code Talkers" when he
returned from the War in the Pacific.
Great biography with photos of
Navajo Code Talker, painter and Unversity
of California professor:
Sandpainting developed among the Navajo as a spiritual way to heal the sick. Each
sandpainting is temporary, being made in a smooth bed of sand. The Navajo sandpainter uses
crushed yellow ochre, red sandstone, charcoal and gypsum to create an image during chants
whereby the "Earth People" and the "Holy People" come back into harmony, which provides
healing and prioctection to the Navajo.
The Navajo Reservation, called Diné Bikéyah, or Navajoland, spreads into Arizona, New
Mexico, and Utah, and includes 27,000 square miles of beautiful, sun-baked, red cliffs with
multiple layered colors of adobe. Yet, most of their dwellings are modest to poor.
A nomadic people, the Navajo Indian
Tribe migrated to the Southwest
from Western Canada about 1050
A.D, where they established a
homeland between the Colorado
River, the San Juan River and the Rio
Navajo Indians subsisted by hunting
and gathering, but, supplemented this
by raiding first, other tribes, and
later, European settlers for the food
and items they needed. This is also
true of other Native American tribes.
Navajo Indians consider the land to be their mother, and that they are the extension of
"Mother Earth." They have maintained a tremendous respect for the earth down through
Window Rock on the Navajo Indian Reservation
Four hundred Navajo Indians were trained as
"code talkers" to encode, transmit and
decode secret military transmittals, which
they learned to do within 20 seconds. They
became part of the U.S. Marine assault to
regain Gudalcanal, Tarawa, Peleliu, and Iwo
Jima in the Pacific during 1942 to 1945.
The Japanese were never able to break the
Sadly, the Navajo were not recognized for
their contributions during World War II until
Sept. 17, 1992.
Navajo History and Culture
A new treaty was signed giving
the Navajo a reservation in the
Chuska mountains. Soon, the
Navajo made their way back
over the trail of their original
"Long Walk," to begin a new life
and vowing never again make war
with the U. S. Sheep Herding
would become a new way of life
for the Navajo Indian. See photo
on the right.