Navajo History: Narbona (Primero Ganado Mucho): 1766-1849

Narbona was one of the Navajo Chiefs who participated in the ‘Navajo Wars’. He was considered a great leader and warrior, as well as a distinguished negotiator and peace-maker. Narbona was one of the wealthiest Navajo of his time, wealth based on the amount of sheep and horses his family group owned. Because of his wealth, his status in the tribe, and his reputation as a great and just leader, he was influential in the negotiations with the Americans.

In the mid-1800’s, the U.S. military assumed nominal control of the southwest territory which the U.S. had purchased from Mexico in 1848. Between the early 1800’s and 1865, the ‘Navajo Wars’ took place in this territory. These were a series of battles that involved raids by different Navajo bands on the Spanish ranches along the Rio Grande and the counter campaigns by the Spanish, Mexican, and United States government, and civilians. The raiding and counter-raids began in the early 17th century and continued through 1865. Once the United States owned the land, they were compelled to address the violence in the southwest.

Narbona came to a position of prominence in the aftermath of the 1822 massacre of 24 Navajo leaders who had been travelling to a peace conference with the New Mexican government. In February 1835 he led the Navajo in a successful ambush of a Mexican expedition into the Chuska Mountains. The defeat of the Mexican expedition was considered so complete that the site of the battle, Copper Pass, is now known as Narbona Pass.

Although a great warrior, Narbona also realized the importance of peace for the future of his people. In August 1849, he rode with several hundred of his warriors to meet with a delegation led by Col. John M. Washington to discuss terms for peace between the Navajo and the Americans who now possessed the southwestern territory. After several misunderstandings, translators worked out an acceptable list of terms for peace between the two parties. As the peace council broke up, Sadoval, a young Navajo warrior of some distinction, began riding his horse before the Navajo warriors, encouraging the 300 warriors in attendance to break this new treaty immediately, starting with the massacre of Colonel Washington’s command.

At this tense point, a U.S. officer claimed that one of his horses had been taken and ridden off by one of the Navajo warriors. When Washington demanded that the horse be returned and the Navajo refused, Washington commanded his troops to fire on the Navajos. Narbona was killed in this fight on August 31, 1849.