Navajo Chief Barboncito (1821–1871) played an important role in the negotiations that helped the Navajo return to the Four Corners region in 1868. Fluent in Navajo and Spanish, Barboncito communicated with US negotiators, who used translators that were fluent in English and Spanish, to draft a dual language treaty that would allow the Navajo to return home, making them the first American Indian tribe able to do so.
The Navajo had lived in Bosque Redondo from 1864–1868. Arriving by forced relocation that put an end to the Navajo Wars at the command of General James Carleton and carried out by Colonel Christopher “Kit” Carson, the Navajo internment camp refinement period proved to be a failure due to the high cost required to maintain provisions to keep the Navajo alive. Due to poor soil conditions and resource constraints, the United States needed to rethink their role in confining the Navajo.
In addition to negotiating with the United States regarding Navajo internment, Barboncito was also a spiritual leader and medicine man who gained prominence alongside Chief Manulito and Ganado Mucho due to their diplomacy and oratory skills. When it came time to discuss treaty provisions, Barboncito rejected General William Sherman’s offer to relocate the Navajo to Indian Country in Oklahoma. Fearing that Oklahoma would be similar to Bosque Redondo, Barboncito advocated on behalf of himself and the 9,000 other Navajo that they would be a peaceful people upon their return home, declaring that the area between the four sacred mountains was created and given to them by their gods, First Man and First Woman, solely for them.
The treaty was signed and made official on June 1, 1868. After returning home and following the creation of the Navajo reservation system, Barboncito kept his word, and the Navajo no longer engaged in warring behavior against neighboring white settlements. Compared to the initial reservation boundary, the territory has since tripled in size, currently covering an area the size of West Virginia. The Navajo today can enjoy their ancestral land and continue to teach their traditions and cultures thanks to men like Chief Barboncito.