Navajo Livestock Reduction

The Navajo Livestock Reduction was imposed upon the Navajo Nation by the federal government in the 1930s. [1] During the 1920s and into the 30s, the Federal Government decided that the land of the Navajo Nation could not support the increasingly large flocks of goats and sheep and the herds of cattle and wild horses. Land erosion was observed in many parts of the Nation. Many federal officials concluded that the only solution was to drastically reduce the livestock. In 1933, John Collier was appointed Commissioner of what is now called the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Almost immediately, he set out to drastically reduce the livestock on the lands of the Navajo Nation with little to no input from the Navajo people.[2] The government established a quota for different types of livestock on specific areas of the reservation. The reasons given for the policy was over grazing of the reservation by livestock. The government slaughtered a majority of the livestock to reach the quotas it established, without Navajo agreement. The livestock quota system is still being used today.

Sheep and horses were brought to North America and the South West by the Spanish. By the 18th century, the Navajo had flocks of sheep and herds of horses. Most of these were killed or taken as part of the events leading to the Long Walk. The United States Government and Navajo signed a treaty that returned the Navajo to their traditional lands. One of the 1868 treaty provisions was that each Navajo family was to be given two sheep, one male and one female.

Navajos were good shepherds and increased their livestock over the next 60 years. Not only did their reservation increase in size, but the federal government finally was able to stop raiding and looting of the Navajo by outsiders. The Navajo were able to market their wool both as raw material and as beautiful Navajo rugs. These were some reasons that their sheep population went from 15,000 in the 1870s to 500,000 in the 1920s.

The Navajo's success led to overgrazing. The federal government at first recommended that the numbers of livestock on the reservation be dramatically reduced. This went against many Navajo traditions, not to mention devastated their economy. For example, the Navajos considered their livestock sacred and no different from family. The chairman of the Navajo Tribal Council, Thomas Dodge, tried to present the government's arguments to the people. Because of the strong cultural and economic importance of the livestock, he was unable to sway most of the people..[3] The federal government decided to take action into their own hands and exterminated over 80% of the livestock on the reservation. To Navajos this became known as the Second Long Walk because of the major impact it had on their way of life.


  1. ^ Peter Iverson, "Dine: A History of the Navajos", 2002, University of New Mexico Press, Chapter 5, "our People Cried": 1923-1941.
  2. ^ Peter Iverson, "Dine: A History of the Navajos", 2002, University of New Mexico Press, page 144
  3. ^ Peter Iverson, "Dine: A History of the Navajos", 2002, University of New Mexico Press, pages 147-151

Compiled (1974). Roessel, Ruth. ed. Navajo Livestock Reduction: A National Disgrace. Tsaile, Arizona: Navajo Community College Press. ISBN 0-912586-18-4.  The Navajo Indians and Federal Indian Policy. by Lawrence C. Kelly. Tucson, Arizona: University of Arizona Press, 1974: p. 112. Navajo Livestock Reduction: A National Disgrace. Navajo Community College, 1974: p. 24.

Reference: Spicer, E[dward] H. with John Collier. “Sheepmen and Technicians: A Program of Soil Conservation on the Navajo Indian Reservation.” Human Problems in Technological Change: A Casebook. Ed. Edward H. Spicer. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1952. 185-207.

See: Robert S. McPherson, The Northern Navajo Frontier 1860-1900 (1988); Garrick and Roberta Bailey, A History of the Navajo: The Reservation Years (1986); Alfonso Ortiz, ed., Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 10 (1983).

Anderson, B. A. 1993. Wupatki National Monument: Exploring into prehistory. pp. 13–19 In: Noble, D. G., editor. Wupatki and Walnut Canyon: New Perspectives on History, Prehistory and Rock Art. Ancient City Press, Santa Fe, NM.

Bailey, L. R. 1980. If you take my sheep: the evolution and conflicts of Navajo pastoralism, 1630-1868. Westernlore Publishing, Pasadena, CA.

Bailey, G. and Bailey, R. G. 1986. A History of the Navajos: The Reservation Years. School of American Research Press, Santa Fe, NM, 360 pp.

Brugge, D. M. 1980. A history of the Chaco Navajos. Reports of the Chaco Center No. 4. National Park Service Division of Cultural Research, Albuquerque, NM.

Brugge, D. M. 1986. Tsegai: An Archaeological Ethnohistory of the Chaco Region. Publications in Archaeology 18C. National Park Service, Washington, D.C., 191 pp.

Clark, S. P. 1928. Lessons from southwestern Indian agriculture. Agricultural Experiment Bulletin 125. University of Arizona, Tucson.

Dobyns, H. F. and Euler, R. C. 1977. The Navajo Indians. Indian Tribal Service, Phoenix, AZ, 124 pp.

Gabriel, K. 1992. Marietta Wetherill: Reflections on Life with the Navajos in Chaco Canyon. Johnson Books, Boulder, CO.

Goldfrank, E. S. 1945. Irrigation agriculture and Navajo community leadership. American Anthropologist 47: 263.

Goodman, J. M. 1982. The Navajo Atlas: Environments, Resources, People, and History of the Diné Bikeyah. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

Graf, W. L. 1986. Fluvial erosion and federal public policy in the Navajo Nation. Physical Geography 7: 97-115.

Hall, E. T. 1994. West of the Thirties: Discoveries Among the Navajo and Hopi. Anchor Books, New York, NY.

Haskett, B. 1936. History of the sheep industry in Arizona. Arizona Historical Review 7: 6-10.

Kelley, K. B. 1986. Navajo Land Use: An Ethnoarchaeological Study. Academic Press, Orlando, FL.

Kessell, J. L. 1981. General Sherman and the Navajo Treaty of 1868: A basic and expedient misunderstanding. The Western Historical Quarterly XII: 251-272.

Kluckhohn, C. and Leighton, D. 1946, revised 1974. The Navaho. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 355 pp.

Lewis, D. R. 1995. Native Americans and the environment: A survey of twentieth century issues. American Indian Quarterly 19.

McPherson, R. S. 1988. The Northern Navajo Frontier: 1860-1900 Expansion Through Adversity. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 133 pp.

Newcomb, F. J. 1966. Navaho Neighbors. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 238 pp.

Richmond, A. J. and Baron, W. R. 1989. Precipitation, range carrying capacity and Navajo livestock raising, 1870-1975. Agricultural History 63: 217-230.

Roberts, A. 1993. The Wupatki Navajos: An historical sketch. pp. 28–33 In: Noble, D. G., editor. Wupatki and Walnut Canyon: New Perspectives on History, Prehistory and Rock Art. Ancient City Press, Santa Fe, NM.

Roessel, R. and Johnson, B. H. 1974. Navajo Livestock Reduction: A National Disgrace. Navajo Community College Press, Tsaile.

Savage, M. and Swetnam, T. W. 1990. Early 19th-century fire decline following sheep pasturing in a Navajo ponderosa pine forest. Ecology 71: 2374-2378.

Spicer, E. H. 1962. Cycles of Conquest: The impact of Spain, Mexico, and the United States on the Indians of the Southwest, 1533-1960. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 609 pp.

Supplee, C., Anderson, D. and Anderson, B. 1974. Canyon de Chelly: The Story Behind the Scenery. KC Publications, Las Vegas, NV, 32 pp.

Trimble, S. 1993. The People: Indians of the American Southwest. School of American Research Press, Santa Fe, NM.

Aberle, David F. with Harvey C. Moore. The Peyote Religion among the Navaho. 2nd ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1982.

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