One of the many interesting aspects about this skirmish is outside of the 1947 Desert Magazine article and a two paragraph mention in Navajo Wars by Frank McNitt, I can find no other written record of the event.
But thanks to the descriptions of Naltsos Nalyai, who witnessed the event as a small boy (and, of course, the detailed map in the article) I thought it would be both possible and interesting to find the actual site.
Once again Vee came through although it sure wasn’t easy. As you can probably ascertain from the photos, over 150 years later it is still very remote and scenic country.
Barbara (my wife, if you didn’t already know that) and I hooked up with Vee in Window Rock on a beautiful October morning. After going north on BIA 12 for about ten miles, we took a right at Red Lake on BIA 31 and, like the Candelario party in 1860, headed deep into the heart of the Chuskas.
Well OK, there are a whole lot of differences: We were approaching from the west, they from the east, we were in an SUV, they were on horseback, they had lots of guns, the only thing we had to shoot were cameras, etc. etc. etc. – perhaps the most important difference was they had evil intentions. We had none of those.
After about two miles the paved road turned to dirt. Then, for the next nine plus miles, we only encountered two other human beings -a couple of young Navajo women who we “serendipitously” (as Barbara described it) ran into at an “intersection” near mile ten.
Until they came along we had no idea if we were on the right “track” -or even where we were for that matter. As it turned out they were going to Whiskey Lake to meet with their boyfriends who just happened to be logging south of the lake. How convenient! “Follow us”, they politely told us.
We did. For the next ten miles we drove behind their pickup along a very steep, rugged incline until we finally arrived at the lake.
After arriving we spent the next hour or so hiking around the lake, eventually reaching the edge of the plateau where Whiskey Lake is located. Vee commented a couple times how convenient it would be if only “trees could talk. I know many of them are old enough to have been here then.” I concurred, although I suspect in some places walking around talking to trees would cause some to wonder if I should be committed.
Check out the view below. Although my camera didn’t have a wide enough angle lens, we could see Shiprock (the formation, not the town) to the north and Chaco Canyon straight ahead.
Manuelito and his warriors were watching the Candelario party approach for several days before they arrived. Although I have no idea if it was from this spot, it would have served the purpose very well. The New Mexicans entered the Chuskas on a trail through the present day Naschitti, which can be seen in the center left of the photo on the plains in the distance.
I’m pretty sure we found the spot where the “massacre” took place although it was not until I returned home and re-read the article that I became certain. What convinced me were the following comments by Naltsos Nalyai:
“The Mexicans beat their plunging horses. Down the valley they stampeded. Like Jadi, the antelope, they were being herded into a hunting corral with no outlet.”
The first several times I read the article I thought Naltsos was speaking metaphorically, the “corral” being a wall of Navajo ambushers on all sides. However, as can be seen in the photo below, there actually was and still is a giant corral on the north side of the knoll north of Whiskey Lake. My first thought upon seeing the fence was it was most frequently used for livestock, both then and now. But in the 1860s it was also used to “corral” deer, antelope and slave raiders for the purpose of making the kill that much easier.
In other words, Naltsos Nalyai was speaking literally when I thought he was speaking metaphorically. My premise was confirmed when I received the following in an email from Vee a few days later. “I think we were in the right area…My sister said it (the corral) is (still) used for hunting deer.”
Suffice to say a good time was had by all. It was both an educational and enjoyable experience, one of the first of many I’m sure I’ll experience on my current writing adventure.