How to provide service to parties in conflict . . .
In Blood And Thunder, his splendid account of the life of Kit Carson and the mid-19th-century conflicts in the American southwest, Hampton Sides chronicles the story of the Navajo as they fought the Spanish, other tribes, and finally the Americans, after the occupation of New Mexico by General Stephen Kearny in 1846. For most of the next twenty years, the relationship between the United States and the Navajos was troubled, but Hampton noted one exception:
“During the mid-1850s there was perhaps only one bright spot in the American-Navajo relationship. For a few brief years a truly competent man held the office of Indian agent to the Navajo people. His name was Henry Linn Dodge, a perceptive young man from Wisconsin who had lived for years in the territory.”
This brief mention caught my eye and doing some research, quickly learned that Henry Lafayette (not Linn) Dodge remains honored by the Navajo to this day. The first full biography of HL Dodge had been published very recently: Red Shirt: The Life And Times of Henry Lafayette Dodge by Lawrence D Sundberg, and serves as the primary source for this account.
The Dodge family was one of many that moved constantly across the young nation in search of a better life. HL’s grandfather, Israel Dodge, and his brother, John, emigrated west from Connecticut in the late 1770s, eventually making their way to Kaskaskia along the Mississippi River in modern-day Illinois. A rough, small settlement with a substantial percentage of the French population, Kaskaskia was isolated in the surrounding wilderness. The Dodge brothers were ambitious, rowdy and occasionally lawless as they sought their fortunes. Under the Treaty of Paris (1783), the area became part of the new United States but by the end of the decade the Dodges had worn out their welcome in Kaskaskia and relocated across the river to Saint Genevieve in the Spanish territory of Missouri (in the 1790s, the two towns were on the opposite side of the Mississippi but the river has since shifted its channel, leaving both on the west bank).
Israel’s son, Henry Dodge, who’d been left behind in Kentucky with Henry’s wife, rejoined his father in the early 1790s. Israel and young Henry prospered under the Spanish and, after the territory became part of the United States in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase, became mine and property owners as well as public officials. Henry was a lowly recruit in former Vice-President Aaron Burr’s conspiracy to detach the new Louisiana territories from the United States. Upon hearing of President Thomas Jefferson’s denunciation of Burr’s actions as an act of treason, Henry deserted Burr though he was subsequently indicted as a participant though the charges were eventually dropped. Three years later, in 1810, Henry Lafayette Dodge was born. HL never liked his given middle name (selected by his father in honor of Marquis de Lafayette; as a young soldier, Israel Dodge, and Lafayette had both been wounded at the Battle of Brandywine in 1777) and never used it once he’d left Wisconsin.
Henry Dodge became a general of the Missouri militia during the War of 1812. However, during the 1820s, the family’s financial fortunes suffered and, in 1827, Dodge moved the entire family, including HL, to the booming river town of Galena, Illinois, leaving behind a mountain of debt.
Shortly after arriving in Galena, Henry Dodge relocated his family once again into what is today Iowa County, Wisconsin in the southwestern part of the territory. The settlement he helped found became known as Dodgeville and is today the county seat. In the Black Hawk War of 1832, “General” Dodge commanded the territorial militia, leading them during the final battle of the campaign against the Sauk and Fox Indians in which 22-year old HL served as a lieutenant. Like many frontier wars, it originated in a welter of confusion and misunderstandings and ended in slaughter.
In 1833, President Andrew Jackson appointed Henry Dodge commander of the First Regiment of United States Dragoons. Among his junior officers were Stephen Kearny, who would later conquer New Mexico, and Jefferson Davis (who despised Dodge). Three years later, Jackson named Dodge the first governor of the new Wisconsin Territory, a role in which he served until 1841 and then again from 1845 to 1848, when Wisconsin was admitted to the Union and Dodge became its first senator.
In the same year, HL married Adele Bequette, whom he had known in Saint Genevieve. For reasons that remain unclear, Henry Dodge selected HL’s younger brother, Augustus, as his political heir and began grooming him for higher things, though HL continued to look after the family business interests. August Caesar Dodge became Iowa’s first territorial delegate to the U.S. Congress and then one of the state’s first two senators after its admission to the Union. Augustus Caesar and Henry Dodge are the only father and son to serve in the U.S. Senate at the same time.
HL and Adele soon started a family, having four children and, from 1838 through 1843, HL served as postmaster at Dodgeville, along with running an inn and store in the town (the post office was housed in the store – synergy!). Like his father and brother, HL was active in Democratic party politics and in 1843 was elected Sheriff of Iowa County, uneventfully holding the office until December 1844 when he became a clerk of the U.S. District Court for Iowa County.
Then, in May 1846, HL Dodge vanished from Wisconsin, leaving his wife and children, never to see them again. His presence is next documented on August 28, 1846, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, when Stephen Kearny, in the process of establishing a civil administration for the newly conquered territory announced:
Henry L Dodge is appointed Treasurer of Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the place of Francisco Ortis, who, in consequence of sickness, is unable to perform the duties.
Why did HL leave Wisconsin, leaving his wife and young children to a life of poverty (though General Dodge did his best to help the family over the years)? In Red Shirt, Sundberg tries to unravel the mystery. Though HL had business debts and been arrested a couple of times for assault and battery, Sundberg’s speculation centers around a sworn deposition given by Andrew J Hewett on May 21, 1846, just after Dodge disappeared. Hewett had sued Dodge for an unpaid debt of $124 and according to Sundberg’s summary of the deposition:
He knew for a fact that Henry L Dodge had left Wisconsin and that “he has had very grave and serious family difficulties” and that Adele had “separated from him”‘. He also flatly stated that Dodge had left his home “at a late hour of the night taking his clothing with him”.
Sundberg goes on to speculate, based upon some complicated family history, that what may have driven HL Dodge to leave was his wife’s discovery that he had two illegitimate children while they were married. As the author notes:
Political infighting, duels and pummelings, debts and deceptions and fraud; all those peccadilloes were discussed openly in Wisconsin . . . but in the personal letters and in the press one subject was never addressed directly and only alluded to with the most circumspect similes. That was the subject of sex and extra-marital sex.
With General Dodge governor of the territory and pushing for statehood amidst his political enemies, a scandal involving his son could have been devastating and he may have helped in his son’s flight through his connection with Stephen Kearny. On May 13, 1846, the United States had declared war on Mexico. In anticipation, Kearny had earlier been ordered to assemble an army at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, near the Missouri border, with instructions to march on Santa Fe, once war was declared.
Kearny’s Army of the West did not leave until the end of June 1846, giving HL plenty of time to make the journey from Wisconsin and join the expedition. It is very possible HL carried a letter from his father to Kearny. HL did not enlist, nor is he shown on any roster of teamsters so it is uncertain in what capacity he accompanied the 2,000 man army on its journey across the Great Plains, a great feat of logistics, planning and leadership by Kearny who later in the year, accompanied by a little more than 100 dragoons, undertook another epic journey, guided by Kit Carson, across the southwest desert to San Diego.
Kearny was able to occupy Santa Fe without a fight, entering on August 18 and quickly moving to establish civil government, leading to HL Dodge’s appointment.
The world Kearny and the other Americans entered was different from anything they’d seen before. There was the constant light and blue sky amidst dramatic rock formations with little grass or forest. The Spanish colony (part of the new nation of Mexico since 1821) was in many respects unchanged since its founding in the late 16th century as the second European settlement within the boundaries of what was to become the United States. Isolated by 1,000 miles from the nearest substantial settlements in Spanish Mexico it had existed as a beleaguered outpost, from which at one time the native Pueblos had temporarily expelled the settlers. For 250 years, the Spanish (now Mexicans) and Indians had existed in a state of perpetual hostility. To the east was the Comanche who ruled the Great Plains. To the north, south and west, the Apache (Jicarillo, Chiricahua, Mescalero), Utes, Navajo and other tribes. Both sides raided each other for sheep, horses, and slaves. Not only did the tribes fight the Mexicans but they were constantly at war with each other.
The largest and most feared of the tribes were the Navajo, with an estimated population of 10-12,000, having settled the area perhaps 400 years earlier after having traveled south along the front of the Rocky Mountains from the northern plains. Unlike their counterparts on the Great Plains, the Navajo were a pastoral people herding large flocks of thousands of sheep, cultivating crops, including large orchards of peach trees in the Canyon de Chelly in the heart of their homeland, which covered all of central and northern New Mexico west of the Rio Grande, northeastern Arizona and southeastern Utah, and lived in semi-permanent dwellings. Like most tribes, they were very loosely organized with no formal governing structure, a situation incomprehensible to the Americans they were soon to encounter.
The living conditions for the Mexicans were primitive even by the standards of frontier Americans. Sundberg writes:
“To the unprepared American traveler, it was as if he’d suddenly dropped through a hole in the modern world and landed with a thud on the outskirts of biblical Jerusalem.
The Indians were baffled by American attempts to arrange treaties and a cessation of hostilities. Initially, the tribes were pleased that the Americans had defeated the Mexicans, but they could not understand why they couldn’t continue to raid their settlements. On November 23, 1846, the American army met with the Navajo near present-day Gallup, New Mexico to discuss a treaty. Zarcillos Largo, one of the tribe’s headmen is recorded as telling the Americans:
“You have a strange cause of war against the Navajos. We have waged war against New Mexicans for several years. We have plundered their villages and killed many of their people, and made many prisoners. We had just cause for all this. You have lately commenced a war against the same people. You are powerful. You have great guns and many brave soldiers. You have therefore, conquered them, the very thing we have been attempting to do for so many years. You now turn upon us for attempting to do what you have done yourselves. We cannot see why you have cause of a quarrel with us for fighting the New Mexicans on the west, while you do the same thing on the east. Look how matters stand. This is our war. We have more right to complain of you interfering in our war, than you have to quarrel with us for continuing a war we had begun long before you got here.
A treaty was arranged, but it quickly broke down among mutual misunderstandings, the continuing hostility of the Mexican population, quarrels among the tribes and the insistence of the Americans on imposing a governance structure on the tribes that simply didn’t make any sense in their world. Even with that, Largos later told the Americans that the Navajo were willing to join them “at any time [to fight] against the Mexicans“.
The next decade saw a constant series of crises between the Americans, the Mexicans and the tribes brought on by raids, random murders, kidnapping for purposes of slavery, rustling and every kind of unruly activity. Things got bad that in 1852, the commander of the American garrison wrote the Secretary of War recommending giving up the territory:
“New Mexico was clearly a waste of American effort and money. The ‘class of our people’ would never want to live there. The country was so lawless that only a military dictatorship could suppress the chaos. The colonel suggested pulling out altogether and giving the territory back to the Mexicans, leaving them enough weapons to fight off the wild Indians”.
Secretary of War Conrad endorsed the idea and there was talk of turning the entire territory into an Indian reservation, though the opposition of the local Mexican population carried the day.
This was the situation in which Henry L Dodge found himself. On July 15, 1847, he enlisted as a private in the Santa Fe Battalion of Mounted Volunteers. In enlistment papers, he is described as 5’9″, with a florid complexion, gray eyes, dark hair, and his occupation as a lawyer.
We can tell a few more things about HL Dodge; he was smart, had a sense of humor, an easygoing and open personality, was good with languages, quickly learning Spanish and passable Navajo, seemed less burdened with some of the common prejudices of the day, and liked the ladies.
After serving in Santa Fe and Taos, Dodge was discharged on August 28, 1848. In November he was appointed Notary Public for Santa Fe, a financially lucrative post signaling he had established strong political connections.
By March 1849 he was back in the military as captain of an infantry company composed of sixty men, mostly Mexican. He participated in an expedition that summer against the Ute and Jicarilla in northern New Mexico. While the expedition was underway, a fiasco occurred in which a group of Navajo leaders at a gathering at a military outpost was the subject of an outburst of violence caused by yet another misunderstanding. Several Navajos were killed by American soldiers, including Narbona, the 80-year-old senior headman of the tribe. Lodge was involved in trying to prevent this event from triggering war and in September the Navajo agreed to another treaty. HL was the only American commended in reports to the U.S. Commissioner for Indian Affairs.
A few weeks after being mustered out of the army in late September, Dodge was appointed Quartermaster and Commissary agent for a new army outpost at Ciboletta, about 50 miles west of Alburquerque, near the Laguna pueblo. His job was to find and procure supplies for the dragoons stationed in the remote outpost and it served as his primary base until 1853.
Dodge was a wanderer and from Ciboletta he could indulge himself while fulfilling his trading and commissary obligations. It also gave him an opportunity to get to know the Navajo. At Ciboletta he lived with Juana Sandoval by whom he had two children. As his reputation for fairness grew, he was often called in to mediate disputes among the tribes and between the Americans, Mexicans, and Indians.
Dodge was even able to establish a relationship with Mangas Coloradas, the great chief of the Chiricahua Apache and helped broker a peace between the tribe and the Americans in 1852. By the following year, the beleaguered U.S. civilian and military leaders, with the likely encouragement of Wisconsin Senator Henry Dodge, decided to appoint HL Dodge as Indian agent for the Navajo, the pueblos of Azuni, Laguna and Acoma and the seven secluded towns of the Hopi. Dodge’s agency covered 79,000 square miles, an area the size of Nebraska. It was quite a challenge since the Navajo and the other tribes were enemies of long-standing though Dodge was to spend almost all his time with the Navajo.
Supported by a minimal budget, an Indian agent’s role was to represent the government to his Indian charges and vice versa, encouraging the tribes to abide by their agreements and to provide them with promised supplies. Most agents did not reside with their tribes and saw it as a potentially profitable opportunity and had no specialized knowledge or affinity for Indians. Dodge would do it differently.
In September 1851, the U.S. Army decided it needed to project its power into Navajo country and took a risk in building Fort Defiance, a lonely outpost just across the current day border with Arizona and more than 150 miles from the nearest substantial New Mexican settlement. Its main source for food was the Zuni pueblo, seventy miles away.
Unlike our images of a Western fort surrounded by a stockade, Ft Defiance consisted of several buildings, stables, and a stockade for livestock but was open to the surrounding area. Manned by a garrison of about 190 infantry it was the logical place to house Dodge’s agency if his intent was to reside close to his clients.
But that’s not what HL did. Feeling confident that his personal relationships with the Navajo were strong, he decided to live among them, setting up his agency about thirty miles northeast of the fort near the Chuska mountains. Those relationships may have been particularly close because according to Navajo lore, Red Shirt (the name they gave him because of his love of red flannel shirts) had taken a Navajo wife who was closely related to headman Zarcillos Largos which made him a kinsman to the tribe. If this had become known to Dodge’s American bosses the relationship would have caused a scandal.
Dodge quickly got to work, requesting farming equipment, a constant refrain in his letters. Here’s one sent to the superintendent for Indian Affairs in the territory in the spring of 1855:
“This Spring bids fair for a good croping year as much snow has fallen in the Mountains of Chuski, Tounicha, & canon Blanco, and the Indians in the above mentioned places are much in want of about 200 hoes and one dozen axes please send me the hoes and axes if possible . . .”
He also introduced silversmithing to the Navajo, bringing to the agency an experienced silversmith to teach the craft.
A lot of his work was done from the saddle, riding more than 1,000 miles in his first three months on the job (July-Sept 1853). He was busy crossing Navajo country to collect thousands of stolen sheep and horses that the tribe had agreed to return to the settlements along the Rio Grande as well as negotiating a peaceful settlement to a dispute between the Navajo and the Jicarilla Apache.
While Dodge was successful at keeping the peace he was notoriously terrible at writing reports to his superiors and keeping accurate accounts. Often he’d go months between reports and some of the ones he did send contained only one sentence; government audits of his accounts always found deficiencies. He was saved because of the unusual circumstance of having both a territorial governor and superintendent of Indian Affairs who recognized the value of his work, were willing to give him some leeway, and were themselves flexible in their thinking of how best to deal with the Indians.
This was even more true of the man who became Dodge’s closest ally, Major Henry Lane Kendrick, commander of the outpost at Fort Defiance. Dodge and Kendrick worked together well and while Kendrick was a strict disciplinarian he had more sensitivity about the Navajo than any of his predecessors or successors. It was at Kendrick’s urging that after a few months Dodge relocated his agency to Fort Defiance.
Together, over the next three years, they were able to maintain peace. As early as June 1854, the Santa Fe Gazette, a paper which had constantly called for ejecting the Indians from the area, noted:
“Until with the past year or two, the Navajoes, for the last thirty-five years, have been constantly committing depredations upon the Mexicans; and this change in their conduct can only be attributed to the action of Agent Dodge in locating himself in the heart of their nation, which, thus far, has exercised the most beneficent influence over them.”
There was an endless and ongoing series of incidents to deal with. Renegade Navajo murdering New Mexican herders and stealing their livestock; Navajo being blamed for raiding and killing by other Indians; New Mexicans kidnapping Navajo children and grazing their stock on Navajo land. Each one had the potential to escalate into full-scale conflict and each was defused. With Dodge’s advice and help, Kendrick resisted quick military responses to provocations which increased the chances for a peaceful resolution.
The kidnapping of children, which had gone on for centuries, was a particular sore point for both parties. New Mexicans insisted that the Americans ensure by treaty that the tribes return their kidnapped children, yet resisted returning the Indian children they had kidnapped (a significantly higher number than those held by the Indians). Dodge was, for the first time, able to obtain the release of some Navajo children.
In November 1856, amidst rumors that the Coyotero and Mogollon Apache were raiding near the Zuni pueblo, Major Kendrick decided to mount an expedition with forty dragoons as a show of strength. He invited Henry to along, and HL, always restless and interested in an adventure, accepted, bringing along a friend, Navajo headman Armijo. Riding south from Zuni, the expedition moved into uplands, a rocky world of mesas and arroyo canyons, dotted with pinon pines and sage.
On the morning of November 19, Dodge and Armijo decided to do some hunting and split off from Kendrick’s column, intending to rejoin it later in the day. It was typical of Dodge’s casual nature to ride off with only one companion while the dragoons were hunting Apache. They soon shot a deer; Armijo dressed the carcass and volunteered to take it back to the troops. Dodge wanted to continue hunting so the two parted ways. Henry was never seen alive again.
When a day later Dodge had still not rejoined the column, Kendrick launched a thorough search, finding only tracks clearly indicating that Dodge had encountered Apache but giving some hope that Dodge was kidnapped and still alive. The realization that a large party of Apache had been so close to the dragoons without them having a hint of their existence was a shock.
Efforts were made to contact the Apache in order to ransom Dodge but they were unsuccessful. Two months later his remains were found, making it evident Henry had been murdered shortly after encountering the Apaches.
Within a few months of Dodge’s death, the entire team he had worked with was gone. A new territorial governor and superintendent of Indian affairs (who happened to hate Indians) were appointed. Major Henry Lane Kendrick was also gone by the summer of 1857, leaving to become a professor of Chemistry, Mineralogy, and Geology at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY. Promoted to colonel in 1873, he retired in 1880 and was remembered as one of the most popular professors to ever teach at the academy. In 1885, a Navajo delegation to Washington DC took a side trip to New York City to visit the retired officer whom they greatly respected. The 80-year old Kendrick died in 1891, having caught cold serving as an honorary pallbearer at the funeral of General William Tecumseh Sherman (as did former Confederate General, Joseph E Johnston).
(Henry Lane Kendrick from aztecclub)
All of the successors in New Mexico, military and civilian, were to be found wanting in their ability to keep the peace. Several Indian agents for the Navajos were appointed in quick succession with their performance ranging from indifferent to incompetent and none able to establish the personal relationships with the tribe that Dodge had done so effectively.
in 1860, hostilities resumed between the Americans and Navajo. By 1863 the situation was so bad the Americans decided to put an end to it once and for all and sent a large military force under the command of Kit Carson to Canyon de Chelly, the heart of Navajo country. The campaign accomplished its goal by laying waste to the Navajo homeland and forcing the starving Indians to surrender. In the spring of 1864, 9,000 Navajo walked about 300 miles to a small reservation near Fort Sumner in eastern New Mexico, well outside of their traditional lands. It was a miserable experience on flat land unsuited to agriculture and eventually, the plight of the Navajo drew sympathetic attention from many Americans, including Kit Carson, who wanted them to be allowed to return to their homeland.
In 1868, yet another treaty was negotiated and the Navajo returned to the New Mexico/Arizona border area under their headman Manuelito, and armed conflicts with the U.S. government ended. The reservation, which has been expanded several times over the years, now covers an area about the size of the state of South Carolina, making it the largest reservation in the country. Navajo Nation, with about 300,000 members, of which 2/3 live on the reservation, is the largest tribe in the United States.
Abandoned by her husband, Adele Bequette Dodge never remarried, dying in 1905. Of her four children with HL, only the eldest had any recollection of their father.
One of HL Dodge’s grandchildren from his relationship with Juana Sandoval lived until 1966.
And then there is Henry Chee Dodge. Henry Chee, whose mother was Navajo, always claimed his father was Juan Amaya, Dodge’s interpreter, who named him in honor of his friend, but there remains a question about whether he was really HL’s son by his Navajo wife. From the age of eight, the orphaned Henry Chee was raised at Fort Defiance by mixed Anglo-Navajo families. HL’s brother, former senator Augustus Caesar Dodge, took an interest in assuring the child was properly educated at the Fort’s school. In 1883, he became patrol chief of the Navajo police force and a year later was appointed by the Indian Agent as head chief of the Navajo Nation after the death of Manuelito. An astute businessman, Henry Chee partnered with an Anglo to establish a profitable trading post in the Chinle Valley or as Raymond Friday Locke puts it in The Book Of The Navajo “Thrifty and well acquainted with the white man’s way of doing business, he amassed a considerable fortune” and as council chairman “was shrewd in his dealings with the government”, negotiating mining and oil exploration deals that brought substantial monies to the tribe. He also liked the ladies, reportedly having eight wives.
(Henry Chee Dodge, 1885, from Navajo Times)
(Henry Chee Dodge, 1945, from maguiresplace)
Elected as the Navajo’s first tribal chairman in 1923 and serving until 1928, Henry Chee was reelected to the post in 1942. He died on January 4, 1947.
Henry Chee’s son, Thomas Dodge, graduated from St Louis University Law School and took up a legal practice in Santa Fe. From 1933 to 1936 he was Navajo tribal chairman and spent the rest of his career working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Dodge’s daughter, Annie Dodge Wauneka, was an influential member of the Navajo tribal nation and became the second woman on the tribal council, serving twenty-seven years, and for three terms was also chairman of the council’s health and welfare committee. In 1963 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. She passed away in 1997.
HL Dodge remains an admired figure by the Navajo. In researching this piece, I came across many tributes to his work and sympathy for the Navajo. A 2013 article from the Navajo Times summed it up:
He made friends with the local headmen, and when the territorial governor got tight with farm implements, he bought them for the people out of his salary. . . The small regiment at Fort Defiance proved incapable of defending the tribe against slave raids and incursions into their traditional grazing lands, and the Navajos grew restless on several occasions. But Dodge always managed to keep the peace, advocating for their rights in Santa Fe and sometimes bringing the headmen along, to the chagrin of the New Mexicans living in the capital.