Chief Manuelito (1818-1893) was a prominent Navajo leader who rallied his people against the oppression of the United States military. Born near Bears Ears, Utah in 1818, he migrated to eastern Arizona, joining Chief Narbona’s band in the foothills of the Chuska mountains. He led raiding parties, often joining forces with other Navajo leaders to attack mutual enemies. He quickly proved his merit as a warrior and a leader.
The world he lived in was changing. The process of western expansion brought an influx of settlers from the east, adding pressure to an already contentious battle over scarce resources in the region. By the 1860s, the Navajo were facing pressure on all sides, with Zuni, Ute, Apache, Mexicans, and Americans encroaching on Navajo land. In response, Manuelito and Barboncito joined forces, with 1000 Navajo warriors descending on Fort Defiance on August 30, 1860. They almost overwhelmed the fort’s defenses, but, ultimately, they were forced to retreat. Superior numbers succumbed to superior fire power. Furthermore, the ramifications were far reaching. The U.S. Army declared war on the Navajo.