Chinle (Ch’ínílí - Water Outlet) refers to the mouth of the Canyon de Chelly. Chinle was originally established as a government settlement along the south bank of the de Chelly fork of the Chinle Wash and 1 mile west of the mouth of the Canyon de Chelly. Chinle was the site of a Chinle Indian Boarding school established in 1910, and is the headquarters for the Custodian of the Canyon de Chelly National Monument. It originally was an agricultural area with 771 areas of chili, corn, squash, peach and apples trees, and melons irrigated by homemade canals and dams. This district runs from Chinle down the valley to the vicinity of the Chinle Valley Store, 10 miles north.
The Chinle locality is closely associated with the Canyon de Chelly and has been known to Spaniards and Mexicans since before 1790. Spaniards and New Mexican expeditions of war and trade came here until the beginning of the American occupation. The first visit to the locality by American military forces occurred in the fall of 1849 under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John Washington, accompanied by Territorial Governor, James S. Calhoun, Captain Henry Lafayette Dodge, Lieutenant James H. Simpson, Artist Edward Kern, and other members of Washington’s command.
On the small knoll some 100 yards north of the Thunderbird Ranch, the U.S. command held a council with the Navajo Head Chief Mariano Martinez, Second Chief Chapitone, and Third Chief Zarcillas Largo. They were in actuality, Chief and local Headmen of the area. After the council, these local chiefs signed a U.S. Treaty with the Navajos on September 9, 1849. This is now known as the Navajo Treaty of 1849. The troops moved on to pass along the southwest rim of the Canyon de Chelly and to cross the Fort Defiance Plateau along approximately the same route as the Chinle-Fort Defiance Road, Indian Route 7 and Indian Route 73.
In the winter of 1864, Colonel Christopher Carson, Captain Francis McCabe, and Captain Albert Pfeiffer, accepted the surrender of the de Chelly Navajos. This band of 50 Navajos under Hastiin Cholginih (the Humpback), and the Navajo woman Chief (Khiniba’ih), surrendered at the spot where Colonel Washington held council with the Navajo Chief Mariano Martinez and Headmen in 1849. They and 8,000 to 12,000 other Navajos made the arduous 350 mile "Long Walk" to Ft. Sumner at Bosque Redondo, New Mexico, to be held as captives of the U.S. government for four years until the signing of the Navajo Treaty of 1868. Their "Long Walk" experience was harsher than the World War II "Bataan Death March" where the captured American soldiers walked 63 miles and taken by train from Bataan to Camp O'Donnell. General Homma Masaharu who was overall Japanese in charge, was convicted and hanged for his crimes, yet Colonel Christopher Carson (Kit Carson) was made an American Hero, and his gravesite in Taos, New Mexico was marked with a special commendation by the Eagle Scouts of America.
A Mexican, Nakhayazih (Little Mexican), established the first trading post at Chinle in 1882. This trader operated in a tent, and was ejected the following year by Denis M. Riordan, the Navajo Agent. Samuel E. Day and Anson C. Damon established a small trading camp here in 1885, and in 1886 Michael Donovan took over the Day and Damo post. In 1887 C.N. Cotton succeeded Donovan, and in 1888-1889 the Lingle Brothers ran a store at Chinle. Many others have followed these early traders.
The Franciscan Fathers established the first mission in 1904 under the guidance of Father Leopold Osterman. In 1906, Navajo Agent Ruben Perry, while attempting to force Navajo children into school at Fort Defiance, was overpowered and held captive by Doyalthi’ih (Silent One), and his followers for 2 days. Soldiers later captured the rebels and they were sent for a year to Alcatraz Prison in San Francisco Bay and later to Fort Huachuca, Arizona.
The Chinle Indian Boarding School was established in 1910, and today the Chinle Unified School District covers the towns of Chinle, Many Farms, and Tsaile, and is made up of 7 schools.
By Harrison Lapahie Jr.