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A Strong Leader Preserves his People

Hosakaninni, ? - 1912

historical photo

Hoskaninni-Begay, son of Hoskaninni.

The scenic area known as Monument Valley in the extreme southeastern corner of Utah was at one time dominated by a little-known Navajo chief called Hush-Kaaney (also spelled Hoskaninni or Hoskinnini). From 1862 until his death in 1912 Hoskaninni was "emperor" of the valley and largely kept white visitors out.

The most detailed information known about him was gathered in an 1939 interview of his son, Hoskaninni-Begay, by forest ranger Charles Kelly.

Kit Carson's campaign against the Navajo

According to Hoskaninni-Begay, his father's independent "rule" of Monument Valley grew out of the 1863 roundup of Navajos in that region by Col. Christopher "Kit" Carson. Under orders from Gen. James H. Carleton to track down every Navajo, some 700 troops under Carson's command began in the summer of 1863 to attack the scattered Navajo enclaves, killing those who resisted and capturing the others. The once-rich Navajos saw their hogans and crops burned and their flocks confiscated.

Utes, Pueblos, and European Americans joined the military to defeat their former enemy. More than 300 Navajos were killed outright; others died of hunger and exposure during the winter. Hundreds of women and children were sold into slavery. This was one of the most violent campaigns waged against a major Indian tribe in North America.

Starving and disheartened, around 8,500 Navajos made the "long walk" to Bosque Redondo on the Pecos River in eastern New Mexico. There, troops from nearby Fort Sumner guarded them. General Carleton planned to make the Navajos into self-sufficient, settled farmers. But his plan failed, and after years of intense suffering, the Navajos were allowed to return in 1868 to a reservation in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.

Hosakaninni resists

At the beginning of this campaign against the Navajos the 35-year-old Hoskaninni heard that some of his family members had been caught. In response, he angrily vowed to his immediate family and friends that he would die before he would leave their land.

Despite this determination, when the soldiers came looking for Hoskaninni they surprised him, and he and a small band of 17 barely escaped capture by scattering haphazardly in the desert to hide. Luckily, the soldiers did not find any of them, and when night fell they regrouped and began walking north into enemy Ute territory. They had no food and only one horse and one rifle among them, but they had managed to round up a flock of twenty sheep to take along.

The exiles traveled at night and slept during the day. They survived primarily on seeds, with an occasional rabbit as a "feast." After traveling several days in a northwesterly direction the group—by now footsore, hungry, and tired of climbing in and out of deep canyons—eventually reached the south end of Navajo Mountain, where they came upon a little stream of water surrounded on all sides by green grass. There Hoskaninni's wife sat firmly upon the ground and refused to go any farther.

As a result, the group lived there for six years. The spot was still in Ute territory, but because it was so remote, only one Ute ever found the group, and he chose not to betray them.

Strategies for survival

By the time the weary band had reached their isolated spot it was late in the year, and Hoskaninni sent them into the surrounding country to gather grass seeds and pine nuts for winter use. All 20 sheep had survived the journey, but the chief wouldn't let his band eat any. He hoped that the herd would grow in the spring. Knowing that everyone might starve without enough winter food, he pushed them hard and angrily reprimanded anyone he felt was lazy. Although this harsh attitude earned Hush-Kaaney his name (meaning "the angry one"), it was essential in saving them from starvation that first winter.

For the next years, their sheep herd did increase, so the group had plenty of meat and wool for blankets. In addition, on one exploratory trip into the mountains, Hoskaninni returned with several large pieces of silver that the group made into ornaments and jewelry. Hoskaninni periodically returned to the mountains to get more of the precious mineral, but he never told anyone the silver mine's location.

Moving to Monument Valley

In 1868 most Navajos were released from internment in New Mexico and returned to their lands, where each was given two sheep and some seeds to start a new life. The following year, Hoskaninni and his band came out of hiding and moved into the heart of Monument Valley. They had become the strongest and richest Navajos in the entire region.

Hoskaninni's family continued to prosper in Monument Valley until his death in 1912. According to custom, much of Hoskaninni's silver was buried with him and the remainder of his property was divided among his survivors. His son Hoskaninni-begay died in poverty in 1941.

Hoskinnini Mesa, 11 miles west of Goulding, in San Juan County, was named in memory of this leader.