Kit Carson's Enlightened Policy Toward the Savages

During the Civil War, a New Mexico volunteer militia was organized by the famous scout and trapper, Christopher "Kit" Carson. In 1862, the militia saw action against a Confederate unit from Texas at Valverde, south of Socorro. The rebels routed the militia, and went on up the Rio Grande to capture Albuquerque and Santa Fe before meeting up with Union regulars at Glorieta Pass. Kit Carson's militia fared better against the "savage" Indians, the Navajo and Mescalero Apache, in a campaign in 1864.

The Navajos and Apaches were semi-nomadic herders, who since 1650 had been raiding Spanish settlements to steal horses and livestock. The Pueblos, by contrast, were permanent villages, grew corn, and wore what the Spanish recognized as clothing. After the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the Spanish developed a working relationship with the Pueblos, treating them as second class citizens, rather than slaves or cattle, and acknowledging their ownership of the land surrounding their surviving settlements. The Spanish/Pueblo military posture toward the "savage" Navajos and Apaches was primarily defensive, as the Europeans quickly adapted to settlement concentrated in fortified towns, surrounded by mud-brick walls and towers.

Carson's militia took a much more aggressive posture, following the Navajo into their homelands (straddling what is now the New Mexico/Arizona border) and destroying their orchards and livestock herds. Carson organized every settled Native American tribe in the region (the Utes, Pueblo, Hopi and Zuni) all of whom had suffered at the hands of the Navajos for centuries, and forced the Navajo to surrender to the U.S. Army in 1864.

Carson concocted a plan of pacification which involved relocating the Navajos and Apaches to a reservation at Bosque Redondo, under the watchful eye of a Union army base at Fort Sumner. This plan was considered a bit soft by the Regular Army, which preferred wholesale extermination of savage tribes. Approximately 10,000 Navajo were force-marched from Arizona to eastern New Mexico. A thousand died on route, and another thousand died of disease and starvation at Bosque Redondo. Even if the Navajo could have been convinced to give up nomadic herding as their primary lifestyle, the reservation chosen for them was completely unsuited to agriculture, and by 1868 the Army allowed the Navajo to return to their homelands west of Mount Taylor, where the Navajo Nation today asserts a degree of self-determination and sovereignty under the aegis of the United States of America.

The failure of Kit Carson's approach strengthened the position of genocide faction of the Regular Army's leadership. In the 1870's, the United States Army, freed of the pesky southern rebellion, tended to respond to armed Native insurrection with mass slaughter.

The Americans learn about "bad karma" the hard way

New Mexico militia units, usually cavalry, fought in the Spanish American War and World War I. Teddy Roosevelt's "Rough Riders" regiment, which distinguished itself in the battle of San Juan Hill in Cuba, consisted mostly of New Mexico volunteers.

By the time of World War II, regular army units were formed directly out of elements of the New Mexico National Guard. Two anti-aircraft artillery units, 200th and 515th Coast Artillery, were formed out of the 111th New Mexico National Guard Cavalry.

In 1942, on the Phillipine island of Luzon, on a penisula north of Manila Bay called Bataan, the Japanese Army pocketed a force of 70,000 soldiers, mostly Philippines Army, but reinforced by 11,796 Americans, including the 200th and 515th Coast Artillery. Out of ammo and food, the allies had to surrender. The Japanese marched their exhausted and starving prisoners 65 miles to a detention facility at Camp O'Donnell. The Japanese used stragglers for target and bayonet practice, and beheaded all prisoners caught attempting to escape into the jungle. The brutal treatment continued at Camp O'Donnell. The Americans contracted jungle diseases they had no resistanace to, such as malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever.

Of the eighteen hundred men in the 200th Coastal Artillery Regiment, fewer than nine hundred made it back home to New Mexico, and of those, within one year a third died from various complications.

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