Antonio Narbona was a Criollo, or local person of Spanish ancestry, born in Mobile in Spanish Louisiana (now Alabama.) He moved to Sonora in 1789 and became a cadet in the Santa Cruz Company, sponsored by his brother-in-law, Brigadier General Enrique Grimarest. He was promoted to ensign in 1793, and later to lieutenant.
Eventually, Narbona supported the independence of Mexico from Spain in 1821, and was governor of the territory of Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico (New Mexico) from September 1825 until 1827. But what he is remembered for by the Navajo people is his invasion of Canyon de Chelly, the heart of their homeland in what is now northeastern Arizona. At the time it was part of Mexico.
|Mexico in 1824; wikipedia, creative commons license 3.0|
Lieutenant Narbona led a troop of soldiers to New Mexico from Chihuahua province in January 1805 in response to a Navajo raid on a Spanish military post and nearby settlements. Narbona’s force travelled north from the Zuni Pueblo, through a break between the Tunicha and Chuska Mountains (now called Narbona Pass) to attack the Navajo in Canyon de Chelly.
When the Navajo got word of the Spaniards’ approach, many fled into Canyon del Muerto, the northern branch of the Canyon de Chelly complex. Scaling a steep rock wall, they took refuge in a shallow cave they had hidden in to escape other enemies in years past. They believed themselves safe there.
|Navajo pictograph of Narbona leading troops in Canyon de Chelly|
The soldiers marched through the canyon, killing warriors who’d lagged behind to guard their people’s retreat, and taking some prisoners. In Canyon del Muerto they were taunted by a shrill woman’s voice calling out, “There go the men without eyes! You must be blind!”
One of the soldiers climbed up the rock wall and spotted the Navajo in their recessed hideout. Another soldier climbed up intending to take prisoners. When he crossed the cave threshold a Navajo woman wrapped her arms around him and threw them both over the edge. Locked together, they plunged to their deaths hundreds of feet below.
From the canyon floor, the Spaniards began to ricochet bullets off the roof of the cave while, according to one account, others dashed out of the canyon, raced around the north rim and shot down at the people in the cave. Eventually, all were killed except one old man, who lived to tell the story to other Navajo.
Although Narbona claimed his men had killed 90 warriors plus 25 women and children, the Navajo say the dead were women, children and the elderly, since most of the men were away hunting when the troops attacked.
|Massacre Cave - The Place Where Two Fell Off|
When archaeologists examined the cave a century and a half later, they found the victim’s bones still lying on the cave floor. The site is widely known as Massacre Cave today, but the Navajo call it The Place Where Two Fell Off. They believe it is haunted by spirits of those who died there.
Lyn Horner is a multi-published, award-winning author of western historical romance and paranormal romantic suspense novels, all spiced with sensual romance. She is a former fashion illustrator and art instructor who resides in Fort Worth, Texas – “Where the West Begins” - with her husband and one very spoiled cat. As well as crafting passionate love stories, Lyn enjoys reading, gardening, genealogy, visiting with family and friends, and cuddling her furry, four-legged baby.
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