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  • Jennifer Z. Major

Hope in a Not So Winter Wonderland.

In the winter of 1864, an army of horse mounted soldiers rounded up and escorted 50-something different groups of Navajo civilians from points in Northern Arizona to a flat, desolate place of parched squalor known as Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

450 miles.

On foot.

The actual Fort Sumner itself is more famously known as Bosque Redondo, or Hweeldi.

No, before anyone gets all "but New Mexico is gorgeous, and enchanted", go ahead and look up Fort Sumner.

That was a cottonwood tree.

Was. The trunk is black from a fire.

Yes, I have been to Fort Sumner, several times. I was there in summer when it was 115F in the shade, and in late fall, when it was maybe 65F. In deep winter, expect it to drop below freezing and for the wind and snow to blow across the desert.

One of the forced marches in 1864 has become famous for the level of brutal suffering. You see, winter is not just snowmen and Santa and hot chocolate and sitting by a crackling fire with a good book and better company. There was a terrible storm that winter, and there were hundreds of soldiers, and civilian prisoners (men women and children) caught out in it.

Blizzard conditions so atrocious that after the storm, many of the prisoners arrived at the prison camp naked.

Yes, naked. In winter. And prisoners back then didn't usually get good treatment to start with, so I doubt there was much in the way of help when they got there. No shops or Samaritan's Purse, or Red Cross.

And no, there was no, NO, housing for them, they had to dig holes in the frozen earth to live in, so I doubt many had extra clothes to share. But, you can bet that whatever they did have, they shared willingly.

They endured five winters there, before freedom came in 1868, in the form of a treaty presided over by hardened Civil War legend General William Tecumseh Sherman, who was disgusted by the prisoner's squalid living conditions.

All through their captivity, the Navajo people held onto a shred of hope. Most of those years, a shred was all they had.

But, like that ice covered red maple bud in the photo, new life came from deep under the ice and snow. Freedom came in June of 1868.

But they have never forgotten. Why should they?

Let me throw a few things past you:

The Alamo.

The Magna Carta.

The Gettysburg Address.

Lee in Appomattox.

Napoleon at Waterloo.

None of these historical events escape our study. And no one in their right mind would tell a Texan to "just get over" The Alamo. Or tell someone that Gettysburg was just a man speaking. Or that the Magna Carta was stuff written on paper. Or that Napoleon was perfectly lucid and should've kept fighting.

So why tell a Navajo person to just get over The Long Walk and Hweeldi?

Please, don't ever tell someone that is sharing their pain with you, to just get over it.

One more thing.

The world is full of hurt. People are hurting each other. Rise above the harshness of this current winter. Hurt and vitriol don't fix anything. If you're holding a grudge, or cannot forgive something, you're the one dying inside. You are the one alone in your misery.

So, you didn't win. Or you won, but you're not happy with your prize.

Don't choke on the grip you have on "being right".

As best you can? Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with everyone around you.

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