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Copy of 1868 Navajo treaty resurfaces for 150th anniversary

June 3, 2018 GMT

C.P. “Kitty” Weaver knew she had the historic Treaty of 1868 in her drawer.

But the Massachusetts woman — the great-grandniece of Samuel F. Tappan, a member of the Indian Peace Commission who negotiated and signed the treaty that founded the Navajo Nation and ended the Navajos’ forced stay at Bosque Redondo — wasn’t aware of the document’s importance until recently.

“I guess I knew it was in there, but I didn’t pay much attention to it,” Weaver said in a recent phone interview. “I knew he [Tappan] signed the treaty.”

Three handwritten treaties — all slightly different, depending on who did the transcribing — were signed June 1, 1868, said Aaron Roth, manager of Fort Sumner Historic Site-Bosque Redondo Memorial.

One went to Washington, D.C., to be ratified and is in the National Archives; one went to Tappan, the peace commissioner; a third is believed to have gone to Navajo Chief Barboncito and may have been buried with him, Roth said.

Tappan’s copy was passed down to Weaver in 1975, though she is not sure when she became aware of its existence. Documents left by Tappan, a U.S. Army colonel, were in her attic, and her relatives must have known of them, she said.

Earlier this year, officials at the National Archives and Records Administration began to wonder what happened to Tappan’s copy and checked with the Library of Congress, but it couldn’t be located.

A National Archives employee knew Weaver was working on a biography of Tappan and contacted her.

“Yes, it’s in my drawer,” Weaver told the employee. A representative from the archives traveled from Washington to Manchester, Mass., in March and spent several hours at the Weaver home inspecting the treaty.

An appraisal was suggested.

Weaver declined to say how much the document is worth in dollars, though she acknowledged, “It was a fair amount.”

It wasn’t until the National Archives copy was exhibited at the National Museum of the American Indian from February through early May that Weaver fully realized the significance of what had been bequeathed to her.

“I had seen how many Navajos had come to see that treaty and how much it means to them,” Weaver said.

Weaver has not had discussions with Navajo leaders about the possibility of returning her copy to them. She said her home, without air conditioning, is not a good repository for the document.

As Navajos mark the 150th anniversary, Weaver’s copy of the treaty will be displayed in a special case at Fort Sumner with appropriate lighting and humidity control, she said. Roth and Weaver discussed the treaty, and she felt it needed to be displayed for the anniversary.

Asked if it could be permanently displayed at Fort Sumner, Weaver said, “I don’t know; that’s to be under consideration.” The Tappan collection of papers and letters is destined for the Library of Congress.

Manuelito Wheeler, the director of the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, received the National Archives’ copy of the treaty. It went on display there Friday and will remain until June 30.

Wheeler was excited about the discovery of the Weaver copy.

“The obvious answer is an emphatic ‘yes,’ ” said Wheeler, when asked if the tribe would like to have that copy. “We would love to have a copy of the treaty that we can call our own.”

Asked where the Weaver copy should reside, Roth said, “From my perspective, I think it would be great if it would stay here, but there are many different places that the treaty could be or should be. With the Navajo Nation is another possibility. … That’s all up in the air. We don’t know where it’s going to go.”

If anything, locating the treaty and absorbing its importance has been an adventure for the 78-year-old Weaver.

“It’s been very exciting for me,” she said.

“It just all sort of became real for me — this woman from the East sitting here and then going to Fort Sumner and walking in the footsteps of Bosque Redondo of the people who lived through the Long Walk.”