Until contact with Pueblos and the Spanish, the Navajo were largely hunters and gatherers. The tribe adopted crop farming techniques from the Pueblo peoples, growing mainly corn, beans, and squash. When the Spanish arrived, the Navajo began herding sheep and goats as a main source of trade and food with meat becoming an essential component of the Navajo diet. Sheep, also became a form of currency and status symbol among the Navajo based on the overall quantity of herds a family maintained. In addition, the practice of spinning and weaving wool into blankets and clothing became common and eventually developed into a form of highly valued artistic expression. The Navajo are speakers of a Na-Dené Southern Athabaskan languages known as Diné bizaad (lit. 'People speech'), the language comprises two geographic, mutually intelligible dialects. It is closely related to the Apache language as the Navajo and Apache are believed to have migrated from northwestern Canada and eastern Alaska, where the majority of Athabaskan speakers reside.
In the 18th century, the Spanish reported the Navajo maintaining large herds of livestock and cultivating large crop areas. The Spanish first used the term Apachu de Nabajo in the 1620s to refer to the people in the Chama Valley region east of the San Juan River and northwest of present-day Santa Fe, New Mexico. By the 1640s, the Spanish began using the term "Navajo" to refer to the Diné. During the 1670s the Spanish wrote that the Diné lived in a region known as Dinétah, about 60 miles (100 km) west of the Rio Chama valley region. In the 1780s, the Spanish sent military expeditions against the Navajo in the Mount Taylor and Chuska Mountain regions of New Mexico. Traditionally, like other Apacheans, the Navajo were semi-nomadic from the 16th through the 20th centuries. Their extended kinship groups had seasonal dwelling areas to accommodate livestock, agriculture and gathering practices. As part of their traditional economy, Navajo groups may have formed trading or raiding parties, traveling relatively long distances.
The Navajo came into official contact with the United States of America in 1846, when General Stephen W. Kearny invaded Santa Fe with 1,600 men during the Mexican American War. In 1846, following an invitation from a small party of American soldiers under the command of Captain John Reid who journeyed deep into Navajo country and contacted him, Narbona and other Navajos negotiated a treaty of peace with Colonel Alexander Doniphan on November 21, 1846, at Bear Springs, Ojo del Oso (later the site of Fort Wingate). The treaty was not honored by many young Navajo raiders who continued to steal livestock from New Mexican villages and herders. New Mexicans, on their part, together with Utes, continued to raid Navajo country stealing livestock and taking women and children for sale as slaves.
In 1849, the military governor of New Mexico, Colonel John Macrae Washington – accompanied by John S. Calhoun, an Indian agent – led a force of 400 soldiers into Navajo country, penetrating Canyon de Chelly, and signed a treaty with two Navajo leaders who presented themselves as "Head Chief" and "Second Chief." The treaty acknowledged the jurisdiction of the United States and allowed forts and trading posts to be built on Navajo land. The United States, on its part, promised "such donations [and] such other liberal and humane measures, as [it] may deem meet and proper." While en route to this treaty signing, Narbona, a prominent Navajo peace leader, was killed resulting in hostility between the treaty parties. During the next ten years, the U.S. established forts on traditional Navajo territory. Military records cite this development as a precautionary measure to protect citizens and the Navajo from each other. However, Spanish/Mexican-Navajo pattern of raids and expeditions continued. New Mexican citizen and militia raids increased rapidly in 1860–61 and became known as Naahondzood, "the fearing time."
In 1861, Brigadier-General James H. Carleton, Commander of the Federal District of New Mexico, initiated a series of military actions against the Navajo. Colonel Kit Carson was ordered by Carleton to conduct an expedition into Navajo land and gain their surrender. Initially, only a few Navajo surrendered to Carson until he was joined by a large number of New Mexican militia volunteer citizens who aided in a scorched earth campaign against the Navajo. Carson and his forces swept through Navajo land, killing Navajos and destroying any crops, livestock or dwellings they came across. Facing starvation and death, the last group of Navajo surrendered at Canyon de Chelly and were taken to Fort Defiance for internment on July 20, 1863. Beginning in the spring of 1864, around 9,000 Navajo men, women and children were forced to embark on a trek of over 300 miles (480 km) to Fort Sumner, New Mexico for internment at Bosque Redondo.
The internment at Bosque Redondo was a failure for many reasons as the government failed to provide an adequate supply of water, wood, provisions, and livestock for 4,000–5,000 people. Large scale crop failure and disease were also endemic during this time, as well as raids by other tribes and civilians. In addition, a small group of Mescalero Apaches, long enemies of the Navajo, had been relocated to the area resulting in conflicts. In 1868, a treaty was negotiated between Navajo leaders and the Federal government allowing the surviving Navajo to return to a reservation on a portion of their former homeland.
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood
Years prior to 1866, a Mexican priest was captured by the Apache and he traded them a mysterious medallion, the key to finding the Gold of Juarez. A great sickness ravaged their village, and survivors traded it to the Navajo for food. They too were also stricken with illness, and their medicine man claimed that the medallion had dark powers, leading them to drown it in a lake where they guarded it.
In 1866, Apache brave Seeing Farther attempted to guide Ray and Thomas McCall past a Navajo village, in order to secure the medallion. They were discovered by the Navajo braves however, and were forced to fight their way down to a river bed, and climbed up the mountain on the other side. Ray and Thomas discovered a dam was built to block off the lake, and Ray placed dynamite around various parts of the dam. The lake soon began to drain, revealing the sacred resting place of the medallion. The Navajo gathered but didn't attack them, refusing to shed blood on sacred ground, though after the McCalls opened fire, they began to retaliate. They escaped with the object of their desire in hand and escaped down the river on a canoe, eliminating Navajo pursuing them in their own boats. The river was connected to the dam and the trio fell into the newly reformed river and crashed into several rocks due to rapids, but they succesfully came out of Navajo territory with their prize.
- Some Navajo are seen wearing looted United States military garb (hats, jackets, or trousers). The tribe also appears to live in the remains of a reservation. This more than implies they are refugees of a military intervention.
- Subtitles in the game spell Navajo as "Navaho" which is a different way of spelling it.
- The Navajo village is depicted with tipis, which is incorrect. One explanation, though unlikely, is that because the tribe is living in the mountains, the traditional Navajo hobans cannot be constructed, and the Navajo have resorted to living in tipis. The village also has totem poles which is also incorrect as they are used by Native American tribes in the Northwestern United States.
- Interestingly, the Navajo are the only Native American tribe in the series to have characters with facial hair.
- The name “Navajo” comes from the late 18th century via the Spanish (Apaches de) Navajó "(Apaches of) Navajó", which was derived from the Tewa navahū "fields adjoining a ravine". The Navajo call themselves Diné.