This story does not begin happily.
In 1863, U.S. troops under Kit Carson rounded up the Navajo people by force. The federals burned homes, shot resisters, and marched the 9,000 survivors three hundred miles to an internment camp at Bosque Redondo, New Mexico. There, 2,000 Navajo died of starvation and disease. In 1868, the U.S. government negotiated a ‘peace treaty’ with the prisoners and permitted the Navajo to return to their lands.
Against this backdrop of cruelty and desperation, there is a point of light: a group of Navajo who escaped, survived, and even thrived. Their story makes great inspiration for RPG adventures in any setting with an oppressive government!
This post is brought to you by beloved Patreon backer Joel Dalenberg. Thanks for helping keep the lights on! If you want to help keep this blog going alongside Joel, head over to the Patreon page – and thank you!
Art by Thomas Dowler Murphy (1866-1928)
During the roundup, a 35-year-old Navajo man named Hoskinini led a band of sixteen followers – men, women, and children – out of the soldiers’ reach. They arrived at the flooded San Juan river one step ahead of Carson’s cavalry and disappeared. Modern interpretations suggest Hoskinini knew a secret ford, but Navajo oral tradition recounts that he knew a tunnel under the San Juan. The cavalry couldn’t pursue Hoskinini across a river in high flood, so they turned around. They figured they’d get him later.
The fugitives bedded down in an impossible maze of deep slots and box canyons guarded by endless miles of desert on every side. It’s still one of the most inaccessible parts of the American southwest. The first winter was hard. The fugitives had one horse, twenty sheep, and one rusty rifle without ammunition. But Hoskinini forbade slaughtering even a single sheep. He wanted them alive so he could breed them next year. The people scraped by on grass seeds and piñon nuts. Somehow, everyone survived.
Come spring, the fugitives built homes and rounded up stray sheep. They planted secret cornfields in the wilderness. They sought out other runaways and brought them into the fold. They went on foot to distant outposts of the U.S. cavalry and stole horses in daring raids. And Hoskinini discovered a vein of silver, supposedly so pure “he could shape it without melting”. Hoskinini’s band stayed in these canyons for four and a half years, and were never found by the government.
When the U.S. released the Navajo from their internment camp, Hoskinini came out of hiding. His band had grown! They had thousands of sheep, much corn, many blankets (from the wool of their sheep), and an abundance of silver jewelry. To the wretched survivors of Bosque Redondo, Hoskinini gave freely of what he had. He earned the nickname ‘The Generous One’. This goodwill buoyed him to prominence among the Navajo; you still sometimes see Hoskinini referred to as ‘The Emperor of Monument Valley’. The location of his silver mine remains a secret.
Art by Thomas Dowler Murphy (1866-1928)
At your table, you can base adventures on Hoskinini’s fugitives in any setting with an oppressive government. From the Empire in Star Wars to the Imperium of Man in Warhammer 40k to the sorcerer kings in Dark Sun, gaming is full of these settings. Your party might stumble upon a hidden enclave based on Hoskinini’s people. Since the PCs can do things in the outside world that Hoskinini’s people can’t, your party might help in special ways.
The PCs might serve as ‘inside men’ on Hoskinini’s raids, opening the gates at exactly the right moment. They might find other runaways before the government does and smuggle them to Hoskinini. They could plant false information to mislead the government’s search. They might even overhear a prospector talking about a new discovery that sounds suspiciously like Hoskinini’s secret silver vein, and try to find a way to resolve the situation without tipping their hand.
(You could also, of course, build a whole campaign around being part of Hoskinini’s band, but I try to keep the blog focused on content you can drop into a campaign you’re already running.)
It's a bit of a short post this week. I've been sitting on this one for a while, waiting for a week where I had an announcement I needed to put at the end of a post. That kept not happening, and it's been six months since I had any American Indian content on the blog, so I decided to just run it. Next week's post is going to be plenty long and full of legal technicalities, though, so be sure to come on back for that!
Have you heard about Shanty Hunters? It’s my upcoming RPG about collecting magical sea shanties in the year 1880! To learn more and be notified when the Kickstarter campaign goes live, follow this link!
The Lost World of the Old Ones by David Roberts (2015)
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown (1970)