The ancestral land of the Navajo is centered among four sacred mountains, one for each of the cardinal directions. To the North is Mount Hesperus, which lies in the La Plata Mountains near Durango, Colorado. To the South, near Grants, New Mexico, is Mount Taylor. To the East, near Alamosa, Colorado, is Blanca Peak; and to the West lie the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, Arizona. The Navajo are also strongly connected to the four rivers that flow atop the Colorado Plateau: The Rio Grande, Little Colorado River, Colorado Riber, and San Juan River.
Over many centuries, the Navajo have had to compete with other cultures for land in this area. The Spanish arrived in the 1500s, and for the next two hundred years competition among the Spanish, Navajo, as well as Native Mexicans, was frequent. The Spanish and Mexicans took Navajo slaves and livestock. Bands of Navajo retaliated to recover their property and back and forth it would go. Treaties were commonly ignored. Following the Civil War, US troops marched into the area and forced the Navajo into a prison camp in New Mexico. They were assigned to a newly formed Navajo reservation in 1868. In 1934 the Navajo Reservation was significantly expanded into its current size of more than 27,000 square miles covering much of Northeastern Arizona, Northeastern New Mexico, and a portion of Southeastern Utah. Over time the tribe has also purchased private lands outside of this boundary to further expand its land base.
Today, the Navajo Nation is by far the largest reservation in the United States in terms of land base and population. More than 300,000 people comprise the Navajo tribe. The Navajo has shown great perseverance and resilience over hundreds of years of cultural conflict and change.