Ancestors of the Navajo and Apache peoples are thought to have migrated to the Southwest within the last one thousand years, probably from somewhere in the prairie regions of Western Canada. They were originally hunters and foragers, but some of the groups, most particularly the Navajo, quickly adopted agriculture, weaving, and other arts from the sedentary Pueblo peoples of the Southwest. There then developed a kind of symbiotic relationship in which the Navajo supplied hides, piñon nuts, and other goods to the Pueblo villages in exchange for agricultural products, woven goods, and pottery. The coming of Spanish rule in 1598 created a new political and economic order, in which the Pueblos were directly under Spanish rule, whereas the Navajo and Apache were never subjugated but remained intermittently at war with the colonial overlords for the next two and a half centuries. From the newcomers the Navajo soon acquired sheep and goats, which provided them with a new basis of livelihood, and also horses, which greatly increased their ability to raid the settled Communities both of the Pueblo Indians and of the Spanish settlers. By the end of the seventeenth century, the Navajo as well as the Apache had become widely feared raiders throughout the Southwest. The American annexation of New Mexico in 1848 did not immediately alter the pattern of Navajo raiding on the settlements of the Rio Grande Valley, and it was not until a decisive military campaign in 1864, led by Col. Kit Carson, that the Navajo were finally brought under military control, and the Navajo wars came to an end. About half the tribe was held in military captivity at Fort Sumner, in eastern New Mexico, until 1868, when a treaty was signed that allowed the people to return to their original homeland along the Arizona-New Mexico border. Since that time the tribe has steadily increased both in numbers and in territory, and the original Navajo Reservation has been enlarged to more than four times its original size.
Modern Navajo culture exhibits a unique blend of Athapaskan, Puebloan, Mexican, and Anglo-American influences. The Navajo preference for a scattered and semimobile mode of existence, in marked contrast to the Pueblo Neighbors, is part of the original Athapaskan legacy, as is the Ceremonial complex centering on the treatment of disease. On the other hand, much of the Navajos' actual mythology and ritual is clearly borrowed from the Pueblos, along with the arts of farming and weaving. From the Mexicans came the dependence on a livestock economy and the making of silver jewelry, which has become one of the most renowned of Navajo crafts. From the early Anglo-American frontier settlers the Navajo borrowed what has become their traditional mode of dress, as well as an increasing dependence on a Market economy in which lambs, wool, and woven blankets are exchanged for manufactured goods.