MANCHESTER — In the end, finding her own slice of history turned out to be the easy part for Manchester historian C.P. "Kitty" Weaver. She merely had to journey to the attic of her Bridge Street home, which housed one of two remaining original copies of the seminal treaty signed 151 years ago by the United States and the Navajo Nation. 

The hardest part was deciding what to do with the extraordinary document. And now even that dilemma is solved.

Guided, she said, by her heart, Weaver on Wednesday, May 29, will return the historic treaty to the Navajo Nation, which plans to house and exhibit the handwritten, 18-page document at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona.

"I guess in my heart I always knew that I wanted it to go back to the Navajo Nation," Weaver said. "Ultimately I made my decision. I reconciled my head with my heart."

The treaty carries immense cultural and historical significance for the Navajo Nation, most notably establishing its sovereignty and tribal lands.

It also allowed the Navajo people to return to their traditional homeland of Dinetah, where Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona meet, and escape the barbarous conditions of their forced exile in the Bosque Redondo reservation in what now is New Mexico.

The treaty was negotiated on the U.S. side by famed Union Army Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman and Manchester native Col. Samuel F. Tappan, both members of the Indian Peace Commission. Weaver is Tappan's great-grandniece.

It took three days for negotiators to hammer out the final terms of the treaty at Fort Sumner, then in the New Mexico Territory. Once completed, clerks wrote out three copies in longhand.

One copy was dispatched to Washington, D.C., by special courier for the signature of President Andrew Johnson and ratification by Congress. That copy is stored in the National Archives and Record Administration in Washington.

One copy went to Barboncito, the leader of Navajo Nation. The copy ultimately went missing, with legend having it buried with Barboncito.

The third copy was the peace commission's copy. That copy also seemed to disappear into the brambles of history.

But no.

Tappan had kept the copy among his personal papers that ultimately were shipped back to the leafy seaside town of Manchester. First it was stored in Tappan's Bridge Street home — the very dwelling where Weaver and her husband David now live.

As the Weavers moved around the country, the treaty went with them. When they returned to the Bridge Street home, it came with them.

Treaty rediscovered

Last March, Weaver, who is working on a book on Tappan, revealed that the third original copy of the treaty was safe and sound, and in remarkably good shape for the its lack of sophisticated conservation.

Last June, the Weavers flew out to the help commemorate the 150th anniversary of the signing of the treaty, the rediscovered Treaty of 1868 in a carry-on bag under her feet.

Even then, she was thinking of what comes next for the sacred document.

The Library of Congress wanted to take possession of the treaty and include it in the Tappan collection in the future. It would, the library said, also complement material from the William Tecumseh Sherman papers and other Native American collections.

The library, in turn, would agree to provide high-quality copies to the Navajo Nation for display and scholarship. The tribe also might be allowed to borrow original pages of the treaty for short periods of time as long as they would be housed properly and securely.

But as much as the Library of Congress wanted the treaty, the Navajo wanted it more.

"Having the copy would be a monumental accomplishment for the Navajo," Herman Viola, a curator emeritus at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History and a specialist on the American West, wrote to Weaver. "It would be a giant step in the repatriation process akin to the cultural treasures that are being returned to home communities."

For more than a month after her return from Arizona, Weaver went back and forth. She had left the Tappan copy to be displayed for six months at the Navajo museum. But, after that, what?

In her heart, she knew the treaty belongs with the Navajo Nation. But she also was concerned about the Navajo museum's ability to properly conserve, display and secure the document.

She sought counsel from document preservation and conservation experts, who ultimately told her they thought the Navajo museum has the capacity to properly maintain the treaty.

That helped settle her head.

Her heart had already decided.

'A gesture of respect'

For that 150th commemoration, the National Archives and Record Administration lent the Navajo Nation the other original copy for display.

The night before the event, Weaver was standing with about a half-dozen people in the dimly lit exhibition space. A Navajo woman, Susan Hudson, was there, but apart from the group where Weaver stood.

Hudson, a maize quilt maker, moved toward the treaty display and all eyes went with her. The room slipped into silence. Weaver watched as Hudson bowed her head reverently. As she backed away, Hudson sprinkled a tiny packet of maize or flour on the floor.

Hudson approached the group, and in a whisper, asked about the Massachusetts woman who brought the other original copy of the treaty. Weaver stepped forward and the two women stared intently at each other.

"We grasped each other's arms and broke into tears," Weaver recalled last year. "Then we hugged. The other people in that room were just astounded at the power of what that woman had experienced. And it really opened my eyes to the importance of this document to the Navajo people."

June slipped into July and still she wavered, until her son Markus weighed in with a powerful note, telling her that donating the treaty to the Navajo nation would be an indelible gesture of "respect, humanity and equality."

"They will figure it out," Markus wrote in an email. "It doesn't matter what people at the National Archives think or know about preserving it. The treaty is probably the most important document in the Navajo's devastating history with the U.S. You would merely be returning something that is theirs — a crucial artifact in their history — which seems far more important than keeping it with one white man's collection or housed in another institution run by white people."

Last July, she finally made her decision: The Tappan copy of the treaty was about to become the Navajo Nation's possession.

The Navajos were thrilled. Weaver was relieved and humbled by the experience.

"Tappan stood behind Sherman and I'm standing behind Tappan," she said. "I'm just the messenger. Tappan is the guy who deserves the 15 minutes of fame."

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT.

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