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Nal-Kai (left), listed in the Army record below as Mexicana Chiquito, and Muchacha are included in the panels of Sandoval County veterans in the lobby of the county administration building. The two are believed to be the first women to enlist in the U.S. Military when they joined a unit of Navajo scouts in 1886.

Military cemetery could be named for barrier-breaking Navajo woman

~Bill Diven

The push to locate a national cemetery in Sandoval County now includes an effort to name it for a Navajo scout being recognized as the first woman to enlist in the U.S. Army.

Actually, two women took the field with an Army scout unit in 1886 enlisting within days of each other at Fort Wingate near Gallup, according to research by retired Col. David C'de Baca of the Sandoval County Historical Society. The National Archives confirmed the women enlisted with the 20th Infantry Regiment for six months as Mexicana Chiquito, age 24, and Muchacha, age 21, he said during a presentation to the Sandoval County Commission.

Both women were from the Torreón area of Sandoval County, and military pension records identified Mexicana Chiquito as Nal-Kai. Muchacha's Navajo name remains a mystery.

"They were the first female combat soldiers," C'de Baca said. If the cemetery is approved, naming it Nal-Kai National Cemetery would honor her landmark place in history and honor all women veterans, he added.

Of 147 national cemeteries, only nine are named for people: Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Zachary Taylor, and Andrew Johnson, and the rest being local dignitaries and politicians.

County commissioners endorsed the idea while noting formal action and working through the state's congressional delegation depends on the site being selected.

"This is our history," Commission Chairman Don Chapman said. "I hope we can get it done."

The discovery came during a historical society project led by C'de Baca to identify Sandoval County World War I veterans for the centennial of the war that ranged from 1914 to 1918. It then expanded to veterans from all wars and a series of panels with names and photos now extending around much of the lobby of the county administration building.

Researching the Indian Wars—more than half the battles occurred in the Southwest—revealed Nal-Kai and Muchacha

"This is an extraordinary finding," C'de Baca said. "Women did not begin to serve openly in the U.S. armed forces until 1901 with the creation of the Army Nurse Corps… Before that, the only way a woman could serve was if she disguised herself as a man. If she was discovered, she would be booted out."

Chapman also pledged money from his district funds to reproduce a DVD that the historical society made on the project and the veterans. The DVDs are to be distributed to county schools and libraries

While the historical society project was underway, the Veterans Administration announced it was looking for a site of at least two hundred acres close to Albuquerque to succeed the 84-acre Santa Fe National Cemetery, which is nearing capacity. Sandoval County has identified a 556-acre site currently controlled by the State Land Office in northern Rio Rancho near Unser Boulevard and U.S. Highway 550.

A VA team visited the site and others earlier this year. It is not known when a selection will be made.

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