February 9, 2023
Through his diligent research and transcription of the letters archived in the Carlos Montezuma Collection at Arizona State University Libraries, David Martínez offers a critical new perspective on Montezuma’s biography and legacy in My Heart is Bound Up with Them, How Carlos Montezuma Became the Voice of a Generation. During an attempt to force the Fort McDowell Yavapai community off of their traditional homelands north of Phoenix, the Yavapai community members and leaders wrote to Montezuma pleading for help. It was these letters and personal correspondence from his Yavapai cousins George and Charles Dickens, as well as Mike Burns that sparked Montezuma’s desperate but principled desire to liberate his Yavapai family and community—and all Indigenous people—from the clutches of an oppressive Indian Bureau. Below read an excerpt from the book.
Much has been written about this full blood Yavapai because he had an unbelievable life and left an inspiring legacy. Wassaja was not born into a world of peace. In 1866 there was an extermination policy on Indians. His mother gave birth to Wassaja on the ground somewhere in Kewevkepaya (Southeastern Yavapai) country, probably within view of Four Peaks or the Superstition Mountains. For his aboriginal parents, he was the new generation and the continuation of their native race.
Such was how anthropologist Sigrid Khera described the legacy of one of the more extraordinary lives of the Progressive Era struggle for Indian rights. Nearly a century after his death in 1923, the name of Carlos Montezuma still stands prominently in modern American Indian history. For the Fort McDowell Yavapai community, in particular, Montezuma is remembered as a revered ancestor, whose memory is preserved in the names of the Wassaja Memorial Health Center, Wassaja Family Services, and the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation Wassaja Scholarship at Arizona State University. For those outside of the Yavapai community, such as the author of the book in hand, Montezuma is remembered through his corpus of writings, most importantly the political essays that appeared in his self-published newsletter Wassaja. Speaking of which, the scholarship on Montezuma’s work and legacy is possible largely because of the archives (held at the Wisconsin Historical Society, the Newberry Library, Arizona State University, and the University of Arizona) that nearly perished after his death, when Montezuma’s name Introduction A Trunkful of Papers Arrives at ASU fell into relative obscurity. Indeed, at the time of the Red Power movement (1964–1973), which rose to overshadow the Progressive Era, Montezuma was all but forgotten. During this period, Montezuma appeared in books by Edward H. Spicer (1962) and Hazel W. Hertzberg (1971). However, neither volume did much to reaffirm Montezuma’s place in Indian rights history. It was a different story, of course, in Fort McDowell, Camp Verde, and Prescott, where Montezuma’s descendants invoked his name in their battle against the Orme Dam during the 1970s, which pitted them against the Central Arizona Project.
During the early years of the struggle against Orme Dam, specifically in spring 1974, the Arizona Statesman ran a story titled “Seeds of Wounded Knee? Carlos Montezuma Collection, a Timely Acquisition, Boosts Stature of ASU’s Hayden Library.” Wounded Knee in this context referred to the 1973 confrontation between the American Indian Movement and federal forces at the historic site of the 1890 massacre of unarmed Ghost Dance prisoners. As for the Carlos Montezuma Collection, its contents, which were literally contained in a trunk that was nearly lost to posterity, documented the Yavapai activist-intellectual’s battle on behalf of Fort McDowell against the Indian Bureau during the 1910s, when it sought to forcibly remove the “Mohave-Apache” to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Reservation for the purpose of opening the land to local developers. Six decades after Montezuma’s battle, the “Fort McDowell Mohave Apache Tribe” was opposing the proposed construction of the Orme Dam—a part of the Central Arizona Project—that threatened to flood Yavapai land. Montezuma’s name would be invoked by those fighting to protect Fort McDowell. Could the Montezuma Collection aid in the struggle for justice?