February 17, 2023
Carlos Montezuma is well known as an influential Indigenous figure of the turn of the twentieth century. While some believe he was largely interested only in enabling Indians to assimilate into mainstream white society, Montezuma’s image as a staunch assimilationist changes dramatically when viewed through the lens of his Yavapai relatives at Fort McDowell in Arizona. 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 his new work My Heart Is Bound Up with Them. Today, Martínez answer our five questions, including about what inspired this work and the importance of archives and family histories.
Why did you embark on this work?
In the fall of 2014, Joyce Martin invited me to join her in applying for an Arizona Humanities Council grant. At the time, she was curator for the Labriola National American Indian Data Center at Arizona State University’s Hayden Library. More to the point, she wanted to digitize the Carlos Montezuma Archival Collection and needed help from a humanities scholar. That’s when I entered the picture. Joyce knew about my interest in American Indian intellectual history, the Progressive Era, and Carlos Montezuma. In fact, I had published a paper in a 2013 joint issue of the American Indian Quarterly and Studies in American Indian Literatures, in which I examined the advocacy work that Montezuma did for the Akimel O’odham and Piipaash communities at the Salt and Gila River reservations. Initially, when I agreed to collaborate with Joyce, I thought at most I was going to write a paper for publication in a peer reviewed journal. Little did I know that my interests in the Montezuma Collection would blossom into a full-length book.
Carlos Montezuma’s biography has been well-documented. But this work uncovers a new dimension to his life story. It recovers how his relatives informed his later activism. How did you uncover this story?
What I soon discovered when I delved into the boxes of material that are held in the Montezuma Collection is that there are nearly 120 personal letters, virtually all of which were composed by Montezuma’s relatives at Fort McDowell, and nearly the entirety was handwritten. Only a handful were typed. The letters spanned a roughly twenty-year period, beginning in 1901, and contained a host of topics, from the utterly mundane, such as needing a winter coat or wanting to purchase a trumpet from the Montgomery Ward catalog, to the profound, such as being anxious to organize a trip to Washington, DC, to plead for Yavapai land and water rights. Moreover, what was equally fascinating was the way that Montezuma’s cousins regarded him as a valued community member, who they urgently depended on to negotiate with the Office of Indian Affairs. As in any Indigenous community, one’s kinship relations are of utmost importance, especially when it comes to understanding one’s role and purpose in life. Montezuma found his. These handwritten letters provide a whole new context for comprehending and appreciating Montezuma’s work and legacy as a founding member of the Society of American Indians, the creator of the Wassaja newsletter, as an activist-intellectual, and, above all, as a Yavapai.
What is the importance of archives to this kind of historical recovery work?
What is remarkable about the Montezuma Collection is that everything was literally cast out with the trash. After Montezuma’s wife Marie passed away in 1956, her husband’s papers wound up on the curb. Fortunately, there were people who knew the value of these discarded items and rescued them. Eventually, the papers found their way into four major collections: the Wisconsin Historical Society, the Newberry Library, the University of Arizona, and Arizona State University. As an historically important Indigenous personage, Montezuma’s belongings are a dramatic example of how easily history can wind up on the trash heap, forever lost to posterity. Montezuma’s papers were saved from destruction, but how much of Indigenous history is lost because no one was around to perceive something’s true worth? When my grandfather, Simon Lewis, died in 1999, his papers, along with photographs and other affects, were almost tossed out. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to ask for them. I’m keeping them now. Collectively, my grandfather’s archives provide a window onto the Gila River Indian Community as a minister at the Gila Crossing First Presbyterian Church, which began in the 1950s. Granted, I have yet to turn these items into an article or book, but the archival record is there when I am finally ready. In the meantime, what is important to know is that Indigenous histories cannot be preserved without a conscientious effort at preserving our own archival records. We should never underestimate our own worth, including the heritage items that we leave to our descendants. Simply relying on mainstream institutions like the National Archives and Library of Congress, or even local historical societies, is not enough. Fortunately, there are many people working in libraries and archives today, many of whom are Indigenous professionals, who are aware of these issues, and are working diligently at increasing awareness and setting an agenda for more digital sovereignty in Indigenous communities. In fact, the current director of the Labriola is Tohono O’odham and, I am proud to say, a former student of mine, Alex Soto.
How does your own family history inform your work as a scholar?
Someday I should write a memoir, so that I can answer this interesting and important question more thoroughly than I can here. With respect to my book on Montezuma, when I think about the work that he did for the Salt and Gila River reservations during the 1910s, I think about the world that my maternal grandparents were born into. My grandfather, Simon Lewis, was born in 1911. My grandmother, Margaret Lewis (née Childs), in 1913. During the 1930s and 1940s, my grandparents worked their allotment in the Gila River Indian Community. According to my mom, Marilyn, and her older siblings, my grandfather was a pretty good farmer. His allotment, like others, was created during Montezuma’s time, when the superintendent for the Pima Agency, with the help of an allotment agent, surveyed the Gila and Salt River reservations. While the Akimel O’odham and Piipaash, who share these two reservations, lost a lot of land because of allotment, what we retained as a community was in large part due to Montezuma’s willingness to work tirelessly at defending his Yavapai people at Fort McDowell (keeping them from being forcibly relocated to Salt River) and, by turns, preempting a land and water rights crisis at Salt and Gila River from getting worse.
What are you working on now?
Now that the Montezuma book is out, making for my fourth major work in the field of American Indian intellectual history, I am finally turning all of my attention to O’odham culture, history, and politics. Specifically, I am working on a history of the Hia-Ced O’odham, which is a small but vibrant part of the O’odham homeland. I am related to them through my maternal grandmother. As for the book-length project that I am researching—tentatively titled Elder Brother’s Forgotten People: How the Hia-Ced O’odham Survived an Epidemic to Claim a Place in Arizona’s Transborder History—it covers the period from 1848-1936. Recently, I completed a 53-page chapter on the 1851 yellow fever epidemic that swept across ancestral Hia-Ced O’odham land in southwestern Arizona, and down toward the Sierra Pinacate, which compelled people to flee from the region to take refuge in Ajo, Quitobaquito, and Sonoyta. Unfortunately, because of the US-Mexico border, the creation of Arizona Territory, and restraints set by US federal Indian policy—most significantly, its reservation system—the Hia-Ced O’odham saw their presence reduced to “extinction”—or so anthropologists and the Indian Bureau assumed. My book is ultimately about Hia-Ced O’odham resilience, as they endured the indignity of being overlooked as the four O’odham reservations were drawn without them. My historical narrative will conclude with the 1936 Papago Tribe (now Tohono O’odham Nation) Constitution, when eleven reservation districts were enumerated, complete with the omission of any reference to the Hia-Ced O’odham. In the end, I hope my work brings the Hia-Ced O’odham all of the recognition they deserve as a discreet part of the O’odham Jeved, the O’odham homeland.
David Martínez is professor of American Indian studies at Arizona State University and is enrolled in the Gila River Indian Community.