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Dr. Carlos Montezuma-A Yavapai medical doctor at the turn of the century

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Carlos ‘Wassaja’ Montezuma–a Yavapai medical doctor with intrigue

By Don Decker, YAN News

Part 1 of 3.

Dr. Monte Anderson, a retired physician from Mayo Clinic takes a keen interest in Dr. Carlos Montezuma.

Dr. Monte Anderson, a retired medical doctor from the Mayo Clinic Arizona who now lives in Prescott, the late Charles Mayo, founder with his brother Will, of the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota,  Dr. Carlos Montezuma (Yavapai medical doctor), and the Yavapai Apache Nation all have some things in common: their history would meet up together over many years.

Dr. Anderson has been working closely with the Yavapai Apache Nation in developing a working relationship with his St. Luke’s Episcopal Church Native American Ministry in Prescott and the youth programs of the Yavapai Apache Nation.  It was a slow start for Dr. Anderson to get things rolling but, with the cooperation of Monica Marquez, a mountain biking club for the youth is beginning to form.

In a visit to a church board meeting last year, this writer had an opportunity to meet the board of the Episcopal Church organization for the state of Arizona in Prescott, where the board made affirmations to support the efforts of American Indians nationwide.  Barbara Sanchez, the sister of Vine DeLoria Jr. and a member of the Ministry, closed the meeting with a prayer.  In the weekly Sunday church bulletin the Prescott St. Luke’s Episcopal Church has a statement of their support for the Yavapai-Apache people and Native Americans.

The Prescott church has conducted various missions to Indian communities in Arizona and in 2018 made a visit to Hopiland to deliver Christmas presents to one of the communities there.

In order to see how a Native American biking team works, Dr. Anderson attended a bike tour, organized by Toby Tsosie and Claudia Jackson on the Navajo Nation in Klegatoh, a small hamlet located on the southern boundary of the Navajo Nation. A group of 25 youngsters rode 15 miles. No one dropped out.

The statewide Native American Ministry of the church meets to discuss other Native American activities throughout the year.  All of these trips to Indian country are absent of any proselytizing or conversion to Christianity as the church’s mission is inferred through the giving of gifts and sharing. The mission statement of the entire group is “We build bridges of understanding by learning, caring, respecting and interacting with our Native American brothers and sisters.”

Dr. Anderson has made a personal commitment in assisting the youth of the Yavapai Apache Nation through the various programs.  He received his background check to assure compliance with his participation in youth activities.

Dr. Anderson is currently working with Monica Marquez, the coordinator of the Youth Wilderness Program, a federally funded program to enhance the personal development of Yavapai-Apache youth.

Anderson possesses a passion for mountain biking, also said that he has benefactors willing to donate a large selection of mountain bikes to be used in the Nation’s youth program.

Background of Dr. Anderson

 Dr. Anderson attended the University of Nebraska, where he attained his medical degree with distinction and continued residency training at Creighton University School of Medicine.  He later specialized in gastroenterology and hepatology (diseases of the liver), which was his career at the Mayo Clinic.  The Mayo Clinic is considered one of the top medical clinics in the world, leading research in many different specialties.

Interestingly, the Mayo Clinic is located within a few miles from Fort McDowell, Dr. Carlos Montezuma’s home town. Dr. Mayo would have been pleased.

From the day Vincent Randall told Dr. Anderson Montezuma’s story, Anderson is waist-deep in his continued research of Dr. Carlos Montezuma, a Yavapai from Fort McDowell.  Dr. Anderson was amazed to learn that Dr. Charles Mayo and Dr. Montezuma were medical school classmates and friends at the Chicago College of Medicine, graduating in 1888.  It was through the connection of Dr. Charles Mayo and Dr. Montezuma that President Harding officially established the Fort McDowell reservation on February 8, 1922.

The story of how Dr. Carlos Montezuma got to Illinois and became a medical doctor is one of intrigue and mystery as told by Dr. Anderson, who has given his one-hour presentation about Dr. Carlos Montezuma at the Mayo Clinic last year.  Several members of the Fort McDowell reservation attended Dr. Anderson’s presentation at the Mayo Clinic.

Carlos Montezuma had two names. “Wassaja,” his original Yavapai name, means “beckoning.” “Montezuma,” was the great Central American chief of the Aztecs. Montezuma died in 1922 and the medical building at Fort McDowell is named “The Wassaja Memorial Medical Center.”  There is also a “Wassaja Hall” dedicated to him on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign, Illinois.  Dr. Montezuma is buried at Fort McDowell.

Montezuma was kidnapped in 1848 at six years of age and was bought by an Italian photographer, Carlo Gentile (1835-1893), a traveling photographer who had been to South America, Australia, and Victoria in Canada.  He focused his photography on native people and mining locations.  This is where the story picks up about Wassaja as Dr. Anderson tells it: “Gentile never settled down.  He went on to San Francisco, where he met another photographer who told him if he wanted to see Indians in their original setting, he should go to Arizona.  He comes to Arizona, Tucson, and up to Prescott.  He heard about an adobe village near Florence called Adamsville, now a ghost town.  Gentile went there to photograph the buildings.  There was a flour mill there, and a few stores, but Adamsville was also known for shootings and knifings.  He encountered three Pima Indians with a little boy in tow.  The Pimas wanted to sell the child.  Gentile walks away with the boy, who was baptized Carlos Montezuma at the at the church in Florence.  Anderson: “I asked myself man times, ‘What would I have done if I were in Gentile’s position at this time and place?’ I have no answer.”

Dr. Anderson describes how the little Yavapai boy, still with long hair, ends up in Chicago with Gentile who had bought him in Arizona.  At this time, Buffalo Bill of the “Wild West Show” heard about the Yavapai boy.

“He (Carlos Montezuma) appeared on stage for a whole year as ‘Azteca, the son of Cochise’.”  The skits were totally unrealistic.  But the audiences loved Carlos, the only Native American in the production. and the boy loved doing the Buffalo Bill Show. At the end of the year he started to attend a public school in Chicago, where a newspaperman wrote an article about the young Indian boy, stating that he was “rather superior in aptness and intelligence to boys of his age.”

Carlos became seriously ill that year and Gentile placed him on a farm with the Ferris family in Galesburg, Illinois. It was a long recovery. Carlos Montezuma: “Three doctors gave me up, but they did not know how tough an ‘Injun’ is, and I pulled through under the tender care of Mrs. Ferris.” As his health improved, he milked cows and helped out on the farm.


(Next issue–Part 2–Carlos Montezuma, class president at 14 years old.)

YAN New photos/historical photos



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