Carlos Montezuma

 From collections of the National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

Image citation: Carlos Montezuma, 1896 Photographic reproduction: From collections of the National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

About Wassaja

Around the year 1866 a young Yavapai boy named Wassaja ("Beckoning") was born in what would later become central Arizona. In October 1871 O’odham raiders separated Wassaja from his family – thereby initiating what would be a thirty-year separation from his native community. Wassaja was soon under the custody of a travelling Italian photographer named Carlos Gentile who a month later had the boy baptized as Carlos Montezuma. Montezuma lived under Gentile's care during his formative years and attended public schools in Illinois and then New York until late 1878 when economic circumstances caused Gentile to end the guardianship. Baptist minister William H. Steadman of Urbana, Illinois soon became Montezuma's new guardian.

Montezuma graduated from Urbana High School in 1879, and in 1880 (at about age 14) became a student at the University of Illinois. He graduated from the University of Illinois in 1884 and shortly thereafter began medical studies at Chicago Medical College (a branch of Northwestern University). By the time Montezuma completed his doctorate of medicine (M.D.) degree in 1889 he had already begun exchanging letters with Richard Henry Pratt, founder of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. Their friendship would endure for the remainder of both of their lives.

From 1889 through the end of 1892 Montezuma worked as a Bureau of Indian Affairs physician at reservations in the Dakota Territory, Nevada and Washington State, and from January 1893 until the end of 1895 Montezuma was the physician at Pratt's Carlisle School. In 1896 Montezuma returned to Chicago where he set-up an independent medical practice and taught at various medical schools. He would remain a practicing physician in Chicago for more than twenty-five years. In 1911 Montezuma was a founding member of the Society of American Indians, and from 1916 through the end of 1922 he also wrote and published "Wassaja" - in which he expressed his increasing dissatisfaction with both the reservation system and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Montezuma had reestablished his relationship with the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation years earlier and for years had been serving as advisor to several American Indian communities on water and land right disputes. In December of 1892 Carlos Montezuma returned to Arizona and on January 31, 1923 he died there from tuberculosis.

In honor of Carlos Montezuma the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation in Fort McDowell, Arizona operates the Wassaja Memorial Health Center -

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