restricted access Carlos Montezuma’s Fight against “Bureauism”: An Unexpected Pima Hero
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Carlos Montezuma’s Fight against “Bureauism”
An Unexpected Pima Hero

What follows is an account of how Yavapai writer and activist Carlos Montezuma (ca. 1866–1923) became a prominent figure in early twentieth-century Indigenous Arizona history. Specifically, it is about how Montezuma became an unexpected hero to the Akimel and Tohono O’odham communities (or Pima and Papago, respectively). This occurred as part of Montezuma’s advocacy work for the Fort McDowell community. Because of the courageous way Montezuma battled the Indian Bureau, his reputation spread, as did his ideas and influence. And, while some regard Montezuma’s belated reconnection to his Yavapai community as a contradiction to his assimilationist political agenda, this article argues to the contrary that Montezuma’s fight against “bureauism” was the culmination of a life devoted to abolishing the Indian Bureau. Montezuma’s legacy was made from inspiring the Yavapai, Pima, and Papago communities to assert their rights. The scholarly literature, however, has been unfortunately slow at recognizing Montezuma’s role in Arizona Indian history, not to mention American Indian intellectual history. With the latter oversights in mind, this article shows that Montezuma’s work is integral to the development of “progressivism” in American Indian politics, as reflected in the work of Pima authors. What the Pima perspective poignantly shows is that Montezuma earned his legacy by being a good relative to his Yavapai tribe and family, in addition to being a truly good friend to the Pima and Papago.

With respect to the reservation system, Montezuma was unequivocal in his condemnation of the Indian Bureau’s mishandling of health and education services. In a 1913 issue of the Quarterly Journal of the Society of American Indians, Montezuma set a tone that drove his political [End Page 311] agenda for the rest of his life. In an address titled “Light on the Indian Situation,” Montezuma recounted his life story, including his legendary abduction by Pima raiders, his childhood in Chicago, and his graduation from medical college. He also gave a brief account of his career as an Indian Service physician, in which he said of the Western Shoshone Agency: “There I saw in full what deterioration a reservation is for the Indians. I watched these Indians, cut off from civilized life, trying to become like Yankees with the aid of a few government employes [sic]. Because of my own experience I was now able to fully realize how their situation held them to their old Indian life, and often wondered why the government held them so arbitrarily to their tribal life, when better things were all around them” (51). Based on his Indian Service experience, Montezuma launched a three-pronged political crusade: (1) creating outrage about reservation conditions, (2) calling for the abolition of the Indian Bureau, and (3) advocating for the assimilation of Indians into mainstream American society. “Colonization, segregation and reservation are the most damnable creations of men,” Montezuma declares. “They are the home, the very hothouse of personal slavery—and are no place for the free and the ‘home of the brave’” (53).

What Montezuma wanted, above all, was for Indians to enjoy the same rights and privileges that their white—albeit, typically male and especially privileged—counterparts took for granted as US citizens. Benefiting from such advantages as a modern education only occurred for Montezuma because he was reared in an urban environment, far from the oppressive conditions of reservation life. Nevertheless, he could not forsake his birth community altogether. As Leon Speroff notes: “Beginning in 1901, Montezuma returned to Arizona in the early fall of nearly every year” (258). Montezuma consequently became acquainted with Yuma Frank, who led the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation during these years, and his cousins, one of whom, Charles Dickens, solicited Montezuma’s help against the Indian Bureau and the Salt River Valley Water Users Association, both of which wanted the Yavapais removed. Dickens broke the news to Montezuma in a letter dated March 29, 1910: “Lately I learned that our agent have [sic] heard from Washington that we are to move to the Pima Indian Reservation” (Speroff 285). Montezuma did not hesitate to answer the call for help and accepted...