Wednesday, January 28, 2009

2nd post: Capaldi's biography of Carlos Montezuma

A few days ago I wrote my initial thoughts about Gina Capaldi's picture book biography, A Boy Named Beckoning: The True Story of Dr. Carlos Montezuma, Native American Hero. The phrase "true story" leaped out at me, as did Capaldi's note, in which she said she drew from various documents written by Montezuma.

Today, I'll lay out comparisons between Montezuma's letter (I found a copy yesterday) and Capaldi's presentation of that letter.

The opening paragraphs...

The first paragraphs of Montezuma's letter:

My dear Friend: -

I am sorry that I delayed your request of August 31st.

I am a full-blooded Apache Indian, born about the year 1866 or '67 some where [sic] near the Four Peaks, Arizona Territory.

The Apache tribe roamed at will the country covering Ft. McDowell, Camp Date Creek, Prescott, Canon of Colorado, Ft. Defiance, Ft. Apache, San Carlos andSuperstition [sic] Mountains, for the Indians whom I have found at these places over thirty four years ago on my way east spoke the same dialect as I did. Since then the Apaches have been divided into various tribes.

My distant relatives are known as the Mohave Apaches;but [sic] the real Mohave Indians have a didtinct [sic] language of their own and were enemies to the Apaches.

For five years I lived in a most primitive state with my people-a band of about one hundred and fifty souls. Fortunately I was captured by the Pima Indians in the month of October, 1871 from the plateau known as Iron Peak, 10 or 12 miles north-west of the great Silver King mine;about [sic] 60 or 70 miles north-east of Florence and about 40 or 50 miles west of Globe in the Superstition range of mountains.

Page 4 of Capaldi's book includes an illustration of the letter she created as the framework to write the biography. Her presentation of this letter reads:

My dear friend,

I know that you are gathering information on me and what befell my people. I am, therefore, delighted to answer your questions. I hope that what I write will add knowledge, acceptance and understanding for all.

I am a full-blooded American* Indian, born in 1866 near Fish Canyon Creek in the Arizona Territory. Until the time I was five years old I was called Wassaja which means "beckoning." My people, a band of about one hundred and fifty souls, roamed the red earth plateaus. We searched for food and lived in small grass huts called oo-wahs.

Life was safe and simple in my grandfather's day. It was deadly and dangerous in mine, for we had many enemies...

Debbie's thoughts/observations:

  1. In Montezuma's letter, he does not use the word "oo-wahs" anywhere.
  2. On page three of his letter, he says that his Indian name is "Was-sa-jah" and that it means "Beckoning."
  3. Capaldi substituted "Apache" for "American Indian." The information the asterisk references is on the same page of her book. It says "When Dr. Montezuma wrote this letter to Professor Holmes, he stated that he was an Apache. Years later, he came to learn that he was not Apache but Yavapai." First, I don't think she should have made that substitution. Putting words in someone's mouth, especially about how they self-identify, is pretty egregious and presumptive. Second, why choose "American Indian" instead of "Yavapai"? Did she reason that her readers would know what "American Indian" means but be confused by "Yavapai"? Countless times, Native people have stated that they prefer the name of their tribal nation over the generic "American Indian" or "Native American." Using one of the latter obscures the diversity within those terms.
As Capaldi said in her author's note, she pulled from various documents Montezuma wrote. What she presents in the book as a letter is actually drawn from several places and times. Below are some specific comparisons. Somewhere, I may find that Montezuma actually wrote the words Capaldi brings into her presentation of the 1905 letter. Finding out where those words actually are, in document and in chronological time, requires more research. I'll do more of that research later today. For now, I'll look at the information in the opening pages:

Date of his capture:
  • Montezuma's letter says "...I was captured by the Pima Indians in the month of October, 1871..."
  • Capaldi's presentation of this point of his life is on page 6. The first line is "The Awful Night at Iron Peak Plateau; the second line is "October 1871" and the text reads: "In the month when the shadows run long..."
My thoughts? Did he say, somewhere, "when the shadows run long..." or is this Capaldi's creative hand at work?

Details of his capture:
  • Montezuma's letter says "...our camp was raided at midnight. Thirty or more were killed and about 16 or 18 children taken captive. I was one of that number and with the others was taken down into the valley and carried off.
  • Capaldi's presentation says "When it turned midnight, we were awakened by the sound of gunshots. There were screams everywhere. My mother and sisters ran for their lives. I scrambled under a clump of bushes and waited for the terror to end. But the full moon rose over the peaks, and its bright light revealed my hiding place. A strange man spotted me. He snatched me up by the arm and bound me with rope. I stood terrified and watched my village burn. Before that horrible night, I had never seen a horse. Nor had I ever seen a dead person. That night I saw both. that night I cried."

There's a lot of detail in Capaldi's presentation. I hope to find those details as I continue my research of his writing.

Where was his father during this capture?
  • Montezuma says "During the raid all the braves of the village were at San Pedro on a mission for a Peace treaty, and as my father was on his way back he received, from an Indian runner, the sad news of the massacre of his little band by the Pimas. "
  • Capaldi tells us " father and the other men rode away toward the rising sun to make peace with the U. S. Army." She places these words right before her description of the chapter, right after the words "when the shadows run long,".

A "Peace treaty," he says. Capaldi tells us "make peace with the U. S. Army." That phrase "make peace" is pretty common, or at least quite familiar to me. Sort of, that is, because I think I remember it a little different... It is "make peace with the Indians" --- not the U.S. Army. I'll check into Native use of the phrase in historical writings.

Immediately after his capture
  • Montezuma's letter says: "Two days travel over the hot desert brought me to what is known as Black Water Camp, twenty-five miiles above the present site of Sacston [sic].
  • On page 8, Capaldi presents "The Trek over the Hot Desert" again dated "October 1871." She says:
A Pima warrior lifted me upon a horse, and we rode for two days over the hot Arizona desert. When we reached their village, I was given pumpkin, corn, and horsemeat to eat, but I could not stomach these. Perhaps it was because I had never tasted these foods before. Perhaps it was because I was too scared.

There were close to four hundred men, women, and children in the village. I was afraid they might kill me and therefore resolved to do whatever I could to please them. During this time, the Pima were very kind to me.

On the third day of my captivity, I saw several Pima pointing at me. Some laughed. Others looked sad when my eyes met theirs. My captors painted their faces and began their war dance. The whole village danced around me. The men threatened me with spears and war clubs. The women threw dirty rags, and the children spat. An enemy captive was quite a prize--even if it was a mere sobbing child.

Everyone I knew and loved was gone. The Pima gave me a new name, Hejelweiikan, which means, "left alone."

Debbie's comments: Nowhere in his letter is there anything like what she describes. No face painting or war dance, and no spitting. It is possible he wrote something like this, perhaps, in Red Man. Capaldi cites Red Man in her bibliography. It was published at Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Though many read and use them as-is, scholars have shown that the Indian Helper, in particular, was heavily dictated and edited by teachers to portray the school as a happy place with happy students.


That's all for now..... Back to the archives.


Note, 3:35 PM, Jan 28, 2009:

I've spent the day in the archives. On the Bibliography page of her book, Capaldi says "I reconstructed the accounts of Montezuma's early life mainly from an interview he gave in 1921 to writer, N. M. Clark." I found that interview. It is called "Dr. Montezuma, Apache: Warrior in Two Worlds" and appeared in Montana: The Magazine of Western History, in volume 23, no. 2 (April, 1973). The interviewer, Neil M. Clark, prefaced the actual interview with this (excerpt from p. 57):

Late in the year 1921, I sat down with Dr. Montezuma in the front room of his home on the south side of Chicago. He was a man of medium height, solidly built, with eyes that were black and sometimes mystical. His hair was black and straight, his features unmistakably those of a pureblood Indian. There was nothing unusual about the room where we first sat down. But we had not been there long when Dr. Montezuma rose.

"Come with me, he said, "it is too civilized here." He led the way to his study. Here we might have been in a miniature museum. The walls were covered with pictures of the people and scenes of his race and his friends. On strings across the ceiling hung moccasins, skins, ears of corn, and a host of trinkets.

"This," Montezuma smiled, "is the medicine man's workroom!"

The interview corresponds pretty close to the episodes Capaldi relates. As she said in her note, she drew from this interview to present Montezuma's early life. Clark says that Montezuma stood and closed his eyes to tell this part of his story (excerpt from p. 58-59):

I, little WASSAJA, was asleep in our grass hut. I woke to the sound of war cries, the echoes of guns, and the crackle of fires. I ran for my life, and soon overtook my two sisters, the older one carrying the younger on her back. I passed them, but presently stumbled and fell. Too frightened to go on, I crawled under a bush, small than myself, and curled up, hardly daring to breath. I might have been safe there, but at that moment the moon rose above the rim of Iron Peak and revealed my hiding-place as if it had been mid-day. I caught sight of someone stealing toward me -- a stranger, I knew, for he had a queer high hat on his head, and a cape around his shoulders. I had never seen anybody clothed, and I could think of nothing but this was some god coming after me. The figure came close, put out a swift hand and seized my arm."

Here's another excerpt (p. 59):

Alone, friendless, frightened, I sat there and cried with all my might. Occasionally a warrior would make a motion at me with a tomahawk or a spear, and I would scream. The women kicked sand in my face and threw their dirty rags at me. The children spat on me. Their dance around the captive of the feared and hated Apaches, though the captive was only a small boy, lasted for an hour.

As I continue reading the Clark interview alongside the Capaldi book, in the context of what I know about Native voice, Native history, appropriation and interpretation of voice, I can't help wondering about this interview. The prefatory material about Montezuma characterizing his front room as "too civilized" and taking Clark to a room filled with "moccasins, skins" and other things does not match what I know about Montezuma and his thinking about American Indians and what he thinks progress would look like. Clark seems to portray a tragic Indian who cherishes an Indian existence. That does not sound like Montezuma, but I'm still reading, still studying.

Still working, still thinking....


Jonquil said...

Montezuma's original language is much more graceful and flowing. I am somewhat suspicious of the choppy one-idea sentences Capaldi substitutes.

Nina said...

Debbie, thank you so much for doing this research. I had similar initial qualms in reading this book, and hoped that someone would dig deeper.

jpm said...

When a biographer basically compresses the content of several document into one "letter" from his/her subject -- is that acceptable practice in biographies for an adult audience? I hope not; how would we know what to trust? What would make that kind of thing acceptable in a biography for younger readers?

Anonymous said...

It's a 32-page book. What's wrong with presenting the story from many sources in a condensed form for kids? Adult books usually have more pages to examine documents more fully.

Debbie Reese said...


Capaldi collapsed what Montezuma said in 1905 and what he said in 1921. What he said in 1905 was pretty straightforward account of his life, in his words. There's no doubt of that. I'm not sure of the 1921 interview because the author's preface reveals what I interpret as a romanticized view of Native peoples. I'm doing research, trying to find other places where Montezuma recounts the captivity in the same way that Clark's interview presents it.

jpm said...

Anonymous, Maybe I missed something. Are you saying that you believe the length of a book excuses misinforming the audience? Expediency trumps accuracy when those who will be misinformed are "just children"? As a parent, grandparent, and teacher... I disagree.