Friday, January 23, 2009


On page 3 of Gina Capaldi's A Boy Named Beckoning: The True Story of Dr. Carlos Montezuma, Native American Hero is her Author's Note. As I read through her words, I pause again and again. For example: she calls him a civil rights activist, but he was an Indian Rights activist. There is a difference. In her note, Capaldi tells us that this book is based on a letter Montezuma wrote. That letter was sent to a professor at the Smithsonian who was working on a book about American Indians. The first paragraphs of that letter are on page 5 of Capaldi's book. But, wait! Are those first paragraphs from Montezuma's letter? The last paragraph of Capaldi's note reads:

"Montezuma would later reveal other, more complete versions of his life through interviews, newspaper and magazine articles, speeches, and letters--all of which have been saved in various libraries in museums throughout the United States. These documents were my source for Dr. Montezuma's own words, which I interwove into the original letter to more fully present the doctor's life. I have made every effort to be true to the original sources and have only added brief phrases to make the text flow smoothly."
Hmm... I'm not sure about that... Combining his words from various places to "more fully present" his life story. Those details would definitely have been fine if they'd been part of the information she provides, but, presenting them as if they're part of the letter he wrote, the words he chose to share about who he is? That doesn't feel right.

Information provided on page 4, left side of the page reads:

"The Yavapai Indians have lived in central and western Arizona for centuries. In the days that they roamed the deserts of the Southwest, the men were mainly hunters and gatherers and the women were known for their intricate woven baskets."

They "roamed" the deserts? I bristle at the use of that word. Indians roam. Just like the deer and the antelope in the song Home on the Range... " Did the pioneers or the cowboys roam, too?

Curious, I did a few searches using Google:

On the web---
  • Search phrase: "Pioneers roamed": 129 hits
  • Search phrase: "Cowboys roamed": 938 hits
  • Search phrase: "Indians roamed": 9,910 hits

I repeated the search in Google books---
  • Pioneers roamed: 23 hits
  • Cowboys roamed: 135
  • Indians roamed: 688 hits

Interesting numbers, eh? Given the ubiquitous image of roaming Indians, it is not surprising that Capaldi did it, too. But that doesn't make it ok.

And the illustrations that accompany the text on that page?

Above the text that says "roamed" is a black and white photograph that "shows a Yavapai family in the 1880s." The boy in the photograph is wearing jeans and a long sleeve shirt. The girls and women are wearing what look like calico dresses. Capaldi's illustration, which spans the double-paged spread, depicts a barefoot man and boy wearing breechclouts. The man carries a spear. To my eye, Capaldi's illustration of the man screams stone-age caveman.

Overlaying the illustration is the opening paragraphs of the letter that Capaldi uses as the frame to tell this story. But again, are these the words he actually wrote in that letter?

Ah, yes, some of you may say "HE used the word "roamed" in his letter..." In fact, he may have. Some Native people adopt(ed) words use(d) by white writers, but because of what Capaldi said in her Author's Note, we don't know if "roamed" is Montezuma's word or hers.

I'm searching for a copy of that letter. When I find it, I'll be able to make some comparisons.

To be continued...
Update: March 14, 2009

Capaldi's book was discussed two other times:
Monday, January 28
Sunday, Feb 1, 2009


serrana said...

Oh, that's a neat point about "roaming."

I will admit that I'm also bemused by "deserts." Were these not the Yavapai up around Prescott? Since when is that a desert? Yes, it's dry, but...being an upland people is a whole different thing, at least in my mind.

Debbie Reese said...

Thanks, Serrana, for your comment. I'll follow up on that when I pick up the book again.

Barbara Landis said...

And, of course, *buffalo* roam. I am reading a manuscript now about a girl who enrolls in the Carlisle school and her people "roamed" as well. I had the same reaction when I saw that and it's in my notes to bring up with the author.

But, back to the Capaldi book, I do believe I communicated with the author when she was developing the Montezuma story as a project to ultimately pitch to PBS. I gave her Gen Bell's contact info but never saw the manuscript.

Great points.

Happy New Year!

-Barb Landis