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  • Writer's picturegina@ginacapaldi

Museum Talk in Arizona

I was asked to give a talk to Arizona's River of Time Museum patrons and docents. The talk was to discuss my book, A Boy Named Beckoning, and shed a light on the amazing, Dr. Carlos Montezuma   It was a whirlwind of a trip to Fountain Hills, Arizona, but one that I all not soon forget. There were so many people who guided us on trips that not only had they influenced the day, they changed my life, forever.

Many thanks to the Fountain Hills team, Kathleen Butler and Gladys Kleshi, who pulled everything together: Fountain Hills Charter School author visit, Yavapai Nation Reservation tour, Yavapai Cultural Museum meeting with (Director, Karen Ray, Ralph Bear, and Dr. Bill Myer), Yavapai school tour, lunch, the tour of the Museum of Time, and the final talk on my book, A Boy Named Beckoning, held at the Fountain Hills Civic Center.

Our escorts through this exhilarating, informative, day are the delightful…and, very patient, Debbie and Kit Wyper from the Museum of Time. What wonderful hospitality we were given!

Kids at Fountain Hills Charter School

Below is the talk which I delivered at the end of this wonderful day in Arizona.

I want to say, right off the bat that I am primarily an illustrator, but adapting Carlos Montezuma’s own words for a young readership was a wonderful challenge for me as a writer.

A Boy Named Beckoning, is the testament of the character, heart and triumph of the human spirit from one man, Dr. Carlos Montezuma.

In a time when there was little or no regard for American Indians, Wassaja was brutally ripped

from his people. Despite great obstacles, 

Yavapai Reservation with Cultural Coordinator, GM  and docent

Wassaja grew up to become Dr. Carlos Montezuma—One of the most famous Native Americans of his day. He wore many hats: Doctor, Lecturer, Professor, Researcher, and Publisher. But his most important role was that of Native American Civil Rights Activist.

Dr. Montezuma worked tirelessly to reform Indian policy with the United States government. He fought for his People’s right to vote and their right to keep their ancestral land…but above all, he fought for their dignity.

To me, Carlos Montezuma's work as a Civil Rights Activist is on the same level as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Cesar Chavez.  We know that Carlos Montezuma was a strong political voice at the turn of the 20th century.

* He had relationships with Presidents Harding and Coolidge.

* His speech, “Let My People Go,” was read on the US Senate floor.

* Because of Dr. Carlos Montezuma efforts, American Indians finally gained their right to citizenship.

* He fought for the Yavapai...their land and water rights.

Carlos Montezuma is a Yavapai Hero. He is also my Hero for the reasons I stated but also because of what he endured, and achieved in spite of obstacles.

It is a privilege to have had the opportunity to write and illustrate, 

A Boy Named Beckoning.

The story of Carlos Montezuma came to me 12 years before it was ever published.  

In 1994, I was researching an educational book on American Indians.  During that time I walked into our local video store because I like to watch movies related to the subject. Sort of gets me in the mood.

I asked where the educational documentaries were and a worker guided me to a black curtain. I wondered if he misunderstood me.  Maybe “educational” was code for “naughty” movies. Behind the black curtain were hundreds of documentaries. 

There was a lot WRONG with that video store but I was able to dig up a strange title, called, “Dr. Montezuma and the Smithsonian”…I decided to rent it.

The film featured a letter written in 1905 by Dr. Carlos Montezuma to Professor Holmes from the Smithsonian Institution. It had a narrator speaking over Plains Indians Ledger Art...which didn’t make sense since the narrator stated that he was an “Apache Indian.”

Still that discrepancy did not keep me from being riveted to the most amazing story I’ve ever heard.

Dr. Montezuma explained his life by stating that:

* His name had been Wassaja, which means, “Signaling” or “Beckoning.”

* He was born 1876 near Iron Peak Ridge in the Arizona Mountains.

* When he was four years old his people were massacred and he was abducted by the Pima.

* He was sold for 30 silver dollars to an itinerant Italian photographer

Giving my talk to Museum patrons and docents

* Together they traveled the country

* He briefly acted in a play with Buffalo Bill

* He went to school in Chicago

* He graduated high school at 14, graduated college at 17

  Then, he went to medical school.

* Shortly after medical school, Carlos Montezuma dedicated his life to helping his people-demanding their rights for citizenship, healthcare, educational and voting right. All this in the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s.

How could you not be captivated by the story?  

 The first thing I did was to contact the National Archives and asked for a copy of Carlos Montezuma's letter. Then, I got to work. If my math serves me well this was twenty years ago.

Carlos Montezuma is an icon. The story of his youth puts his later struggles

into perspective. Imagine being a child and seeing your village burn. You hide under a bush and watch the chaos. An arm from nowhere grabs you. At dawn you are forced to march two days in the hot desert to the Pima village. Imagine the numbness, terror and exhaustion you would feel!

After a week of being held captive, you are taken outside, placed on wooden boxes and a war dance begins. Old women and children spit and throw dirty rags at you. And yet, Carlos Montezuma remembered others whose eyes showed sadness for the child. This is the person I wanted to know...the one who could tell goodness from the bad, even as a child.

The story goes on, little Wassaja is taken to Florence, Arizona, to be traded or sold. He has never seen a horse. He has never seen an Anglo man. Or, an adobe house.

For a short time Wassaja is placed in the storage room

in a trading post. He is given candies and

Getting ready for book signing.

cookies to eat. Then, he sees a boy, the same age and size of himself. This strange boy mimics Wassaja's every move. Wassaja is ready for a fight and when he moves to the side, the boy disappears. This is the first time he sees his reflection in a mirror.  Then, we read that a man, with a very thick Italian accent, buys Wassaja for 30 silver dollars.

The little boy is thirsty and cries out for water but no one can understand what he is saying. An old Indian woman is brought in with hopes that she can understand his cries. She cannot. But, she intuitively gives him a drink of water.

You get the point!      

My children’s book, A Boy Named Beckoning, is a biography. It is also non-fiction and reveals not only what Carlos Montezuma experienced but also, reveals a shared experience of those Yavapai who had been abducted the same time as he. 

I hope that the book is thought provoking.

What is compelling is that despite circumstances, one can survive. Despite the terror of a childhood one can excel. Despite cultural and language barriers, one can conquer. You can overcome bigotry. And, education is the key to success. For me, reading Montezuma’s story also means that there are no excuses.

Book Signing

Much of what I have stated was not in the original letter to the Smithsonian. The rest, I had to discover. First, I visited every repository and library in the area. And, finally located the Carlos Montezuma papers on microfiche at the Southwest Museum. These papers were edited by Dr. John Larner.

The Quest was on. I Drove to Arizona, visited sites, picked up rocks, and collected dirt to get a sense of the land. Dug up more material from the National Archives. Nagged historians. I also made some valuable and treasured friendships.  Dragged my revised manuscripts to my writing group for revisions.


The breadth of my book came from Primary Resources including: Articles and Essays that Montezuma wrote, The Carlos Montezuma papers, edited by my new friend, Dr. John Larner. There were other holdings from the Universities of Wisconsin, Chicago, and University of Arizona.

The books written by Dr. Speroff, Dr. Marino, and Iverson are great scholarly works on Montezuma. There was an interesting book by Elaine Waterstrat that gave me additional first person Yavapai accounts. There were also misc. transcripts and Dissertations.

Each of these works took part in building the story.

A Boy Named Beckoning and awards!

While preparing for this talk, it occurred to me that I might be asked why the book is entitled, A Boy Named Beckoning, rather than A Boy Named Wassaja. 1. “Beckoning” is a compelling seemed to be a significant word in relation to Montezuma's life. 2. The word is personally significant because as I researched the story, it continued to “Beckon me” for 12 years while I kept trying to fill in the gaps. 

Eventually the story began to evolve. With the final manuscript draft looming there were things I needed to keep clear: This was a children's picture book; I had to remain true to Carlos Montezuma's story; I determined that the skeleton of the story was the letter he wrote to the Smithsonian Institution; I needed to keep copious research notes and back up my sources; I would weave Montezuma's various accounts into the Letter; I wanted side bars in the book to add a secondary historic account.

In light of everything, I have to share how: Dr. John (Jack) Larner, editor of the CM Papers shared his experiences with me: He wrote: “As well you can imagine, reading all of someone’s mail plus their private written musings really gets you very well acquainted with that person.  Oh, the dreams of Wassaja at varied stages of his life.  When confused by his several hand-writing styles, I’d look up and verbally ask him for help.  Yep, immediately the obscure passages were clear as could be, no problems whatsoever!”


Wassaja’s very love and potent spirit is truly with us.  As we say in Pittsburgh: “It doesn't get any better than that!” 

(A special dedication to Carolina Butler, editor of The Oral History of the Yavapai, for all her support )

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