Master's Theses



Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


The late nineteenth to the early twentieth century witnessed many changes in American social culture. This time period was one of progressive, rapid growth in technology and scientific achievement. It was also a time when Native Americans began to experience the influence of such progressive growth. A large number of Native Americans believed that education and political change were the tools necessary for the American Indian to overcome poverty and lack of opportunity. One Native American who overcame such obstacles was Carlos Montezuma, M.D. This Yavapais Indian began life in central and southern Arizona and was captured by Pimas in 1871. He was then sold to an Italian photographer by the name of Carlos Gentile. Gentile saw to it that the young Indian boy attended school, and it was this opportunity that changed Carlos Montezuma's life. After completing both college and medical school, he became one of the first Indian medical doctors of this era. Wanting to be of some help to his people, Montezuma elected to serve as an agency physician for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) upon completion of medical school. Montezuma's tenure with the BIA lasted from 1889 until 1896 and, during that time, he served as physician and clerk for three reservations and the Carlisle Indian School. Montezuma's experience as an agency physician was, on the whole, not a good one. He did enjoy the time spent at Carlisle, but he also believed that he could do more for his people off the reservation and out from under the BIA. However, his experiences with the practice of reservation medicine proved valuable in reorienting his goals and ideas. Also, he left for the historian a wonderful picture of the realities of frontier medicine. Upon leaving the BIA, Montezuma began a private practice in Chicago with the noted stomach specialist, Dr. Fenton B. Turck. His Chicago practice began at a time when tremendous progress was being made in medicine. Pharmacology became a legitimate specialty, the use of hospitals increased, laboratory tests became available, and various medical specialties emerged. Montezuma also practiced medicine at a time when urban poverty was commonplace and survival for the ordinary worker was the focus of his life. Montezuma's Chicago practice also included dealing with the political changes in medicine. For example, the records he had to keep for the public health service included incidences of venereal diseases, and the government also made him report all alcohol prescriptions during prohibition. The Chicago years proved to be very busy and exciting ones for Montezuma. He treated and corresponded with many patients, met famous newspaper men and politicians, fought for Indian rights, and built a successful medical practice. This medical practice included caring for the twenty-seven Indians injured in a train wreck at Maywood, Illinois on April 7, 1904. These Indians, including the famous Luther Standing Bear, all worked for Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show and were injured while traveling to meet other members of the troop. His case history notes are invaluable in revealing the extent of the damages suffered by these Indians. Although he cared for Indians from time to time, his primary practice consisted of white, urban society. Carlos Montezuma's entire life demonstrated to all that an Indian could achieve much if only given the opportunity. He proved, by example, that hard work, dedication, and a philosophy of giving are the primary components of success. His medical practice provides a view of the medical history of the time, different aspects of medical practice, the struggle and problems of the everyday worker, and the frustration and hard work physicians of that era often faced. Carlos Montezuma proved that it was indeed possible to merge two very different worlds in a positive and productive way.


Raymond Wilson

Date of Award

Spring 1990

Document Type

Thesis - campus only access


© 1990 Cynthia Fent


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