Carlos Montezuma (1866-1923) was the first Native American graduate of the Illinois Industrial University (now the University of Illinois) in 1884. After graduating with high honors in chemistry he went to Chicago Medical School, then he worked as a doctor for the Bureau of Indian Affairs on different reservations and at Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. At Carlisle he and R. H. Pratt, the Superintendent, helped Indians work for equal rights and citizenship.
Carlos Montezuma, whose Yavapai-Apache Indian name was Wassaja, was born between 1866 and 1869 in the Superstition Mountains in Arizona. He never knew his exact birthdate because he was captured by the Pima tribe when he was a young boy. The Pima tried to trade Wassaja for horses and whiskey, but nobody wanted an Indian boy until an Italian photographer named Carlos Gentile paid 30 silver dollars to buy Wassaja. Carlos dressed Wassaja as a white boy and changed his Indian name to Carlos after himself. It is thought that he was named Montezuma after two famous Aztec emperors and Montezuma's Castle in Arizona.
As Gentile and Montezuma traveled around taking photographs it became obvious that the boy was very intelligent and needed a good education. Montezuma was quick and observant at setting up camera equipment and answering questions. They went to Chicago where it is said Gentile helped start the Art Institute and the Chicago Press Club and Carlos Montezuma went to school. Later they moved to New York where Gentile had an art studio. When the New York studio burned down, Gentile returned to Chicago and sent Montezuma to Urbana to live with a minister and to study with private tutors.
In 1896, Montezuma practiced medicine in Chicago. He also taught classes and gave lectures about stomach and intestinal sicknesses. He was a popular doctor who had a number of wealthy patients but when poor patients came to him, he did not charge them. In 1916 Carlos Montezuma began publishing a magazine called Wassaja, which was issued monthly for five years. In the magazine, he wrote about Indian rights and abolishing the Indian Bureau. A slogan he used in the magazine was, "Let my people go." Paying to publish the magazine cost a lot of money and many of his patients did not pay him enough money, so he became poor. When he realized he was suffering from diabetes and tuberculosis, Carlos Montezuma stopped publishing his magazine. He chose to die the Indian way by building a wickiup at his home reservation near Fort McDowell, Arizona. He died in the desert in January of 1923 with his wife, Marie Keller, at his side. A year after his death, citizenship was granted to Native American Indians.
For most of his life, Carlos Montezuma fought for Indian rights. He believed all Indians should be treated equally and have the same education as white people. In 1917, he was arrested when he told other Indians not to sign up for the draft because they were not given citizenship. President Woodrow Wilson ordered that Montezuma be freed from jail after one day. As an Indian leader, Carlos Montezuma believed that everybody could accomplish what they wanted, regardless of race or color. If you are driving in Arizona along the Bee-Line Highway (Route 87) near the Fort McDowell Indian Reservation, look for a marker about Carlos Montezuma that says, "the greatest of the educated Apaches, champion of Indian rights."