The Montezuma legend

Old Montezuma was a really hardworking guy. Not only did he rule the Aztecs down in Central Mexico, but he (or his granddaddy) found time to travel throughout the Southwest building castles, digging wells, four story adobe buildings, canals and generally raising hell. Wow!.

Or maybe he didn't. The fact is it all started in about 1777, when Anza anmd Font decided to refer to the Casagrande ruins as "Casa de Montezuma" because, obviously, it could only be the work of "advanced indians" not the Pimas or their ancestors (the Hohokam, I believe). Soon mapmakers such as Rocha and Lafora were on the bandwagon, and every ruin, mountain peak and cactus in the area was named Montezuma this or Montezuma that. So after 1777 we find quite a few maps identifying the Casa Grande ruins as Montezuma's House, or Ruins of the great House of the Aztecs (Humboldt, 1804). This silliness lasted for about 100 years.

The epicenter of the Montezuma ledgend was Maricopa Wells around 1850. As the Pioneers came up the Gila trail from Tucson in their wagons, passing the Cara Grande ruins, they were feed a steady diet of Montezuma tales. The only evidence today are the 3 or 3 locations in the Estrellas officially named after the Aztec chief: Monetezuma Head, Montezuma Peak, Montezuma Sleeping and some sometimes you find Montezuma point, and even Montezuma Shoulder. As the gringos camped around their fires at the 'wells', getting ready for the infamous jornada accross the Fourty Mile desert, they would hear tells of the Montezuma ledgend. Many of these are mentioned in the diaries of the thousands of travellers.

Below you will find a poem extracted from one of the diaries of the pioneers.


High on the mighty mountain, crowning the burning sand,
Lies there a wondrous image, carved by a cunning hand:
Ever the awful features, sunk in a solemn sleep,
Smile with the mystic meaning of a great thought they keep.

Heedless of times or seasons, out from the mountain's crown,
Over the desert landscape, that sculptured face looks down -
Sealed with the seal of silence, beyond all mortal ken,
Guarding some hidden secret locked from the minds of men.

Over those stony eyelids the storms and tempests beat -
Calm through the fierce tornado, calm through the scorching heat:
Ever that silent witness of some long-banished race
Looks through the lapse of ages with pale prophetic face.

There the great Montezuma - loved by his people well -
Sleeps on the barren mountain, held by a potent spell;
And there - so runs the legend - still must the warrior wait
Until his vanquished people, breaking the bonds of Fate,

Burst in a mighty torrent from centuries' slavish rest,
To wreak on the oppressor the wrongs of the oppressed;
And from the hidalgos' banner to wash with fiery rain
Those stains of lust and rapine, the blood-red bands of Spain.

Calm o'er the torrid desert, over yon eyrie high,
Smile the majestic features while the long years roll by:
Still does the slumbering monarch watch o'er the wondrous lands,
Waiting the coming sun-burst, waiting the marshaled bands.

Lord of the arid landscape, lord of the barren soil,
He heeds not strife or bloodshed,the spoilers or the spoil:
Still do the mourning millions beyond that mountain throne
Wait till the crowned monarch shall come to claim his own,

When from the time-worn temples the war-drum's thundering roll
Wakes the fierce throb of freedom in every subject soul -
Till from the sacred city to distant Yucatan
The shout of "Montezuma!" shall pass from man to man.

Edward Renaud

Trail Marker about 1.5 miles from Old Mine, Done on side of road in 68 by persons unknown

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