By John P. Langellier, Ph.D.

In last Sunday’s article Dr. Langellier told of a young Yavapai boy captured by U.S. Army soldiers, his adoption and education, and the beginnings of his efforts to tell the Indian side of events during the settling of Arizona Territory.

While Burns’s primary objective was to tell the Yavapai version of a history so dominated by white accounts, he broadened his scope to include traditional Indian oral history and ethnological information. Furthermore, he served as a principal informant for scholars who studied the Southeastern Yavapai and the Northeastern and Western Yavapai.

Burns’ search for a publisher was unsuccessful. Although he was never able to see the entire memoir published, he did succeed in seeing a partial account published in T. E. Farish’s History of Arizona.

In the meantime, he gave a copy of his manuscript to Colonel W. H. Corbusier, a retired army surgeon who had known Burns since shortly after his capture. The two men worked together to prepare the document for publishing. By 1922 Burns had provided Dr. Corbusier with elements of his manuscript so that the latter could present it to publishers. The work was rejected, as it was felt there was little interest in Indian history.

Comparison of Burns’ and Corbusier’s versions of the manuscript shows significant differences. Sometimes one has significantly more detail than the other concerning an incident. Also, the Corbusier copy does not contain segments about Burns’ experiences in Montana, his going to South Dakota with Crook’s troops, or his time in the East. Moreover, Corbusier’s editing excluded some of the more poignant elements, probably driven by the doctor’s Victorian sensibilities. Thus, the harsh treatment—at times, cruelty—toward Indians by whites is addressed in a somewhat less straightforward fashion by Corbusier than is evident in Burns’ more candid account.

Regardless of their differences, neither manuscript found favor with a publisher. The same situation continued to be true after the doctor’s death in 1930, when his son, William T. Corbusier, also attempted to interest publishers without success.

Even as efforts relative to the Corbusiers did not bear fruit, Burns attempts to pursue other avenues likewise failed. For example, in the spring of 1923, he once more contacted Sharlot M. Hall, asking, “[Who shall] I . . . get to publish my manuscript?” The following month Burns acknowledged Miss Hall’s reply and related, “I have about 247 copies [pages] already typewritten and only awaiting publication.” While the document evidently appealed to Sharlot Hall, there are no copies of her replies. Yet she retained the manuscript, which has been held in the Sharlot Hall Museum for more than eighty years. Unfortunately, Burns’ incredible account went almost unnoticed for generations. While a few researchers and scholars drew on Burns’ typescript, the memoir in its entirety remained unknown to a broader public.

Mike Burns (Hoomothya) in 1921 while residing at Ft. McDowell. Photo taken by Dr. William H. Corbuiser (Courtesy Sharlot Hall Museum – Call Number MS-8-i003).

One can argue that Burns never would have been able to produce his rich, detailed story were it not for his reintroduction to the Yavapai people after his days as an army scout ended. In fact, his marriage to Che-ha-ta resulted in more than the couple having a large family. This union with the daughter of a leader of the Apache Yuma, or Tolkapaya (western), division of the Yavapai tribe also in many ways helped him to reclaim his stolen past. Later, he said he received much of his information about historic events and preservation of Yavapai customs from his father-in-law and his father-in-law’s friends among the older generation.

It was this reintroduction to his people that allowed him to add to his incredibly rich recounting of a time that has been lost with the passing of Burns and those who came before him. His is not an easy story to follow given that English was not his first language, and despite certain educational advantages punctuation, grammar, and spelling were not his strong suit. These obstacles and the difficult, and often heart wrenching events he describes makes for a difficult “read”.  Nonetheless, at long last Sharlot Hall Museum’s press prepared Burn’s saga for publication and in 2010 released the poignant story under the title All My People Were Killed: The Memoir of Mike Burns (Hoomothya) A Captive Indian.

(Days Past is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners, International. The public is encouraged to submit articles for Days Past consideration. Please contact Assistant Archivist, Scott Anderson, at SHM Archives 928-445-3122 or via email at for information.)