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Photo by Helga Teiwes. Arizona State Museum


EDWARD HOLLAND SPICER, who held a joint appointment in anthropology and sociology at the University of Arizona was perhaps the foremost scholar and authority on the history and culture of the Yaqui Indians of Sonora and the desert southwest. He was born on Thanksgiving Day November 29, 1906 in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania. In 1908 at age two the family moved to Arden, Delaware, just north of Wilmington.

In 1919, after being home schooled until age thirteen, his parents enrolled him in the Friends School in nearby Wilmington for three years. In 1922 the family moved to Louisville, Kentucky. In February 1924 Spicer graduated from Louisville Male High School.

During the first two years the Spicer family lived in Louisville he took up sailing on the Ohio River --- in a small boat of his own making. Following high school he enrolled at Commonwealth College in Newllano, Louisiana. In less than two months he joined a friend in seeking employment as a merchant sailor, finding a job as an ordinary seaman on a ship going to Germany. After short stops at the ports of Bremerhaven, Stettin, and Hamburg, the ship returned to the U.S. and Spicer went home to visit his parents. There he learned that his father, at the age of fifty-five, was dying of cancer.

Following the death of his father, Spicer worked briefly in a bookstore in the Wilmington area. Then, early in 1925, he headed out to sea again, sailing on a banana boat to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala. After returning from Central America, he joined the crew of a vessel hauling ore on the Great Lakes. A seamen's strike ended his career as a merchant sailor, and in the fall of 1925 Spicer enrolled at the University of Delaware with major in chemistry. During his sophomore year, after taking his first economics course he decided to transfer to Johns Hopkins University and study the subject more thoroughly.

In 1928 it was discovered Spicer had the symptoms of pulmonary tuberculosis. He entered a sanitorium for the rest of 1928 and most of the following year. While in the sanitorium he spent nearly all of his time reading and assisting with work in the laboratory, as well as pursuing a strong avocational interest in astronomy. In the fall of 1929 he dropped out of Johns Hopkins University possibly because of the tuberculosis, and moved to the dry, arid weather of Phoenix, Arizona, eventually enrolling at the University of Arizona in the Fall of 1931. There he took whatever classes he needed to qualify for a bachelor's degree coupled with the hope of pursuing graduate work in a new found interest in geology and archeology.

He earned a B.A. in economics, then in the spring of 1933, a master's degree in archeology. In 1934, at the urging of John Provinse, Spicer agreed to visit the University of Chicago and speak with the renowned anthropologists Redfield and Radcliffe-Browne whom Provinse had recommended so highly. From there Spicer decided to continue graduate studies leading to a doctorate in social anthropology.

The cold Chicago winter, together with his long study hours, combined to take their toll. Early in the spring Spicer suffered a hemorrhage that required hospitalization. When he was finally able to leave the hospital he returned to Arizona, taking a temporary job at the Arizona State Museum. In June 1936 Spicer got married. The happy couple spent their honeymoon at the Yaqui village of Pascua in northwest Tucson, which became their residence for the next year. Spicer then returned to Chicago to finish his dissertation.

Following the completion and acceptance of his dissertation Spicer was offered and took his first teaching position at Dillard University in New Orleans, where the Spicers lived from 1937 to 1939. In the fall of 1939 they returned to Tucson after Spicer was offered a two-year appointment as an instructor in the University of Arizona Department of Anthropology. During the remainder of 1939 and 1940, Spicer conducted additional research among the Tucson Yaquis and finished a manuscript called "People of Pascua" to compliment the book based on his dissertation. Shortly after returning to Arizona Spicer received a Guggenheim Fellowship which made it possible for he and his wife to spend the final months of 1941 and the early part of 1942 in southern Sonora, Mexico, studying Yaqui Indian culture on a first hand basis.

Following the United States declaration of war against the belligerents in the European and Pacific theaters the Spicers were forced to leave Mexico, returning to Arizona much sooner than they expected. Spicer took a job as a Community Analyst at the Poston Relocation Center for Japanese-Americans, becoming the head of the Community Analysis Section of the War Relocation Authority (WRA) in 1943. In the process they moved to Washington, D.C. remaining until his responsibilities ended on June 30, 1946. The year before the head of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Arizona offered him the option to rejoin the faculty when he was done at the WRA, an offer he was overjoyed to accept, remaining with the University until he retired.

In 1972 Spicer learned he had cancer of the lower jaw and began radiotherapy treatments over the next several years. Despite his continuing bout with the disease he never lost his focus on teaching and advising students or losing sight of finishing the Yaqui related manuscript he had been working on. In 1978, after completing his manuscript, Spicer retired from his joint appointment in anthropology and sociology he held at the University of Arizona.

Spicer's radiotherapy treatments only managed to slow the advance of the cancer. Before a full year of his retirement was over surgeons made the decision it was necessary to operate on his jaw. In 1982 the cancer reasserted itself demanding a second operation which in the end proved to be unsuccessful. He died on April 5, 1983, at his Fort Lowell home.

Beyond the confines of the university setting Spicer maximized his anthropological knowledge toward the design, assessment and administering of a variety of government programs aimed at improving peoples lives. In addition to his work with the War Relocation Authority he also advised the Yaquis on public housing, particpated in Cornell and Indian Affairs seminars, did evaluations of Indian programs in Central and South America, and assisted the Stanford Research Institute preparing an inventory of resources on the San Carlos Apache Reservation among other things.

In an interesting sidelight concerning Spicer and his knowledge of the Yaquis Indians of Sonora and the desert southwest, in Footnote [1] of The Informant and Carlos Castaneda, refering to an item found in the last book in a series of Yaqui themed books by controversial writer Carlos Castaneda titled The Active Side of Infinity, the author writes:

While in Arizona during the late Spring of 1960 "he (Castaneda) met with an extremely seasoned anthropologist" --- not the informant --- but thought possibly to be Edward H. Spicer, who had written and published a great deal on both the Yaqui Indians of Arizona and those of Sonora, Mexico. Castaneda, a Peruvian, was told "that the Indian societies of the Southwest were extremely isolationist, and that foreigners, especially those of Hispanic origin, were distrusted, even abhorred, by those Indians." Interestingly enough, on the use of Sacred Datura as introduced by Castaneda in his early works, Spicer is on record as saying "I know of no information or reference concerning Yaquis using Datura." If correct AND if the "Indian societies of the Southwest" typically blocked the flow of any meaningful information to outsiders as stated, it only underlines and strengthens the thesis that the knowledge of "how to use and rituals of Datura" Castaneda attributes as coming from the Yaqui shamam-sorcerer Don Juan Matus, did in fact come from another source, most notably the informant.

It should be noted in regards to the above that even though Don Juan Matus is known as being a Yaqui Indian by Castaneda in all of his writings his mother is cited as being a Yuma Indian in those same writings. Don Juan lived with his mother until age ten in Arizona then was taken by his father to Sonora, Mexico. From there he was sent to southern Mexico to live with relatives, presumably Yaqui, that had been relocated by the Mexican government some years prior. It is not known with any certainty if Don Juan ever returned to the Yuma Indian side of his culture although it is thought a possibility. He left at age ten well before any traditional Yuma-based rites of passage, however it is known the Yuma as well as the Chumash people of California, the Mohave, Cahuilla, and Zuni incorporated the use of Datura in a number of their ceremonies and rituals. (source)

In addition to his colleague Bill, Castaneda mentions other colleagues as well, but lumps them all together, including Bill, as seasoned anthropologists. A possibility exists that one or the other or both of the noted Yaqui scholars, Edward H. Spicer or William Curry Holden, in 1960 ages 54 and 64 respectively, could have been among the seasoned anthropologists mentioned by Castaneda. However, in regards to the colleague Bill, even though the "W" in W. Curry Holden stood for William and could be translated into "Bill" it just didn't seem to me that heavy arms, tall and husky, and losing hair described either Holden or Spicer in the manner of Castaneda's intent. Nor was it felt, and especially so, that one, the other, or both of the "two definite facets to his person" described either of them. Both Spicer and Holden were full professors, had doctorate degrees, and both, except maybe for Holden who had one slight blip in his career related to the Roswell UFO, were fairly dyed in the wool academics.

Holden, like Spicer, was a Yaqui scholar of some repute that became, however, somewhat controversial in his later years. It became widely reported that while on a field exercise in the summer of 1947 with a group of students they --- according to the Roswell Incident Udated and researchers such as Thomas J. Carey --- inadvertently stumbled across the wreckage of a mysterious object of an unknown nature that slammed into the lower north slope of the Capitan Mountains outside of Roswell, New Mexico. The object, or so called craft, has been considered by many over the years to have been of extraterrestrial origin, becoming known in legend and lore as the Roswell UFO. Holden never really discussed the incident and it was well into his twilight years before he was actually even inteviewed on the subject. Another person that sometimes comes up in regards to the Roswell Incident, albeit considered somewhat of a minor player by most --- but is, however, interestingly enough connected directly to Castaneda as well by some said to be knowledgeable on the subject --- a onetime Pothunter turned credible amateur archaeologist by the name of William Lawrence Campbell, also known as Cactus Jack --- William Lawrence Campbell being of course THE "Bill" that following their Road Trip at the end of the summer of 1960 took Castaneda to the Nogales bus station the day Castaneda met Don Juan Matus.




James E. Officer

The National Academies Press
National Academy of Sciences
Copyright 1996 Volume 68
ISBN 0309052394

the Wanderling


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