01 September 2013

Archival Footage: C. H. Ellis

C. H. Ellis
In 1983, when I was 16, I wrote a term paper about my great-great grandfather for my sophomore Arizona Government class. Some thirty years later, I think it's still a worthy bio which recalls the life of an uncommon and compassionate individual, Dr. Clarence Harmon [C. H.] Ellis, who was my father's father's father's father-in-law (and the origin of my daughter's middle-name: Ellise).  

I am pleased to be one of his many descendants.

I scanned (.pdf) the fragile 30-year-old onion-skin papers that this report was typed on earlier today and have included the complete text below, with but a few necessary revisions and a number of freshly-added photos and links. 

Dr. C. H. (Clarence Harmon) Ellis was born in Illinois in 1860, going to Kansas in a prairie schooner as a child. There he saw his first Indians. He grew up on a farm and attended Ottawa University. He received his medical education at the University of Kansas, the University of Michigan and at Cleveland, Ohio, completing his courses in 1887 and beginning practice in Kansas and Toledo, Ohio, shortly thereafter. He began his career as a medical missionary in February of 1891, in the Indian Territory of Oklahoma among the Choctaws. He came to Arizona in July 1899, and affiliated with the Phoenix Presbyterian Church. It was that same year that he married his wife, the former May Collins. They had a daughter, Dorajean. She grew up to be one of the first teachers at Scottsdale's Little Red Schoolhouse (Dorajean Ellis married Percy Taylor Coe).

May and Dorajean Ellis
On January 1, 1903, C.H. went to Gila Crossing and was ordained as a minister in May of the same year. Later he moved to the Salt River Valley and established the first churches among the Mohave and Apache (Yavapai) Indians.

During his succeeding years he worked as a medical missionary. It was as a minister rather than a doctor, however, that he first went to the Indians, although he played the role of family physician and friend in many an Indian home and always looked well to the health of his people as he went to spread the Gospel.

During these years he worked with the Pima, Maricopa, Papago, Apache and Mohave Apache Indians. In 1913, at the time of the influenza epidemic, he was under the United States Health Service, among the Apache, Maricopa and Pima.

The Pima Indians, among whom Dr. Ellis spent 25 years, were a peaceful tribe and most of them were farmers. They were scattered over a wide territory reaching down into Mexico. The only fighting in which they had ever engaged was with the Apaches, who at one time attempted to take their land away from them.

The Pimas, as all Indians, were wards of the government and lived for the most part on a reservation. Each man had his farm, but ownership was not absolute and it could be taken away from him. A wise friend is what these Indians needed, especially when they dealt with the government, and such Dr. Ellis proved to be through all his years of service.

Dorajean Ellis Coe, Percy Taylor Coe,
Dorajean Coe (Adams), C.H. Ellis (l-r)
The greatest problem faced by all farmers in the territory, Indian and white alike, was that of securing sufficient water for irrigation purposes. The great Roosevelt Dam, high up in the mountains about eighty miles from Phoenix, was solving the question for many of the white people, but very little of the water reached the Indian reservation. The Apaches, who lived in a well-watered section, had more water than they needed, but in the eyes of the government it ceased to belong to the Indians as soon as it left the reservation and could not be diverted for the use of the Pimas, much as they needed it. Dr. Ellis championed the Indians in their long struggle for water, but complete justice was not obtained.

Dr. Ellis was always ready, in season or out of season, to fight for the rights of these Pimas who were so powerless to help themselves and to get their just dues from the Indian Bureau. His persistent efforts to gain justice from the government was intelligent and well directed and was the means of bringing about many improvements.

As a minister, Dr. Ellis went on a preaching tour to the Apaches, which took him often away from home, 1eaving heavy responsibilities on Mrs. Ellis which were almost more than she could carry.

No call of the Indians which ever came to Dr. Ellis went unheeded. For several years, in addition to his other duties, he was president of the Charles H. Cook Bible School at Sacaton, near Phoenix, which was a school for the training of Christian leaders among the Pimas.

 C.H. Ellis' church/clinic in Guadalupe, AZ
The Presbyterian board retired him in 1930, after 40 years of continuous service, but he kept up his work independently from that time on among the Yaqui Indians of Guadalupe.

When he went among the Yaquis, Dr. Ellis found them to be bound by a black superstition that forbade most of them from appealing to him for help when in the throes of serious illness. He was an unwelcome intruder.

Dr. Ellis once told a newspaper reporter, "I want to help the Yaquis, their need is so great." He was explaining why he was continuing to work at an age when most are taking things easy -- 79 years old.

The situation among the Yaquis was not a new one for him, he had faced and conquered similar superstitious bans during the previous 30 years as a circuit riding minister-preacher who had traveled through Arizona, healing afflicted bodies and ministering to men's souls.

So Dr. Ellis established a little clinic and began the tedious job of convincing the tribesmen he was a friend eager to help them.

One by one the Yaquis came to him. Perhaps it was out of curiosity that they first ventured into his clinic, which smelled strongly of strange medicines. But they came, and Dr. Ellis treated them. The word passed around that he was a true friend of the Indians, and his clinic was a major institution in the desert community.

As an example of the superstitions which he had to tear down, Dr. Ellis found upon his arrival in the village that the Yaquis would never allow water to touch a sick person. Water was the harbinger of death. But, later, thanks to his efforts, there was no objection if an ill tribesman was given a badly needed bath.

One of his biggest problems in establishing his work, was to convince the Indians he was willing to help them without any charge. "They just couldn't believe a white man didn't want to be paid," he laughingly explained.

Working patiently, he gradually won the friendship of the Yaquis, excepting only a few hard old tribesmen who seemingly would not yield to the white doctor's ways. His efforts wrought a remarkable transformation in the lives and habits of the Yaquis.

Dr. Carlos Montezuma
But conditions still were far from satisfactory because of the poverty of the people. Unlike other Arizona Indians, the Yaquis, who are Mexican Indians were not wards on the U. S. government and therefore not eligible for federal relief.

He worked in his free clinic for ten years. While there, he worked with a women named, Lesetta Wallace. She worked as his assistant at the medical clinic and she also was a missionary for many years there, conducting religious programs in the village.  Dr. Ellis and Lesetta Wallace treated many cases of trachoma, a disease whose prevalence in the Yaqui village decreased greatly during the clinic's operation.

Dr. Ellis touched the lives of Indians who were not so poverty stricken. He was the "kindly" old gentleman who was called to the bedside of the famous Apache, Dr. Carlos Montezuma. When he went to Dr. Montezuma's wickiup, the dying man refused his help. After a while Dr. Ellis gained his confidence and friendship, but the Indian doctor still refused his help.

C. H. Ellis at his home in Phoenix
On August 7, 1938, the idea of giving admittance to Dr. and Mrs. Ellis, old time missionaries at Salt River, to be put to rest in the Salt River Indian Cemetery when they die was put before the congregation of the church there. Their faithful service and lives were well explained. It was stated that they were true servants for righteousness to the people, the church, and the reservation at large. When the votes were taken and showed all in favor and none opposing, a committee of three were appointed to make the goodwill trip and report the news to Dr. and Mrs. C.H. Ellis.

On Oct. 13, 1941, Dr. C. H. Ellis died after 50 continuous years of service as a minister of the Lord and physician to the Indians (and was interred at Greenwood Memory Lawn cemetery in Phoenix, Arizona).


Arnold, Oren. Savage Son. Albuquerque, NM, University Of New Mexico Press, pp. 251-259.

Coe, Dorajean Ellis. Log Of Lives, unpublished, pp. 1, 2, 7, 8, 14-20

Matthews, David S. The Story Of Scottsdale. Scottsdale, AZ, D.S. Matthews. 1965, pp. 21-25.

The Phoenix Gazette, p. 7, Friday, January 22, 1940.


Jim S. said...

My grandfather was J.B. Sutton, Sr., who was superintendent of Isaac School District from 1923 to 1968. One of the board members of the district was P.T. Coe, who had a school in the district named after him.
My father, Dr. J.B. Sutton, Jr., was working on his memoir when he died and fondly recalled the times he spent not only with the Coe family, but he specifically mentioned his talks with Dr. Ellis and how much he admired him. Another thing he mentioned about Dr. Ellis was that he "was one of the founding doctors of the Indian Hospital at 7th Street and East Indian School Road."
I mention this because I am in the process of transcribing, editing, and notating what my father wrote. Part of my editing includes verifying and confirming what was written. And the only thing in the paragraph that mentions the Coes and Dr. Ellis that I have not been able to verify is Dr. Ellis' connection to the Indian Hospital.
Do you know if Dr. Ellis had any connection to the Indian Hospital, and if so, what it exactly was?
Any information you can pass on will be greatly appreciated.

johncoe said...

Pretty much everything I know about CH is contained above. I have no knowledge of his involvement with any other medical facilities beyond those located on Salt River Pima and Guadalupe Yaqui lands.

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