Yale Collection of Western Americana
Comprising more than 65,000 printed works, 4,000 catalogued manuscript collections, tens of thousands of vintage photographs, and hundreds of prints, watercolors, and paintings, the Yale Collection of Western Americana documents the indigenous communities of North America, the transnational migrations that have repeatedly reshaped the West, and the evolution of the region’s contemporary communities and cultures. The collection tracks the imperial expansion of Spain, France, Britain, and Russia in North America; the westward expansion of the United States across the Mississippi River; and the consolidation of Canadian governance west of Ontario. It illuminates the extraordinary ethnic and linguistic diversity of the Trans-Mississippi West, including the history of African Americans and Asian Americans as well as people whose ancestors migrated from many different parts of Europe. The collection’s geographic and thematic coverage is most comprehensive from 1500 through the early twentieth century, and it actively collects materials that document the more recent history of the region. Each year new purchases and gifts add depth and breadth to the collection, allowing it to respond to current trends in scholarship and to continue to serve Yale students and faculty as well as graduate students and scholars from around the world.
The Core Collections
When the Yale Collection of Western Americana opened in 1952, it did not, as many people supposed, mark Yale University Library’s entry into a field it had ignored. The opening was a turning point rather than a fresh departure. The step forward was made possible by the gift of William Robertson Coe, 1949 Hon., of his collection of rare books, maps, manuscripts, and art relating to the Trans-Mississippi West. The collection, given in a series of annual installments beginning in 1942, was described in the Yale University Library Gazette of October 1948 as the largest group of materials in its field that had ever been assembled. Although it represented nearly forty years of effort, Coe did not consider his collection as a completed work but rather a nucleus for further growth. He insisted that his gift be called the “Yale Collection of Western Americana” rather than the “Coe Collection” so that future collectors in the field would not hesitate to add the fruits of their efforts to his.
Coe’s support of Yale did not stop with his gift of books and manuscripts. His generous financial assistance allowed the library to bring together its hitherto scattered resources in the field of western history and to catalogue them, together with his own collection, in such detail as to make them more readily accessible and useful to scholars. One result was the Catalogue of Manuscripts in the Collection of Western Americana in the Yale University Library, compiled by Mary Withington and published by Yale University Press in 1952. Coe contributed a generous endowment to staff the collection, to provide for future acquisitions, and to establish a faculty chair in American Studies, promoting a liaison between books and scholars. Coe continued to collect until his death in 1955, and in his will he added to the substantial funds he had donated for the purchase of Western Americana.
As the library assembled Yale’s existing resources in Western Americana, it discovered far more material than was anticipated. During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Yale may not have had a specific interest in the West as such, but it was interested in American history. Narratives of western discovery and exploration that are today much sought-after rarities were acquired as a matter of course at their publication. Some, to be sure, were worn out by generations of students and discarded long before they became the objects of a collector’s interest. But a surprising number of them survived, to be gathered from the open stacks for special care and attention as part of the newly formed collection of Western Americana.
A second factor that created a substantial body of Western Americana at Yale was the presence on Yale’s faculty of such distinguished scientists as Benjamin Silliman, Jr., 1837; James Dwight Dana, 1833; William H. Brewer, 1852; and Othniel C. Marsh, 1860. All of them participated in the scientific exploration of the West, and they built extensive libraries in their particular fields. When their personal collections were added to the University Library, they included not only scholarly monographs but also a wealth of ephemeral pamphlets on Native Americans as well as the natural history, geology, and mineral resources of the West. Fortunately, even the slimmest pamphlet was catalogued and preserved, to be rediscovered two generations later.
Yale alumni played a part in building the collection. Henry Raup Wagner, the acknowledged dean of Western Americana, graduated from Yale in 1884 and shortly afterward commenced his long, distinguished career in book collecting and bibliography. Although Yale failed to secure either his Spanish Southwest or Plains and Rockies collection, his Texas and Middle-West collection did come to Yale in 1918. Its books and manuscripts document the exploration and settlement of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys through the middle of the nineteenth century and of Texas until its annexation to the United States. The collection abounds in early narratives of discovery and of the Indian Wars, many of them untrimmed, in original boards. The Texas portion includes materials that document the earliest exploration and settlement of the region as well as the history of the Texas Revolution. The Wagner Collection was important not only in its own right but also because it supplemented the Coe Collection’s coverage of the West, which focused on the Louisiana Purchase, the Canadian Northwest, and the northwest coast of America. A summary of Wagner’s connection with the Yale Library appears in the Yale University Library Gazette for October 1957.
Another Yale alumnus, Walter McClintock, 1891, provided a collection of a different type. An interest in and sympathy for the Blackfoot Indians led McClintock to spend summers with them. Eventually he was adopted into the tribe, and around the turn of the century the Blackfoot allowed him to begin making a photographic record of their life. McClintock’s photographs and extensive notes provide rich sources for historians and ethnologists. At his death in 1950, McClintock left Yale a bequest for the purchase of material relating to Native Americans and for lectures on the same subject. The fund also supports an annual prize for the best undergraduate essay on a topic relating to the history or culture of Native Americans. McClintock described the origins of his collection in the Yale University Library Gazette for April 1949.
Coe, Wagner, and McClintock were Westerners by adoption, but Winlock W. Miller, Jr., 1928, was a native son of Seattle. His grandfather, William W. Miller, had been a prominent pioneer of Washington Territory, a close friend of Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens, and a leader in the growth and development of the region. Most pioneers were too busy making history to think about collecting it; the Miller family was unusual in that its members not only played a leading role in creating their state, they also collected and preserved its history for future generations. Although Miller’s collecting was cut short by his death in 1939, he had already brought together an outstanding group of books and manuscripts about Washington Territory and the Pacific Northwest more generally. In accordance with his wishes, the collection came to Yale in 1950, the gift of his father, Winlock Miller, 1894.
While Coe acquired the basic sources for the discovery and earliest settlement of the Oregon country, the Miller Collection contained materials which documented the transition of the region, especially Washington, from fur trading emporium to industrial empire. A detailed description of the Miller Collection was published in the Yale University Library Gazette for October 1951. The Miller family later added to the collection the papers of William W. Miller, Winlock’s grandfather, and established a fund for the purchase of material about the Pacific Northwest.
The acquisition of Henry Wagner’s Texas books and pamphlets in 1918 had given Yale the largest collection of early Texana of any institution outside that state. But the greatest collection of Texas books for the period up to 1845 (when Texas became a part of the United States) was held by the collector and bibliographer Thomas W. Streeter. In the 1920s, Wagner had inspired Streeter to begin compiling a bibliography of the early history of Texas. Over the next thirty years, as Streeter worked on the bibliography, he assembled an unrivaled collection of books, pamphlets, and broadsides printed in Texas, Mexico, the United States, and Europe. Publication of his monumental five-volume bibliography began in 1955, by which time his collection numbered more than 2,000 items, including 880 of the 1,588 items eventually listed in the bibliography, some 200 more than the largest institutional collection. In 1957 generous friends of the university purchased Streeter’s Texas collection for Yale, where it appropriately joined Henry Wagner’s own Texana collection. A general description of the Streeter Collection can be found in the Yale University Library Gazette for April 1957. During his lifetime Streeter generously added both printed and manuscript material to the collection.
Despite the significance of the Streeter Texas collection, there remained one major gap in Yale’s Western Americana resources. Of that great and important area usually referred to as the Spanish Southwest (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California before the gold rush) only Texas was adequately covered. Fortunately for Yale, just as William Robertson Coe was reaching the end of his long collecting career, Frederick W. Beinecke, 1909S, emerged as a major collector. Beinecke had long been interested in the West, had read widely, and had collected western books on a modest scale. In the early 1950s he settled on two regions that most interested him, the Plains and Rockies, and the Spanish Southwest, and set out to build a great collection.
When Coe donated his collection to Yale, it was believed that no Western Americana Collection of similar stature could ever again be formed. The statement proved false. While it would be virtually impossible to duplicate the Coe Collection, F.W. Beinecke chose to collect extensively in areas that Coe had ignored, and in twenty years he amassed one of the finest Western Americana Collections ever assembled by a private collector. It was fortuitous for Yale that just as Beinecke became interested in the Spanish Southwest, copies of a dozen key books that had not been on the market for fifty years appeared for sale. He quickly acquired them and many other important sources. From 1967 through 1970 he purchased aggressively at the auction of Thomas Streeter’s Americana collection, acquiring the last known copy in private hands of many important sources.
The growth of F. W. Beinecke’s collection is well chronicled in the Yale University Library Gazette beginning in 1956 and continuing through his death in 1970. The January 1960 issue, for example, includes a description of his collection of more than 2,000 contemporary books, pamphlets, broadsides, and manuscripts relating to the Mexican War. A partial listing of the many manuscripts that he collected can be found in Jeanne Goddard and Charles Kritzler, A Catalogue of the Frederick W. and Carrie S. Beinecke Collection of Western Americana, Volume One: Manuscripts, published by Yale University Press in 1965. Although additional volumes were once contemplated, none were published. Records for F.W. Beinecke’s material, as well as for the rest of the Western Americana Collection, have been added to the library’s catalogue. Like many benefactors of Yale’s Western Americana Collection, Beinecke generously endowed a fund to provide for the continued growth of the collection.
Since F.W. Beinecke’s death in 1970, the collection has grown less by the acquisition of major private collections than through the annual purchase and donation of material. In its growth the collection has attempted to address both the interests of the international scholarly community and the needs of Yale’s curriculum. It provides grist not only for historians, but also for scholars from such diverse disciplines as anthropology, bibliography, botany, cartography, environmental history, film studies, history of art, history of science, law, linguistics, literature, political science, religious studies, and women’s studies. The creation of a new endowment, the MacKinnon Family Fund, by William and Richard MacKinnon (both Yale 1960), underwrites the acquisition of additional rare books and manuscripts while also providing stipends for Yale graduate students pursuing dissertation research in the Beinecke Library.
Built upon the foundation established by Coe, Wagner, McClintock, Miller, Streeter, and Beinecke, the Western Americana Collection is renowned for the breadth of its coverage. Other collections may outstrip it in one or another region or era of western history, but few, if any, cover as much territory or as many topics in such great depth or in as many formats as Yale does. From sixteenth-century manuscripts and books describing Spanish exploration in the Far Southwest to obscure twentieth-century brochures promoting tourism and local economic development, the collection contains the manuscripts, books, pamphlets, paintings, watercolors, drawings, prints, photographs, and ephemera that document the peoples, places, and history of the North American West.
Native American History
One of the collection’s principal goals is to document as extensively as possible the histories and cultures of North American indigenous communities. We actively acquire early and important accounts of European encounters with Native Americans, whether recorded in the reports of government-sponsored expeditions or in the personal memoirs, autobiographies, journals, and correspondence of missionaries, traders, government agents, individual travelers, settlers, and captives. While such accounts typically express a European perspective, they are often the only record of important episodes in Native American history and underwrite much scholarship about the life of indigenous communities, especially before 1800.
While there is no evidence of pre-Columbian writing systems north of Mexico, indigenous communities throughout North America responded quickly and creatively when they were exposed to European practices. By the eighteenth century Native North Americans were serving as printer’s assistants and corresponding in their own languages. Before the century ended, the Micmac developed a unique hieroglyphic system to represent their language, Mohawk communities at Montreal and Niagara helped create a primer for their children “to acquire the spelling and reading of their own as well as to get acquainted with the English tongue,” and Native American authors were appearing in print. Early in the nineteenth century Sequoyah devised a syllabary with which to write Cherokee, and the Cherokee soon published a formal constitution and established a newspaper with text in Sequoyan and English. By mid-century, Cherokee editors oversaw English-language papers in Sacramento, San Diego, and Fayetteville. As bibliographers Daniel Littlefield and James Parins have documented, by 1924 some 2,000 Native American writers had published more than 6,700 pieces ranging from articles in local newspapers to lengthy academic studies.
The Western Americana Collection, in collaboration with the Yale Collection of American Literature, aspires to document as comprehensively as possible the creation and spread of reading and writing among Native Americans. The Yale Collection of American Literature focuses on poetry, fiction, and drama, especially of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and holds the literary manuscripts of Leslie Marmon Silko, James Welch, Joseph Bruchac, Gerald Vizenor, and N. Scott Momaday. The Western Americana Collection seeks to document the full range of printing in Indian languages and the breath of Indian writing, from personal narratives to historical accounts, from journalism to polemical tracts. Strengths of the collection include works in and about Native American languages including grammars, dictionaries, and texts, many of which are the earliest publications in particular languages. The collection holds many Cherokee and Creek tracts, as well as numerous Indian-language imprints from the Plains and the Pacific Northwest. Thousands of pages of manuscripts in Sequoyan, collected by Cherokee scholars Jack and Anna Grits Kilpatrick, document vernacular literacy in Cherokee from the 1890s to the 1960s.
The collection holds numerous publications by Native American governments, extensive runs of tribal newspapers, and early and significant editions of nineteenth- and twentieth-century books and pamphlets written by individual Native Americans. Manuscripts written by Indians include antebellum correspondence from Choctaw leaders David Folsom, Thompson McKenney, and Peter Pitchlynn; George Bent’s letters to George Hyde, which describe Cheyenne culture and history; the daybooks of John Archiquette, a vestryman and warden of the Church of the Holy Apostles in Oneida, Wisconsin, and a captain of the reservation police force, which document events on the Oneida reservation between 1876 and 1919; and extensive correspondences between Richard Henry Pratt, the founder of Carlisle Indian School, and Native American students and activists including Carlos Montezuma, Howard Gansworth, and Chauncey Yellow Robe. The personal papers of Lakota author and activist Vine Deloria, Jr., which comprise 170 boxes, include drafts of his publications as well as personal and organizational correspondence that document the many groups with which Deloria was affiliated.
The collection also holds a variety of oral histories including Lakota and English transcripts of Alex Charging Crow’s account of Lakota history of the late nineteenth century as well as Richard Erdoes’s extensive audio recordings with Dennis Banks, co-founder of the American Indian Movement, and with Lakota spiritual leaders Henry and Leonard Crow Dog and John and Archie Fire Lame Deer
From the illustrations which accompanied early editions of Christopher Columbus’s account of his initial voyage to the Indies, Europeans have relied on pictures as well as words to represent Native American life and material culture. Although many accounts of travel among Indians were imaginatively illustrated by artists who never left Europe, the Western Americana Collection is noted for its outstanding holdings of pictorial work by eyewitnesses. Sketches, paintings, prints, and books by artists like Tomás de Suría, Sigismund Bacstrom, James Otto Lewis, George Catlin, Alfred Jacob Miller, John Mix Stanley, Karl Bodmer, James Swan, Edward and Richard Kern as well as photographs by Julius Vannerson, Samuel Cohners, Zeno Shindler, Alexander Gardner, William Soule, William Henry Jackson, Timothy O’Sullivan, John Hillers, Walter McClintock, Edward Curtis, Richard Erdoes, Toba Tucker, Owen Luck, and John Willis provide a window into the visual character of indigenous culture across two centuries and reveal how Native Americans were portrayed across Europe and America.
The collection has much work by Native American artists. Ledger drawings by Kiowa, Cheyenne, and Lakota artists including Etahdleuh Doanmoe, Howling Wolf, Soaring Eagle, Wohaw, Ohettoint, and American Horse document the transformation of traditional practices of illustrating hides and lodges to making work on paper. A small collection of works on paper by Haida silver worker Johnny Kit-Elswa are among the earliest such work by northwest coast Native artists, and a large body of drawings collected by Elizabeth DeHuff, an art instructor at the Santa Fe Indian school after World War I, documents early work from a variety of Pueblo, Navajo, Apache, Cheyenne, and Kiowa artists. The collection also holds the papers of twentieth-century Navajo artist and linguist A.D. Dodge, 480 drawings by Kiowa artist Stephen Mopope, and hundreds of images by Diné photographer Will Wilson. The personal papers of Kiowa writer and artist N. Scott Momaday, held in the Yale Collection of American Literature, include sketchbooks, drawings and paintings.
The collection holds a complete set of all the Indian treaties published by the federal government as well as the papers of military officers, government agents, and citizens who lobbied the government to “reform” Indian policy. The history of federal Indian policy and of Indian-white relations can be explored not only through the Vine Deloria, Jr. Papers but also the personal papers of Richard Henry Pratt and of Felix Cohen, the legislative architect of John Collier’s “Indian New Deal” and pioneer in developing the field of modern Indian law. The Richard Erdoes Papers include considerable information about the Red Power movement of the 1970s in general and the American Indian Movement in particular.
Early European Exploration of the Trans-Mississippi West
Yale’s collection is acclaimed for its coverage of early Hispanic exploration and settlement in the West. The collection includes copies of nearly all the works described in Henry Wagner’s monumental bibliography, The Spanish Southwest: 1542–1795; many of the titles are represented by multiple editions that permit scholars to trace their social and cultural impact over time. The collection also contains hundreds of Mexican imprints that document the end of the colonial era and the efforts of the Mexican republic to develop its northern provinces, including Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Numerous manuscripts document Spanish missionary efforts from Texas to California, while other manuscripts record Juan Bautista de Anza’s overland expeditions to California (1772–76), Father Silvestre Velez de Escalante’s exploration of northern New Mexico (1776), Alessandro Malaspina’s naval exploration of the Pacific coast (1788–92), and Jean-Louis Berlandier’s scientific and ethnographic travels in Coahuila and Texas (1824–45). The acquisition of the Streeter Collection made Yale the preeminent repository of printed Texana for the period before 1845, and the library has collected extensively in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Southwestern materials to build on its strengths in the Spanish and Mexican eras.
Records of early Anglo-American explorations include copies of virtually every title listed in the fourth edition of Henry Wagner’s The Plains & the Rockies: A critical bibliography of exploration, adventure, and travel in the American West, 1800–1865. Important manuscript holdings include the field notes and field maps of Lewis and Clark (1803–6); an extensive file of letters from Edwin James, the official historian for Stephen Long’s exploration of the Great Plains; a collection of Samuel Seymour watercolors from the Long expedition; the correspondence, journals, and sketchbooks of several officers from Charles Wilkes’s United States Exploring Expedition (1838–42); William Emory’s papers concerning the Mexican Boundary Survey (1849–55); the papers of James Duncan Graham, who worked on both the Mexican Boundary Survey and the survey of the Great Lakes; the papers of three officers from the joint British-American commission to survey the northwestern boundary between the United States and Canada (1859–64), as well as some 7,500 pages of material from George Wheeler’s surveys west of the 100th meridian (1871–79). The collection includes first editions and contemporary translations of important printed accounts by French, Russian, British, and American explorers as well as the private and official reports of various nineteenth-century scientists. The official publications of major western explorations by the United States are fully represented, often in significant variant editions, some of which are uniquely extra-illustrated. The collection also includes hundreds of photographs made on government expeditions by photographers such as Carleton Watkins, William Henry Jackson, Timothy O’Sullivan, E.O. Beaman, and John Hillers.
European expansion into North America precipitated frequent conflicts with Native American communities and among European settlers themselves. The collection contains the papers of numerous American military officers, among them Zachary Taylor, Albert Barnitz, Samuel Curtis, Charles Dimon, John Van Deusen DuBois, George F. and George T. Emmons, E. L. Godfrey, John Vance Lauderdale (a career medical officer who spent thirty years serving at various western posts), Alfred Sully, and Thomas Howard Ruger. Their papers, along with smaller collections of diaries and correspondence from minor officers, provide much insight into the history of Indian-white conflicts in the Far West as well as into the conduct of the Mexican War and the federal expedition to Utah in 1857. The collection’s coverage of the Mexican War includes a large gathering of prints and sheet music as well as an extensive set of army field orders that document the daily activities of American soldiers in Mexico. The Mexican side of the conflict is represented by several hundred broadsides issued by the government and its agents. Popular reaction to the war is reflected in a large collection of tracts recording the animated political discussion that the war generated throughout the United States.
Migration and Early Settlement
Much early settlement of the Far West was driven by religious impulses. In addition to the Spanish missionary records discussed above, the collection includes manuscripts from Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, Anna Pitman, and Jason Lee, among the first Christian missionaries in the Pacific Northwest, whose reports and correspondence drew many settlers to Oregon. The role of Baptist Associations as well as Congregational and Episcopal churches across the West are described in annual reports which are often among the earliest regional imprints.
The collection is renowned for its coverage of the origins and growth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All the important doctrinal works as well as the major polemical works about Mormonism, pro and con, have been acquired. Yale’s collection of Nauvoo and Deseret imprints appears to be unequaled outside two or three institutions in Utah, and the collection also holds numerous foreign imprints generated by missionaries working in Great Britain, on the Continent, and in the Far East. Manuscripts include papers of James Strang, Oliver Olney, Howard and William Egan, and Thomas Kane. Letters from George Q. Cannon to one of his plural wives, Eliza Tenney Cannon, shed light on Cannon’s role as adviser to four presidents of the Church as they negotiated with federal officials.
The overland migration of Euro-Americans to the Pacific coast, which began in the early 1840s with the movement to settle Oregon, accelerated in the wake of the Mexican War, especially after the discovery of gold in California. The process is extensively documented in what is recognized as one of the largest and richest collections of overland trail and around-the-Horn journals ever assembled. More than 200 diaries and memoirs reveal the expectations and experiences of both obscure and famous pioneers as they made their way to Oregon, California, Colorado, and other parts of the West. Their travel narratives are supplemented by collections of family correspondence that illuminate the challenges and rewards of making new homes in the West. The manuscript accounts of overland travel are supported by an extensive collection of contemporary maps, trail guides, and an outstanding assortment of printed autobiographies, reminiscences, and memoirs by pioneers who traveled across the continent. These titles are supplemented by a similarly extensive collection of accounts published by people who traveled to the Pacific coast by sea.
Less well represented in the collection are the stories of African Americans and Asian immigrants to California. While free people of color joined the gold rush, many of the few thousand African Americans recorded in the 1860 census were probably brought to California as slaves. The Sugg and McDonald Family Papers document the lives of William Sugg, manumitted in 1854, his wife Mary, their children and grandchildren. In 1857 William and Mary Sugg built a home at 37 Theall Street in Sonora, California. Their grandson Vernon McDonald lived in the house until his death in 1982. In addition to correspondence, financial documents, and the family library, the papers include numerous photographs of all three generations as well as images of other African Americans living in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Despite our efforts to find similar materials, the Sugg and McDonald Family Papers appear to be one of the few archival collections in North American institutions that document African American family life in gold rush California. The collection has acquired a handful of pamphlets and flyers that hint at the role churches, schools, and social organizations such as the Masons contributed to African American communities in the nineteenth century, but the largest group of materials that has been assembled concerns African American service in the frontier army. Resources for studying the history of African Americans in the twentieth-century West are discussed below.
Asian immigrants, especially from China, traveled to California in far larger numbers than African Americans in the first decade after the discovery of gold. Some Chinese immigrants were financially independent; others traveled under a credit system that essentially reduced them to indentured servitude on their arrival. The economic and social impact of Chinese immigrants was controversial. The collection has early editions of much of the polemical literature about them, including some public statements by leaders of the Chinese community, and seeks, thus far without significant success, to document the experiences or words of individual Chinese merchants or laborers. Japanese immigration to the Trans-Mississippi West increased significantly after the enactment of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, but as with the history of African Americans in the West, the collection holds more material documenting the life of Chinese and Japanese Americans in the twentieth century than in the nineteenth. Such holdings are discussed below.
Western migration pressed settlers and the federal government to institute courts, administrative offices, and representative legislative assemblies. The political history of the frontier West is illuminated in the papers of territorial officials including governors John G. Brady (Alaska), Andrew Faulk (Dakota), John W. Geary (Kansas), and Isaac Stevens (Washington). The political history of Washington Territory is especially well represented, for in addition to Governor Stevens’s papers, the official and personal papers of Elwood Evans, Charles Mason, and William W. Miller provide extensive commentary on territorial affairs. The collection also contains the papers of Henry Moore (Kansas territorial legislator and free state advocate) as well as records for the Leavenworth Association (1854–56), the Topeka Association (1854–58), and the People’s Government of Denver (1860–61). The Samuel Grant Victor papers document Victor’s activities on behalf of the Republican Party in Indian Territory and Oklahoma during the early twentieth century as the region transitioned to statehood. After 1908 Victor served as United States marshall and his correspondence documents the administration of justice in the newly formed state. Manuscripts of Western political figures are supported by extensive files of territorial and state documents including the reports of executive and legislative departments as well as long runs of major western newspapers.
After the Civil War, immigration swelled across the West. The many railroad companies that had been awarded land grants by the federal government and local towns led the effort to attract settlers to the West. Over time, their promotional tactics were adopted by numerous other industries and indeed by many western states, counties, and towns as well as business associations. The promotional literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is only now being explored by scholars, who will find much of interest at Yale. Numerous small collections of letters, diaries, and journals document efforts by individual pioneers and families to establish themselves throughout the region. Many of these documents were written by women and provide the opportunity to study gender and family life. The collection also contains many early city directories, county atlases, country histories, sheet maps, religious and fraternal publications that reveal the growth, and sometimes the decline, of small towns and urban centers across the West. For virtually every area of the West, from Iowa to Hawaii, from Texas to Alaska, the collection contains numerous examples of the work of early regional presses.
Early Economic Development
The collection holds important records documenting the role of businesses and corporations in the economic development of the West. From the 1820s, beginning with Stephen Austin’s settlement, colonization and real estate companies paid a large role in promoting migration to Texas. The Streeter Collection includes many examples of the printed forms and promotional publications issued by multiple colonies. The papers of the Galveston Bay and Texas Land Company document in depth one company’s operation under both Mexico and the Republic of Texas. The archive of the Verein zum Schutz deutscher Einwanderer in Texas, an organization of German noblemen established in the 1840s to colonize west Texas, includes not only the records of the Verein’s board of directors, financial officers, and field agents, but also an extensive file of correspondence from prospective and actual immigrants.
Other important collections concerning economic development include the virtually complete archive of the Savage Mining Company of Gold Hill, Nevada, the extensive records of the North Star Mining Company of Grass Valley, California, the papers of James and Granville Stuart (two of the most successful cattle ranchers in Montana Territory), and the personal and business papers of Silas Reed, a physician from Ohio who used his connections with Whig and Republican leaders to secure political appointments that helped him invest in lands, mines, and railroads throughout the West. The papers of the Gold Hill [Nevada] Miners’ Union document one of the first labor unions organized in the Far West.
An extensive collection of pamphlets documents the spread of regional and transcontinental railroads across the West. The financial underpinnings of the Union Pacific Railroad can be explored in a collection of nearly 200 pamphlets and flyers distributed by Peaslee and Company, the firm which oversaw the promotion and sale of the bonds that underwrote the Union Pacific’s construction. International interest in economic opportunities in the Far West is reflected in a collection of eighty pamphlets about the American Colonization Company, a British firm that that helped young Englishmen find employment with American farmers. The promotion and development of rural towns is exemplified in the Charles F. Kindred and Sarah E. Kindred Papers, which document the couple’s extensive investment in land and utilities in Brainerd, Minnesota, during the 1880s. Detailed records of Colorado title abstract and insurance companies document the acquisition and transfer of real property, mining claims, powers of attorney, and tax delinquencies in Fremont, Teller, and El Paso counties at the height of the Cripple Creek gold rush.
Art and Photography
From its inception, the Western Americana Collection has held pictures as well as text. Coe donated important collections of watercolors by Samuel Seymour, Louis Choris, Anton Schonborn, James Hutton, and Alfred Jacob Miller as well as oils by Paul Kane and a small group of drawings and paintings by George Catlin. Gold rush pioneer J. Goldsborough Bruff filled the sixteen volumes of his journals and diaries with sketches depicting his 1849 trek from Washington, D.C., to California. His quick, informal drawings offer one of the finest surviving visual records of the forty-niner experience. F.W. Beinecke donated six works by Alfred Jacob Miller and an extraordinary collection of engravings and lithographs that preserve the visual record of the Mexican War.
Since 1980, the collection has acquired important works by such artists as Richard and Edward Kern, James W. Abert, and Sigismund Bacstrom, but the most significant addition of original art since Coe’s founding gift was the donation in 1997 by Franz and Kathryn Stenzel of their collection of nearly 1,300 pieces. Their gift included numerous watercolors and drawings by James Madison Alden, James G. Swan, William McIlwraith, Gutzon Borglum, Lute Pease, Joseph Kehoe, Hans Kleiber, and E.S. Paxson. They also donated their extensive library of illustrated books and the research files they had compiled over nearly a half-century of collecting and studying western artists. In 2007 Mrs. Stenzel bequeathed more than fifty additional pieces, including a half-dozen works by Charles M. Russell.
In North America the development of photography coincided with the exploration of the Far West, and the history of the two subjects is heavily intertwined. Extensive holdings of work by such photographic pioneers as G.R. Fardon, Carleton Watkins, Timothy O’Sullivan, A.J. Russell, Alexander Gardner, William Henry Jackson, John Hillers, and Frank Jay Haynes are accompanied by extensive files recording the work of the less well-known men and women who made their living as commercial photographers in the West. The acquisition of Peter Palmquist’s collection of western photography brought more than 300 early cased images from the daguerrean and ambrotype eras, thousands of images from local photographic studios, many owned by women, from across the West, as well as over 50,000 images made in Humboldt County, California. Palmquist’s collection of stereographic photos was an invaluable addition to the Western American Collection’s already extensive collection of this highly popular, inexpensive mode of distributing landscape images and city views. As with the Stenzel Collection, Palmquist’s extensive research files have also come to the collection, where they greatly assist research in the social, cultural, and economic history of photography in the nineteenth-century West.
Although the collection has relatively modest holdings of original photographs by Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and the many photographers who traveled through the West for the Works Progress Administration, it does have an extensive collection of nineteenth- and twentieth-century photobooks that document the people and places of the West and the cultural evolution of the medium.
To complement the breadth of its photobooks, the collection has, over the last quarter-century, focused on building deep collections of original photography by a relative handful of contemporary artists working in the West. Extensive collections of works by David Plowden, Toba Tucker, Miguel Gandert, Karen Halverson, John Willis, Laura McPhee, Owen Luck, Roberta Price, David Ottenstein, Marion Belanger, David Grant Noble, Lauren Henkin, Jon Lewis, Kim Stringfellow, Richard Buswell, Abe Aronow, and Will Wilson provide a window on the landscape and culture of the contemporary West and permit scholars to study the evolution of each photographers’ style and topical focus. In collaboration with the Yale University Art Gallery, the collection has acquired the archives of Robert Adams and Lee Friedlander, photographers for whom the gallery has acquired master sets of their exhibition prints.
The West in the Twentieth Century
Coe, Beinecke, and the other collectors who established the foundation of Western Americana focused their energy on the frontier era of western history, but as we enter a new millennium, the history of the twentieth century and contemporary West is being explored in great depth with a variety of new approaches. Although the Yale Collection of Western Americana can never be as comprehensive in collecting the history of the West in the twentieth century as it has been for the “frontier era,” it has attempted to develop significant research collections that document western issues that draw national attention.
As the twentieth century dawned, tourism replaced exploration, and travel literature became a primary source of information about the diverse communities of the West. Travel literature is an especially valuable source for understanding the evolution and impact of state and national parks including Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and Glacier. Scrapbooks, photo albums, and published accounts by tourists are well represented in the collection, as are the memoirs of former pioneers who found time in their retirement to reflect on the history of a country that had grown up with them.
An interest in Native American history and federal Indian policy has led not only to the acquisition of the papers of Richard Henry Pratt, Felix Cohen, and Vine Deloria, Jr., but also to the acquisition of Richard Erdoes’s extensive audiovisual collection regarding the Red Power movement and the re-emergence of traditional religion; Owen Luck’s photographs of the American Indian Movement’s liberation of Wounded Knee; and the complete digital archive of the more than 2,500 images that John Willis made documenting the protests at Standing Rock against the Dakota access pipeline.
The home movies that African American Baptist minister Solomon Sir Jones made between 1924 and 1928 document the lives of African American residents of Muskogee, Okmulgee, Tulsa, Wewoka, Bristow, and Taft, Oklahoma; during their social, school, and church activities; in the businesses they owned; and in their private lives at home. The library has also added collections documenting the all-black towns formed in Indian and Oklahoma territories at the beginning of the twentieth century and built significant collections documenting the history of the Black Panther Party, especially in Oakland, California.
Scrapbooks, photo albums, and bilingual directories document the emergence of middle-class Asian American communities throughout the west coast in the decades after World War I, while newspapers and collections of personal papers document the Japanese-American experience of internment during World War II. The collection also holds several collections of papers compiled by government officials engaged in creating and administering the internment camps.
Jacques Levy’s collection of audio tapes, research files, and personal notes regarding Cesar Chavez and the Farm Workers Organization join with more than 10,000 photographs of the UFW’s efforts made by Jon Lewis to provide unparalleled opportunities to explore labor and Chicano history. The collection has also acquired the broadsides and pamphlets published by the UFW and its opponents. The collection has begun to experiment in archiving the web sites of several Latinx social justice organizations, to preserve evidence not only of the organizations but of their use of new technology to foster community development.
The complexity of Mormon belief and identity in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries is reflected in the papers of two contemporary Mormon intellectuals, the historian D. Michael Quinn and the poet, feminist, and environmental advocate Terry Tempest Williams. The utopian idealism that remains an important aspect of life in the West is reflected in Paul Kagan’s collection of photographs, ephemera, and personal papers documenting such social experiments as Llano del Rio, New Llano, Holy City, Kaweah, and a half-dozen other California communities. Robert Price’s papers and photographs document the rural communes that emerged in New Mexico and Colorado in the late 1960s, while Leon Litwack’s collection of fifteen boxes of broadsides, flyers, and pamphlets documents the political and social ferment of Berkeley, California, from 1964 through 1989.
Urban and suburban development has transformed many regions of the West, and the collection has acquired not only extensive runs of city directories but also of the detailed insurance maps that document not only the streets but the individual buildings of entire western cities. It has also acquired hundreds of brochures and flyers promoting the sale of lands and homes in newly created subdivisions across the West, a phenomenon that began in the late nineteenth century and shows little sign of abating.
Recognizing that the “West of the Imagination” has always been a powerful force in American history and culture, the collection documents the role of Hollywood as an industry and as a cultural force. In addition to acquiring publications that trace the creation and growth of film companies, the collection has acquired more than 2,500 scripts for films that explore important themes in western history and culture. Alongside scripts for such classic “Westerns” as Stagecoach and High Noon are scripts for Chinatown and American Graffiti.
Western Americana at Yale
In the last seventy years the Western Americana Collection has become the focal point for western history resources in the Yale Library. But just as the library collected western material before there was a Western Americana Collection, today many departments within the library remain interested in specific aspects of western history. The coordination of these efforts with those of the Western Americana Collection greatly expands the library’s coverage of western history and culture in general.
For instance, although the Western Americana Collection features a small belles-lettres collection and has recently acquired an extensive collections of Zane Grey correspondence, the chief responsibility for western literature remains with the Yale Collection of American Literature, which contains not only an extensive collection of penny dreadfuls and dime novels but also the manuscripts of such figures as James Fenimore Cooper, Yale 1806, Mabel Dodge Luhan, Vardis Fisher, Paul Horgan, A.B. Guthrie, Georgia O’Keeffe, Elizabeth Shepley Sargeant, Leslie Marmon Silko, James Welch, Gerald Vizenor, and N. Scott Momaday. Similarly, the general collection of modern books and manuscripts at the Beinecke Library complements the Western Americana Collection’s interest in frontier history with its coverage of early European exploration and settlement of North America and of eastern Native Americans and their encounter with European culture. The Franklin, Vanderbilt, and Taylor collections all contain important rare material that illuminates America’s frontier heritage.
Other examples of cooperative collection development and public service practices can be cited in Sterling Memorial Library. For example, although the Western Americana Collection actively acquires material documenting the scientific exploration of the West, the department of Manuscripts and Archives in Sterling Library remains the principal repository at Yale for the papers of former faculty members. Thus the correspondence and papers of figures like James Dwight Dana, Benjamin Silliman, Jr., Othniel C. Marsh, and William Brewer (among others) are to be found there. Manuscripts and Archives also preserves the papers of Yale alumni active in national affairs, among them George Bird Grinnell, 1870, Francis Newlands, 1867, and William Kent, 1887, all three of whom were major figures in the American conservation movement. Finally, Manuscripts and Archives is home to the John Collier papers and to the letters and papers of Henry Roe Cloud, 1910, the first Native American to graduate from Yale.
Some of Yale University Library’s specialized collections also offer important western resources. The Government Documents Collection contains a complete run of the congressional serial set that began with the publications of the Fifteenth Congress as well as extensive files of executive department publications, all of which document the federal government’s role in promoting and assisting in the exploration, settlement, and development of the West. (Documents of the first fourteen Congresses, which were not controlled by Congress in the fashion of the serial set, are part of the general collection of modern books and manuscripts at the Beinecke Library.) The collections of the Law Library include not only the various local court reports, but also virtually complete runs of early legislative journals, session laws, and codes for western states and territories as well as for Indian Territory. The Divinity Library has extensive runs of local ecclesiastical publications and many biographical studies of western churchmen. The Forestry and Geology libraries provide important scientific and natural history texts that complement the holdings of the Western Americana Collection.
As western history has become an increasingly interdisciplinary process, it is important to note that the Yale University Art Gallery, the Yale Center for British Art, and the Peabody Museum all have collections that touch on the American West. The Art Gallery’s collections include a series of Titian Ramsey Peale sketchbooks created during Philip Long’s expedition across the Great Plains; a group of John Mix Stanley watercolors made during the Pacific Railroad Survey under the direction of Isaac Ingalls Stevens; a fine collection of Hudson River School landscape paintings that reveal America’s fascination with the process of settlement and its implications for nature; and a small collection of western scenes by artists such as Albert Bierstadt and Frederick Remington. An introduction to Yale’s western art collections can be gleaned from Discovered Lands/Invented Pasts: Transforming Visions of the American West (New Haven, 1992), a collection of essays that accompanied an exhibition of the same name.
While the Yale Center for British Art might appear to be an unusual source for Western Americana, its extraordinary collection of British illustrated books includes many rare accounts of travel through western North America. Finally, the Peabody Museum contains not only extensive collections of Native American artifacts, including clothing, tools, and ceremonial objects, but also vintage photographs from early western surveys.
As the Western Americana Collection approached seventy years of service to Yale and to the international community of scholars, many parts of the university continue the centuries-long tradition of collecting and preserving America’s western past.