Western Americana

The Collection of Western Americana consists of books, manuscripts, maps, art, prints, photographs, and printed ephemera which document the exploration, settlement, and development of the Trans-Mississippi West through World War I. The collection, renowned for its holdings in nineteenth-century government surveys of the region, also contains extensive material about the history and culture of Native American communities throughout the West, and on the history of the Spanish Southwest, Texas, the Pacific Northwest, early Mormonism, and the overland trails experience.



For more than fifty years, the Yale Collection of Western Americana has helped scholars from around the world better understand the history of the American West. The collection consists of some forty thousand printed works, three thousand catalogued manuscript collections, thousands of vintage photographs, and hundreds of prints, watercolors, and paintings that document the history and culture of Native American communities as well as the European and American exploration, settlement, and development of the Trans-Mississippi West from Mexico to the Arctic Circle. Each year new purchases and gifts add depth and breadth to the collection, allowing it to respond flexibly to current trends in scholarship and to continue to serve not only Yale students and faculty but graduate students and senior scholars from America and abroad.

The Core Collections 

When the collection opened to the public in September 1952, it did not, as many people supposed, mark the Yale University Library’s entry into a new and previously ignored field. The opening was a turning point rather than a fresh departure— a consolidation of past efforts that signaled an expansion of support for the scholarly community. The library’s 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 workers in the same field would not hesitate to add the fruits of their efforts to his.

Nor did Coe’s support of Yale stop with his gift of books and manuscripts. His generous financial assistance allowed the library to bring together in one place 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 set up a generous endowment to staff the collection, to provide for future acquisitions, and to establish a chair in the field of American Studies, ensuring a liaison between books and scholars. Coe continued to be an active collector until his death in 1955, and in his will he added to the already substantial funds he had established for the purchase of Western Americana.

As the library began assembling Yale’s existing resources in the field of Western Americana, it discovered far more material than most observers had anticipated. The explanation for this surprise lay in the historical relationship between Yale faculty and alumni on the one hand and the Far West on the other. The mere fact of the university’s continuous existence for more than 250 years was a decided asset. If, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries Yale had no specific interest in the West as such, it had always been 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 the time of their publication. Some of them, to be sure, were worn out by generations of students and discarded long before they became the objects of the 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.

A second factor that created a substantial body of Western Americana at Yale was the presence of such distinguished nineteenth-century scientists as Benjamin Silliman, Jr., 1837; James Dwight Dana, 1833; William H. Brewer, 1852; and Othniel C. Marsh, 1860, on the Yale faculty. All of them participated personally in the scientific exploration of the West, and they built extensive libraries in their particular fields. When, in the fullness of time, their personal collections were added to the University Library, they included not only scholarly monographs but also a wealth of ephemeral pamphlets on the natural history, geology, mines, and Native Americans of the West. Fortunately, in those days, the critical shortages of space and staff that afflict libraries today did not exist, and even the slimmest pamphlet was cataloged and preserved, to be rediscovered joyfully two generations later.

Yale alumni, too, 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. If, through lack of funds or foresight, his alma mater failed to secure either his Spanish Southwest or Plains and Rockies collection, which now grace other institutions, his Texas and Middle-West collection did come to Yale in 1918. The title is a bit ambiguous, but the collection consists principally of materials that document the exploration and settlement of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys through the middle of the nineteenth century and of Texas to the time of its annexation to the United States. The Middle-Western portion of the collection abounds in early narratives of discovery and of the Indian Wars, many of them in original boards, uncut. Wagner’s Texas collection includes both manuscripts and printed works that document the earliest exploration and settlement of the region as well as the history of the Texas Revolution. Since Coe’s chief interests lay in the areas of the Louisiana Purchase, the Canadian Northwest, and the Northwest Coast of America, the Wagner Collection was important not only in its own right but also because it supplemented the Coe Collection’s coverage of the West. 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 him to spend his 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, including such religious ceremonies as the Sun Dance. Originally one of the most powerful and important western tribes, the Blackfoot of that time preserved many aspects of their earlier way of life. McClintock’s photographs and extensive notes provide a rich source for both historians and ethnologists. At his death in 1950 McClintock left Yale a bequest for the purchase of books relating to Native Americans and for lectures on the same subject. This fund also supports an annual prize for the best undergraduate essay on a topic relating to the history or culture of the American West or of Native Americans. McClintock described the origins of his collection in the Yale University Library Gazette for April 1949.

Coe 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 Governor Isaac Stevens, and a leader in the growth and development of the new state. Most pioneers are too busy making history to think about recording it; the Miller family was unusual in that its members not only played a leading role in creating their state, they also helped to collect and preserve its history for future generations. Winlock Miller, Jr., thus came naturally to collecting sources for the history of the Pacific Northwest. Although his career as a collector was cut short by his death in 1939, he had already brought together an outstanding group of books and manuscripts. In accordance with his wishes, the collection came to Yale in 1950, the gift of his father, Winlock Miller, 1894.

The Miller Collection provided great depth in an area where Coe had collected extensively rather than intensively. Coe had acquired the basic sources for the discovery and earliest settlement of the Oregon country; the Miller Collection contained materials for the history of that region, especially for the present state of Washington, during the important transition from fur trading to industrial empire. A detailed description of the Miller Collection was published in the Gazette for October 1951. Since then the Miller family has added to the collection the papers of William W. Miller, Winlock’s grandfather, and established a fund for the purchase of further material about the Pacific Northwest.

The acquisition of Henry Wagner’s Texas books and pamphlets 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 not in institutional but in private hands. In the 1920s, Henry Wagner had inspired Thomas W. Streeter of Morristown, New Jersey, to begin compiling a bibliography of the early history of Texas. Over the next thirty years, as he worked on the bibliography, Streeter brought together 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, or 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 will be found in the Gazette for April 1957. During his lifetime Streeter generously added both printed and manuscript material to the collection.

Despite the importance 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, was entering the first rank of Americana collectors. 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 the fields that most interested him, the Plains and Rockies region and the Spanish Southwest, and set out to build a great collection.

At the time Coe gave his collection to Yale, it was a commonly held opinion that no collection of similar stature in the field of Western Americana could ever again be formed. The statement fortunately proved false. While it is true that it would be virtually impossible to duplicate, or even rival the Coe Collection for its chosen area and period of time, that area was not the whole West, nor did the collection cover the earliest periods of western exploration and settlement. F. W. Beinecke sought to collect in areas that Coe had ignored, and in the course of twenty years he amassed what must be regarded as one of the finest half-dozen Western Americana collections ever assembled by a private collector. It was especially fortuitous for Yale that just as F. W. 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 within a few years. He quickly acquired them and many other important sources. From 1967 through 1970 he purchased extensively at the auction of Thomas Streeter’s Americana collection, acquiring the last known copy in private hands of many a treasure of Southwest Americana.

The growth of F. W. Beinecke’s collection is well chronicled in issues of the Gazette beginning in 1956 and continuing through his death in 1970. The January 1960 issue, for example, includes Jerry E. Patterson’s description of Mr. Beinecke’s collection of more than two thousand contemporary books, pamphlets, broadsides, and manuscripts relating to the Mexican War. A partial listing of the many manuscripts that Mr. Beinecke 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 has ever been published. Instead records for F. W. Beinecke’s material, as well as for the Western Americana Collection as a whole, have been added to the University Library’s automated catalog. Like many of the benefactors of Yale’s Western Americana Collection, F. W. Beinecke generously endowed a fund to provide not only for the continued growth of the collection but also for a prize to be awarded by the History Department for outstanding doctoral dissertations in the field of western history.

The death of F. W. Beinecke marked the beginning of a new era in Western Americana at Yale. Over the last three decades the collection has been augmented less by the acquisition of major private collections than through the annual purchase and donation of all kinds of material. In its growth the collection has attempted to address both the interests of the general 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, history of art, history of science, law, linguistics, literature, political science, religious studies, and women’s studies. The recent creation of a new endowment, the MacKinnon Family Fund, by William and Richard MacKinnon (both members of the Yale College Class of 1960) will underwrite not only the acquisition of additional rare books and manuscripts but also provide stipends for Yale graduate students to do dissertation research in the collection.

Built upon the foundation established by Coe, Wagner, McClintock, Miller, Streeter, and F. W. Beinecke, the Western Americana Collection is renowned for the breadth of its coverage. Other collections may outstrip it in one or another aspect of western history, but few, if any, cover as much territory or as many topics in as 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 broadsides that record the encounter between European culture and the people and land of western North America.

Native American History

One of the collection’s goals is to document the full range of Indian-white relations. Among its most valuable collections are sketches, paintings, prints, and books by artists and writers like George Catlin, Karl Bodmer, Alfred Jacob Miller, James Otto Lewis, and the brothers Edward and Richard Kern. Early photographs of Native Americans by photographers such as Julius Vannerson, Samuel Cohners, Zeno Shindler, Alexander Gardner, William Soule, William Henry Jackson, John Hillers, and Edward Curtis supplement the papers of Yale alumnus Walter McClintock, who spent nearly fifteen years among the Blackfoot Indians of Montana and whose collection includes over two thousand photographs. The acquisition of the papers of Richard Erdoes includes thousands of slides and photographs of western Native Americans from the 1960s through the 1990s.

The history and culture of Native Americans are also well covered in the official accounts of government-sponsored expeditions and in the private memoirs and autobiographies of missionaries, traders, and government agents. In addition to early ethnographic works, the collection has many of the first Indian grammars, dictionaries, and texts. It features an extensive collection of Cherokee and Creek imprints from Indian Territory, as well as numerous mission imprints from the Pacific Northwest. Among the manuscripts in the collection is a series of notebooks collected by the anthropologist Jack Kilpatrick that contain hundreds of Cherokee medical formulas in the Sequoyan syllabary. The collection also includes the papers of George Bent, which document the creation and history of Bent’s Fort, a major trading post on the southern plains; the papers of Richard Henry Pratt, the founder of Carlisle Indian School; and the personal archive of Felix Cohen, the legislative architect of John Collier’s “Indian New Deal.”

Early Exploration 

Yale’s collection is acclaimed for its coverage of early Hispanic exploration and settlement in the West. The collection contains copies of nearly all the works described in Henry Wagner’s monumental bibliography, The Spanish Southwest: 1542–1795, many of them 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 extensive collections of papers record Father Silvestre Velez de Escalante’s effort to establish an overland route from Santa Fe to San Francisco (1776), Alessandro Malaspina’s naval exploration of the Pacific coast (1788–92), and Jean-Louis Berlandier’s scientific and ethnographic investigations 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 Southwestern materials from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as well as from the Spanish and Mexican eras.

Records of early Anglo-American explorations include the field notes and field maps of Lewis and Clark (1803–06), 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 seventy-five hundred 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 reports of major western explorations by the United States are fully represented, often in significant variant editions, some of which feature unique, additional illustrative material. The collection also includes hundreds of landscapes by Carleton Watkins, William Henry Jackson, Timothy O’Sullivan, A. J. Russell, and other early western photographers.

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 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 Zachary Taylor. Their papers, along with smaller collections of diaries and correspondence from minor officers, provide much insight into the history of Indian-white relations in the Far West as well as into the conduct of the Mexican War. The collection’s coverage of the Mexican War includes a large gathering of prints and sheet music as well as an extensive set of rare 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 Settlement

The overland migration of Americans to the Pacific Coast, which had begun in the early 1840s with the movement to settle Oregon, quickly 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 two hundred 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 toil and rewards of making new homes in the West. Of particular note in this regard is the archive of the Verein zum Schutz deutscher Einwanderer in Texas, an organization of German noblemen established in the 1840s to colonize west Texas. The archive 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. The manuscript collections are supported by an extensive collection of contemporary guides and an outstanding assortment of printed autobiographies, reminiscences, and memoirs by pioneers who traveled across the continent. These titles are nicely supplemented by a similarly extensive collection of accounts published by people who traveled to California by sea.

The economic history of the West can be explored not only in the records of the Verein zum Schutz deutscher Einwanderer in Texas, but also in the virtually complete archive of the Savage Mining Company of Gold Hill, Nevada (1859–1920), in the extensive records of the North Star Mining Company of Grass Valley, California (1870–1920), in the papers of James and Granville Stuart, two of the most successful cattle ranchers in Montana Territory (1854–80), and in the personal and business papers of attorney Silas Reed. Numerous smaller collections document efforts by pioneer families to establish new homesteads throughout the West as well as the lives of gold and silver miners in California, Colorado, Alaska, and the Yukon. The collection also contains many early city directories, the annual reports of major western businesses, including mining and cattle companies, and various publications of western railroads.

Over time, the promotional tactics of the railroads were adopted by numerous other industries, and, indeed, by many western towns, counties, and states. 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. As the “frontier” era passed, tourism replaced exploration, and travel literature becomes a primary source of information about the region. Such accounts are well represented in the collection, as are the memoirs of former pioneers who found time in their retirement to reflect upon the history of a country that had grown up with them.

Western political history is documented in the papers of many territorial officials including governors John G. Brady (Alaska), Andrew Faulk (Dakota), John W. Geary (Kansas), and Isaac Stevens (Washington). 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 manuscript collections are supported by extensive holdings in state and local government publications and western newspapers.

Religious movements and figures played important roles in the settlement of the West and are well represented in the collection. 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. Since its opening, the collection has been renowned for the strength of its holdings concerning the origins and growth of Mormonism. It includes among others the papers of James Strang, Oliver Olney, Howard and William Egan, and Thomas Kane. All the major polemical works about Mormonism published in the nineteenth century, both pro and con, have been collected as well as numerous foreign imprints generated by Mormon missionaries working in Great Britain, on the Continent, and in the Far East. Yale’s collection of Nauvoo and Deseret imprints appears to be unequaled outside two or three institutions in Utah.

The collection’s strength in early Mormon imprints reflects its general interest in early western printing. For virtually every area of the West, from Iowa to Hawaii, from Texas to Alaska, the collection contains numerous examples from the earliest regional presses. Frequently such imprints were the work of government agencies, and the collection features extensive files of territorial and state documents including the reports of executive and legislative departments.

Art and Photography

From its inception, the Western Americana Collection has been home to pictures as well as text. Although visual material, like verbal descriptions, can be imagined as well as eyewitness, the collection has emphasized the documentary over the imaginary in collecting watercolors, drawings, prints, and photographs of the West and its people. Mr. Coe donated important collections of watercolors by Samuel Seymour, Louis Choris, Anton Schonborn, James Hutton, and Alfred Jacob Miller as well as four 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. Mr. Beinecke donated six works by Alfred Jacob Miller and compiled an extraordinary collection of prints that preserve the visual record of the War with Mexico.

Over the years, the collection has acquired important collections of work by such artists as Richard and Edward Kern and James W. Abert, but the most significant addition of original art since Mr. Coe’s founding gift was in 1997 when Franz and Kathryn Stenzel donated their collection of nearly thirteen hundred pieces as well as their extensive research files. The Stenzels, whose collection includes nearly ninety feet of material, had the finest collection in private hands of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century western art including extensive holdings of work by James Madison Alden, James G. Swan, William McIlwraith, Gutzon Borglum, Lute Pease, Joseph Kehoe, Hans Kleiber, and E. S. Paxson.

In America the exploration of photography coincided with the exploration of the far West and the history of the two subjects is heavily intertwined. The Western Americana Collection holds a premier collection of early Western photographs and has, in recent years, broadened its coverage by acquiring the personal papers of several contemporary photographers. Extensive holdings of work by such photographic pioneers as G. R. Fardon, Carleton Watkins, Timothy O’Sullivan, A. J. Russell, and William Henry Jackson are accompanied by extensive files recording the work of 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 over 300 early cased images from the daguerrean and ambrotype eras as well as over fifty thousand images made in Humboldt County, California from the 1860s through the late twentieth century. As in the case of the Stenzel collection, Mr. Palmquist’s extensive research files will come to the collection where they will serve as a resource for future scholars in the field. Extensive collections of works by David Plowden, Miguel Gandert, Judith Sandoval, and Richard Erdoes provide a window on the landscape and culture of the contemporary West.

The West in the Twentieth Century

Mr. Coe, Mr. 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 West in the twentieth century 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 twentieth century of specific western sites as their local state libraries and historical societies, it has attempted to develop significant research collections that document western issues that have occupied national attention. The coll