All images from the Western Americana Collection, Princeton University Digital Library.
Several items from Princeton’s collections of Western Americana are currently on display in the Firestone Library Main Gallery exhibition, “A Republic in the Wilderness: Treasures of American History from Jamestown to Appomattox.” The exhibition begins with early English settlement, including contact with the native peoples, and then traces the growth of the American nation to the end of the Civil War. For more about the exhibition and related lectures and events, including an online exhibition, see the Manuscripts Division announcement, A Republic in the Wilderness.
The exhibition includes several works by leading figures of the American West, including artwork by George Catlin, William Henry Jackson photographs of Native Americans, a Brigham Young Letter and the first edition of the Book of Mormon (Palmyra, N.Y., 1830), and multiple manuscripts and other printed works highlighting the Westward expansion. Below are a handful of items currently on display with labels provided by the exhibition curators, Don Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts, and Anna Chen, Assistant Curator of Manuscripts.
These photographs of Sac and Fox and Dakota Indians belong to one of two albums containing more than 1,000 mounted albumen prints, including portraits of delegates to Washington, D.C., expedition photographs, and early Western studio portraits. They were probably compiled by renowned photographer William Henry Jackson (1843–1942), who may also have written the numbers in the corner of each photograph.
The William Henry Jackson Albums are included as part of the nearly 7,000 Western Americana photographs digitized for the Princeton University Digital Library. To view the entire albums, see Photographs of North American Indians.
After emigrating from his hometown of Oneonta, New York, in 1851, Carleton Watkins found work as a photographer’s aide in San Francisco. Once in business for himself, he began photographing the Yosemite Valley and California mining scenes. His stereoviews and mammoth photographs of Yosemite made him famous and helped to influence federal legislation to protect the valley, which President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) signed on June 30, 1864.
Lake Ah-Wi-Yah and seventy other photographs by Carleton Watkins are also available in the Princeton University Digital Library. See Carleton Watkins
After Joseph Smith (1805–1844), the founder of the Mormon faith, was killed by a mob in 1844, Brigham Young took over the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To escape anti-Mormon persecution, he led a vanguard westward, reaching the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847. During the journey, he wrote this letter to his fourth wife, Harriet Cook Young (1824–1898), whom he had secretly married and left in Nauvoo, Illinois, urging her to come west. She arrived in Salt Lake City in September 1848.
In 2012, Princeton’s Brigham Young Collection was digitized for an undergraduate history course on the American West. See Brigham Young Collection.
Beaded otterskin bags like this one were made by Great Lakes Indian groups to hold medicine and ritual objects. This bag belonged to Ramsay Crooks (1787–1859), a fur trader, explorer, and eventual president of the American Fur Company, founded by John Jacob Astor (1763–1848), which became one of the largest businesses in the United States in the 1830s and opened the way for the settlement and economic development of the American West.
For more on the history of otterskin bags in tribal culture, see Anton Treuer’s “Full Circle: From Disintegration to Revitalization of Otterskin Bag Use in Great Lakes Tribal Culture,” Princeton University Library Chronicle (67:2, 2006): 359–365.
To view these and other Western Americana highlights currently on display, visit the Main Gallery of the Firestone Library now through August 4, 2013. For hours and information, see Information for Visitors. The Firestone Library is located on the corner of Nassau Street and Washington Road (#5 on the campus map) and the address for GPS directions is One Washington Road, Princeton, NJ, 08544.
Philip Ashton Rollins ’89 donated his Collection of Western Americana to the Princeton University Library in 1947. Yet nearly twenty years earlier Rollins gave a gift to the library of far greater value. On March 28, 1930, Mr. and Mrs. Rollins gave a dinner party at the Union Club in New York City with the sole intent of forming a Friends of the Library group at Princeton. The dinner invitations included an elegantly printed notice of Rollins’s intentions:
To meet with other Princetonians and friends who are sympathetic with an attempt to duplicate at Princeton the movement which, well established at Harvard, is there known as Friends of the Library. University officers and professors will explain the movement which, to speak bluntly, is in no sense a money raising one. It is books and the friends of books.
Thus the Friends of the Princeton University Library was born. Mr. Rollins served as the first Chairman of the Friends and oversaw the formation of the Friend’s circular, Biblia, in 1930 (the first issue included a transcript of a recent purchase by Rollins, a collection of manuscript notes made by Walt Whitman during a trip out West). Rollins contributed the opening essay as well, which clearly stated the purpose of the Friends:
The aim of the association is the obtaining of printed and manuscript material for Princeton, doing this indirectly through creating an intimate acquaintance between Princeton’s Library and such Princetonians and other sympathetic folk as may desire the Library’s betterment. Lovers of books can, by making or inducing gifts of volumes, do much to strengthen Princeton.
The Biblia was primarily devoted to library business matters, and in 1939 it was supplemented with a new publication, the Princeton University Library Chronicle. The Chronicle, which has remained in publication ever since, is an inter-disciplinary journal whose mission is to publish articles of scholarly importance and general interest based on research in the collections of the Princeton University Libraries. Today the Chronicle is published three times a year (Autumn, Winter, Spring), under the sponsorship of the Friends of the Princeton University Library, and it is the best introduction to the history of the Department of Rare and Special Collections and its holdings. Two issues in particular provide a very thorough account of the history of the Princeton Collections of Western Americana, Volume 9, Number 4 and Volume 33, Number 1. Volume 67, Number 2, (available here) is a 2006 issue in honor of Alfred L. Bush, Princeton’s first Curator of Western Americana.
Combined, Biblia and the Chronicle contain approximately 50 articles devoted to the history of the American West as told through Princeton’s Collections of Western Americana. A compiled list of these WA articles, as well as links to online PDFs, can now be found at the following URL: blogs.princeton.edu/westernamericana/pulc
“On my return from the first exploration of the canyons of the Colorado, I found that our journey had been the theme of much newspaper writing. A story of disaster had been circulated, with many particulars of hardship and tragedy, so that it was currently believed throughout the United States that all the members of the party were lost save one. A good friend of mine had gathered a great number of obituary notices, and it was interesting and rather flattering to me to discover the high esteem in which I had been held by the people of the United States. In my supposed death I had attained to a glory which I fear my continued life has not fully vindicated.” –J. W. Powell, Canyons of the Colorado.
On August 29, 1869, John Wesley Powell and the remaining members of a small expedition emerged from the Grand Canyon after nearly 100 days of hardship and peril. Three months earlier, on May 24, they had embarked on a journey down the uncharted waters and canyons of the Green and Colorado rivers hoping to successfully navigate one of the last unknown territories in the United States. Powell, a Civil War veteran whose right arm was amputated after the battle of Shiloh, soon found widespread acclaim and recognition for his remarkable achievement. His success and fame led to government funding for a second trip in 1871–72, this time to map the rivers and canyons, a task which was abandoned in the first expedition in favor of survival. In 1875, Powell published an illustrated account of the expeditions, Explorations of the Colorado River…, which he later revised and enlarged as Canyons of the Colorado (1895), a copy of which was recently acquired for Princeton. The work was privately printed in Meadville, Pennsylvania.
Canyons of the Colorado provides numerous accounts and illustrations of the perils involved in the expeditions, such as running the rapids and saving a man from falling into a canyon by lowering down a pair of britches as a rope:
Powell was also a professor of natural science (primarily self-taught), and his life-long interests in geography and archaeology are witnessed in the Canyons of Colorado as well. Powell’s reports significantly contributed to the scientific understanding of the Colorado River system and the formation of the canyons. His work also included important studies of the Native American tribes of Arizona, Nevada, and Utah (Powell later served as a special commissioner of Indian affairs in Washington, D.C.).
Princeton also houses several stereographs from Powell’s expeditions, most of which are attributed to either E. O. Beaman or John K. Hillers. (For an online simulation of stereo views, see the Getty Museum’s How a Stereograph Works or create your own simulation with the New York Public Library’s Sterogranimator.)
1,500 of Princeton’s stereographs have been digitized and can be viewed in the Princeton University Digital Library’s Western Americana Collection:
For those related to Powell’s various expeditions, see:
Fowler, Don D. “Powell, John Wesley,” American National Biography Online. Feb. 2000. Access Date: Tue Dec 25 2012 16:44:42 GMT-0600 (CST)
Powell, J. W. Canyons of the Colorado. Meadville, PA: The Chatauqua-Century Press, 1895.
Vincenzo Maria Coronelli and Jean Baptise Nolin. Le nouveau Mexique, appelé aussi Nouvelle Grenade et Marata, avec partie de Californie selon les memoires les plus nouveaux. A Paris: Chez J.B. Nolin, sur le Quay de l’Horlogeà, l’Enseigne de la Place des Victoires Vers le Pont-Neuf, Avec Privilege du Roy, 168 (sic).
A new acquisition for Princeton’s Historic Maps & Western Americana collections, Coronelli and Nolin’s Le nouveau Mexique… is described in Philip D. Burden’s The Mapping of North America II (Raleigh Publications, 2007) as “the most momentous map of the American south-west published to date  and would remain seminal for decades to come” (Burden, 307). The primary importance of the map is the depiction of the Rio Grand, which is accurately described as flowing south-east and discharging into the Gulf of Mexico instead of the Gulf of California: “La Riu du Nort tombe dans le golfe de Mexique, et non pas dans La Mer de Californie.”
The first printed state of the map has a regretful omission in the date, which is printed as “168.”
Wheat’s Mapping the Transmississippi West, 1540–1861 (Institute of Historical Cartography, 1957–1963) dates the map as 1685, while Burden suggests a later circa 1687 printing. A second state of Le nouveau de Mexique… did not appear until in 1742.
Burden, Philip D. The Mapping of North America II: A List of Printed Maps 1671–1700. Rickmansworth, Herts., U.K.: Raleigh Publications, 2007.
Wheat, Carl I. Mapping the Transmississippi West, 1540–1861. Six volumes. San Francisco: Institute of Historical Cartography, 1957–1963.