Protecting country and Indians: The records of Junius Wilson MacMurray (1843-1898)

How likely is it to find Civil War letters and diaries among the papers of politicians, journalists, and diplomats that are kept at Mudd Library? Or Colum­bia Plateau Indian pictographs? Meet Junius Wilson MacMurray, whose records are kept among the papers of his son John Van Antwerp MacMurray, a diplomat most of our blog readers will know from his films of China (1925-1929) which have been discussed extensively in our audiovisual blog The Reel Mudd. As few people know about his father Junius Wilson MacMurray’s papers, we will be sharing some particularly interesting records below.

photo of Junius Wilson MacMurray, October 1862

J.W. MacMurray, 1st Lieutenant at the 1st Missouri Light Artillery, October 1862

Junius Wilson MacMurray was born in Missouri on May 1, 1843, the son of Irish immigrant and blacksmith John Dennison MacMurray and Eliza Wilson. According to a detailed handwritten and typescript description of his military career, which includes a list of all battles in which he participated during the Civil War (find it here) he trained as an engineer and volunteered for Engineer Battalion “B” of the National Guard of Missouri from October to December 1860. When the Civil War broke out, two weeks before his 18th birthday, he did not join the Confederates like most young men he knew, but started recruiting volunteers for the Union army instead. His battery was sworn in with the 1st Missouri Volunteers and reorganized into the 1st Missouri Light Artillery.

Junius Wilson MacMurray’s papers consist of his personal and business correspondence, as well as his army correspondence and papers, his  account papers and ledgers,  and his diaries and notebooks, and writings. For researchers in Civil War or Native American history MacMurray’s army correspondence and papers are the most interesting. They document his career as a volunteer in the Army of the Republic during the Civil War, and subsequent service in the regular army from 1866 until his death in 1898. The records include copies and drafts of his reports concerning the Vicksburg campaign (1863) and the Powder River Indian expedition (June-November, 1865), as well as his investigation into land disputes of the Lower Columbia River Indians (1884), when he met their leader and prophet Smohalla (c. 1815-1895).

Image of the back of letter from MacMurray to his mother, November 6, 1863

Back of the letter from Junius Wilson MacMurray to his mother, November 6, 1861

Of additional interest is MacMurray’s personal correspondence, which includes two letters to his mother, written on November 6, 1961 and July 14, 1863. The letters contrast sharply. In the first, written in Springfield, Missouri in barely legible pencil, he reassures his mother that he is very well fed: “Live on butter, biscuit, Turkey. Fresh beef, honey-chickens, potatoes, &c.&c., so you see I’m not starving but on the contrary am getting fat and will some of these days make a fine mess for the buzzards of Wilsons Creek,” he wrote (view first page). Despite the chilling reference to the battlefield where Union General Nathaniel Lyon had been killed only three months earlier, he added on the back: “Now for Lords sake don’t write me a sorrowful letter as I don’t think of anything sorrowful since Freemont [John Charles Frémont] has been superceeded–and there is a possibility of a fight in view. Send me papers!”

Junius Wilson MacMurray to his mother Elisa Wilson MacMurray, July 14, 1863 (view full page)

The second letter, however, has a very different tone. It was written on July 14, 1863 in a camp near Jacinto, Mississippi, one day before the end of the Siege of Jackson.

The nights are cold (not cool) sometimes, there are no mosquitoes, but any amount of snakes and bugs. The timber is mostly yellow pine, the soil poor and [word missing] the most miserable and downtrodden people I ever saw. Nothing scarcely to eat, dirt and filth predominate although the wealthy (cotton dealers, judges, and civil officers) have good clean houses.  Early Spring chicken 50 cts, late (smaller than your fist) ones 25 & 30. Milk 25 cts per quart (very poor) eggs–they laugh at you–In fact, Southwest Missouri after all [Sterling] Price did to it is a paradise to this dessert. (view second page)

MacMurray’s papers include two diaries kept in 1863, of which only one appears to be MacMurray’s. The diary contains daily entries in ink or pencil with occasional mechanical drawings of what look like transportation devices, and includes descriptions of the battle of Vicksburg. Shown below are the pages for the last two days of the Vicksburg Campaign, with a transcription of the entry for July 4, the day of the final victory.

MacMurray’s diary opened for July 4, 1963, the last day of the Vicksburg campaign (full view)

Today, usually a glorious one–was more so than any of its predecessors. Vicksburg surrendered and our army marched in at 10 AM. Men & officers appeared in their best. I went in and met Sam Carlisle, Charlie Hitchcock, Larry Hutchinson John Sadd & John Newmann, old friends. I also met Booren (?) at dinner at dinner–visited the river and saw the river fleet all decked out with the flags of all nations. The transports came down and filled the levee (?) for some distance. Everything went merry as a marriage ball. For  few [illegible] will ever forget this day who were in Vicksburg.

Although MacMurray took obvious pride in his army career, he also had ambitions to teach and be a scholar. He served on detail as professor of military science and tactics at the University of Missouri (1872-1873) and  at Cornell University (1873-1875). His last post of service on detail was at Union College at Schenectady, New York, where he was in charge of sanitary and landscape engineering and taught photography (1879-1883). That he ended up in Schenectady was not accidental: in 1873, he had married Henrietta Wiswall Van Antwerp, daughter of the banker John H. Van Antwerp of Albany. Their son John Van Antwerp MacMurray was born there in 1881, the third child, after two daughters. In Schenectady MacMurray edited  A History of the Schenectady Patent by J. Pierson at al. (Albany, 1883). He tried to use his connections to stay longer, but in vain. He was sent to Vancouver Barracks, WA to serve under Nelson A. Miles (1839-1925). It was Miles who ordered him to investigate land disputes of the Lower Columbia River Indians in 1884.

J.W. MacMurray, circa 1890

One of our researchers, Richard Scheuerman from Seattle Pacific University, the author of Finding Chief Kamiakin: The Life and Legacy of a Northwest Patriot (WSU Press, 2008), worked with several of the region’s Indian tribes. According to him MacMurray was a remarkably enlightened thinker among military officials for his time.  “I have found that he was significantly responsible for arranging applications for title to many properties along the Columbia and Snake rivers under the terms of the Indian Homestead Act,” he wrote us in 2009. “This work did not endear him to many of his contemporaries, but thanks to his selfless service much of this land remains today under Indian ownership and surely would have been lost to them otherwise.” After spending considerable time with their leader and prophet Smohalla. MacMurray shared his observations about the “Dreamers” of the Columbia River Valley in a lecture to the Albany Institute, which was published in 1887.

Page with Native American writing, folded into MacMurray’s notebook (view full page)

Among MacMurray’s diaries and notebook is one he labeled “Col(umbi)a Indians 1884,” which he kept during his investigations. According to Scheuerman, who transcribed the notebook, it provides significant information on Columbia Plateau religion beliefs. Folded inside the notebook is an intriguing piece of paper (shown right). When we asked Scheuerman if he could tell us something about it, he turned out to have wondered about it himself. About two-thirds of the images seem to be Columbia Plateau Indian pictographs, while the other third may be Indian horse brands. “Plateau Indians widely used branding in the 19th century as they maintained enormous horse herds along the Columbia, Yakima, and Snake rivers, all places we know that J.W. MacMurray visited at that time,” according to Scheuerman. If there is anybody out there who is able to enlighten us further, we would love to hear from you!

MacMurray stayed in touch with Nelson Miles, with whom he appears to have been quite friendly. His personal correspondence includes several original letters that he wrote after Miles was promoted to general in 1890, including two letters about Smohalla (the correspondence can be viewed here). The correspondence does not include replies, and it is not sure if the letters ever reached Miles, or whether he possibly returned them to MacMurray or to his widow at a later stage. The correspondence does contain copies of letters of recommendation, however. Miles recommended MacMurray for a promotion to major on June 15, 1892. Sadly, MacMurray received this only in 1897, only two months before he died of yellow fever, which he contracted when in command of the Post of Fort Barrancas, Florida during an outbreak in 1897. When Junius Wilson MacMurray died, his son John Van Antwerp MacMurray was a freshman at Princeton University. That is why his papers, hence those of his father, have ended up at Mudd Manuscript Library.

(With thanks to Richard Scheuerman).


Johnny Sylvester ’37 and Babe Ruth

Baseball in October is often marked by premier teams, clutch plays, and memorable moments. One such moment came during Game Four of the 1926 World Series. In that game on Wednesday, October 6th, the St. Louis Cardinals hosted the New York Yankees and their great player Babe Ruth. Ruth would shine for the Yankees, hitting three home runs in a 10-5 victory. These home runs would be significant in the baseball world, but for one little boy, they appeared to be life-saving.
In 1926 Johnny Sylvester was an 11 year-old die hard Yankee fan living in Essex Fells, New Jersey. During the summer he was involved in a horseback riding accident in which he fell off his horse. The horse then kicked him in the head, leaving Sylvester with a bad infection that began to spread rapidly. Doctors feared he would not survive. While it is true that Sylvester was sick, there is some disagreement in the historical record as to how critically ill he actually was. Some think he had blood poisoning or a sinus condition or a back problem.
Soon telegrams reached the Yankees in St. Louis, notifying them of young Sylvester’s condition. There is some discrepancy in who initiated the contact—Sylvester himself or his father or uncle—but the end result was positive. Ruth responded by sending back two autographed balls (one from the Yankees, and one from the Cardinals). He also included a note to Johnny: “I’ll knock a homer for you on Wednesday.”
On Wednesday, October 6th, Ruth hit three home runs, ensuring a Yankee victory. Remarkably, Sylvester’s condition improved greatly after the game. He eventually made a complete turnaround, graduated from Princeton in 1937, served in the Navy during World War II, and was a successful businessman in Long Island City, New York.
While memorable and inspiring for Sylvester, when a year later Ruth was asked about the event, he reportedly said, “Who the hell is Johnny Sylvester?” The special home run message was not Sylvester’s last contact with Ruth. Sylvester visited Ruth at the opening game of the 1929 season at Yankee Stadium. And, while Ruth was in his declining years, Sylvester visited him at Ruth’s New York apartment.
A possibly apocryphal story about the Sylvester-Ruth connection revolves around the tradition of older classes carrying signs at P-rade. Though there is no proof of it extant in the Archives, Sylvester allegedly once carried a sign that read “Who the hell is Babe Ruth?” paying homage to the great slugger’s forgetful remark and Sylvester’s memorable connection to him.

–Kristen Turner

Meet Mudd’s Brandon Joseph


Name: Brandon Joseph ‘12

Major: History, with Certificates in African American Studies and American Studies
Title/Duties: Project Archivist Assistant. It is my responsibility to help the archivists at Mudd arrange and process collections. My duties include collecting details related to the contents of collections, rehousing and arranging collections, and creating folder lists for finding aids that guide researchers. Occasionally, I monitor the welcome desk, reading room, and page materials for patrons.
Recent projects: For the past year, I’ve been working with Adriane Hanson on the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) records processing project. Before the ACLU project, I worked on the George S. McGovern Papers and the James V. Forrestal Papers.
Worked at Mudd since: January 2009, the beginning of the second semester of my freshman year.
Why I like my job/archives: Mudd is a relaxing place with a great staff. I enjoy coming into Mudd and engaging with the library’s collections in the middle of a hectic day of class. Also, as a history major and researcher, I am fascinated by some the materials that are unearthed as I help process a collection. At times, some of the materials that I come across at Mudd haven’t been seen or touched in decades. It’s fun to be a part of the recovery of lost information as I comb through the collections at Mudd.
Favorite item/collection: The collection of Historical Photographs, which provide a visual timeline to campus events of the past. It’s interesting to see how the buildings I live and work in on campus have developed over time. The Daily Princetonian Collection is another favorite of mine. I enjoy reading about how Princetonians from different eras digested and dealt with the social and administrative issues that arose on campus.

Student Question: What is the favorite part of the collections at Mudd? I love to check out the letters sent to the public officials and organizations that have collections at Mudd. I feel as if the letters from the general population in particular serve as a great way to measure public opinions related to a given topic. While processing the McGovern papers, for example, I found hundreds of letters from concerned citizens from across the nation. Some asked the presidential candidate to endorse a particular opinion, some praised McGovern for his work and wished him well during his campaign, while others blasted McGovern because of his policies. There were even tons of letters and drawings from school children organized by teachers from around the country. The letters in collections provide access to perspectives that may have been lost over time.

Meet Mudd’s Q Miceli

Thumbnail image for Q Miceli 001

Name: Q Miceli ’12

Major: Religion, with certificates in Creative Writing (Poetry) and Judaic Studies

Title/Duties: Technical Services Student Worker. My duties include sorting current University-generated publications as they arrive at Mudd in a process called “accessioning;” entering doctoral dissertations into a database (I used to pack dissertations on CDs to ship to ProQuest, before the University started accepting dissertations online); digitizing collections and running a macro to match scanned folders with physical barcodes; packing collections to send to offsite storage and scanning the box barcodes to discharge them; looking up duplicates in the library catalog; moving boxes; paging materials for patrons; and sometimes monitoring the front desk and reading room.

Recent projects: This past academic year, I made a folder list for part the James Hugh Keeley, Jr. Papers (MC 191) using Archivist’s Toolkit (and a mask and gloves, since these papers had been stored in a chicken coop and sustained severe rodent damage during that time). This summer, as with summer 2010, I cataloged over 1,000 senior theses, double-checking the information in the departmental databases with the physical copies of the theses, assigning each thesis a number, and shelving the boxes of theses. Most recently, I sorted the University-generated accessions by sponsoring department in the accessions drop box.

Q Miceli2

Worked at Mudd since: I started in May 2010 and worked full-time for most of the summer. Then I continued as a technical services student during the 2010-11 school year and for June 2011. After a ten-week internship with the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, I returned to Mudd for the 2011-12 school year. It’s going to be difficult to leave Mudd when I graduate!

Why I like my job/archives: “The world is quiet here.” -Lemony Snicket. The hum and energy of people working to make materials more accessible brings me a sense of peace and shows me that there can be order in the universe. I like how archival work mixes the physical (moving boxes) with the intellectual (creating intellectual order out of a collection of materials). I think the immediate goal of archives is to maintain a repository of well-ordered information that is accessible to patrons, and I like knowing that my work contributes to an ultimate goal of a well-informed public.

Favorite item/collection: It’s a toss-up between the Senior Thesis Collection (AC 102) and the Arthur J. Horton Collection on Coeducation (AC 039). While cataloging the Class of 2010 and the Class of 2011 senior theses, I read many a student’s independent work and saw how much students have learned (or not!) in their four years. I scanned part of the Arthur J. Horton Collection on Coeducation, and some of the ill-informed comments regarding the ultimate goals of females attending universities–i.e., women only go to college to get their “MRS” degree–made me laugh and feel thankful that the university’s attitude towards non-males has improved since then.

Student Question: Besides your senior independent work, what else from your time as a Princeton student would you like to keep in “Princeton’s Attic?”
I would donate my diaries and collages from my time at Princeton in order to make another primary source available to researchers who want to document the experience of undergraduates on campus. These materials would serve as a counterpoint to the critical part of my senior thesis. In the event of someone trying to extrapolate from my senior thesis my views of the world twenty years later, I would donate them posthumously, in neatly ordered boxes so as to save some student worker the trouble of deciphering my handwriting. I would also donate the original note cards for the recipes that I developed in the Witherspoon, Pyne, and Lockhart kitchens for use by future undergraduates hankering after dorm-friendly cake.

Bonus Question: Why “Q?” Short answer: I was one of five Stephanies in my high school graduating class, and since I went to school with the same people from first grade on up, we had different nicknames to distinguish us. Long answer: I began collecting plush cats when I was four. When I was five or six, I thought, instead of calling myself a pet owner–for I viewed my cat collection as my pets and playmates–I should call myself Ownie. Ownie is a either feminized or diminutive version of owner. Like the nickname Suzy Q, my mother (Joanne Naples ’85) began calling me Ownie Q. Then my brother shortened that to Q. I’ve been known as Q since high school, and that’s how I sign the Honor Code.

Lights, Camera, Action!

The Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library has launched a new blog at, dedicated to its audiovisual holdings. Through it, we will announce items that we have posted on Princeton University’s two YouTube Channels ( and We encourage viewers to post comments that will contribute to our knowledge and understanding of these materials.

In conjunction with the Library’s Preservation Office and the New Media Center, the University Archives has worked to digitize over 40 items and these, along with some films from our Public Policy Papers and additional materials, will be posted on a regular basis.