The National Archives has embarked on a project to digitize microfilm series and get them into our online Catalog, where researchers can browse, bounce around, or zero in on particular sections throughout hundreds of microfilm rolls in the comfort of their own home. Or coffee shop. Or bar. Or wherever now! As the National Archives Subject Matter Expert for Native American Related Records I’m very excited to start sharing with the researching public those Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) seres going live. And with that, let’s start with the crown jewel, the 962-roll collection “Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs, 1824-1881." A staple of historical monograph bibliographies for years, this entire series is now in the Catalog.
Chronicling some of the most contentious eras in American Indian and Federal Government relations, this series spans the removal, treaty, and beginning of the assimilation eras. Each roll has gone into the Catalog as a file unit and is organized by Superintendency or Agency, then organized by date. Superintendencies, discontinued in the later part of the 19th century only to be revived as area offices in the 1940’s, had jurisdiction over a geographic area while agencies, continually in use, were immediately responsible for a particular tribal nation or nations.
What sort of records are in this collection? Correspondence and reports from superintendents and agents of the Office of Indian Affairs but also at times letters from private citizens, American Indians themselves, presidents, congressmen, Department of Treasury officials, General Land Office officials, War Department officials, all serving to show how intertwined the Office of Indian Affairs business with the government at large. Topics covered run the gamut, including education, health, medical care, finances, general administrative issues, agriculture, land, emigration, finances, claims, complaints, instructions, request, and decisions.
If you’re not looking to browse, and have a very specific date or person in mind, you might wish to first consult the “Registers of Letters Received, 1824-1880,” on microfilm series M18 but now also in the Catalog. The 126 rolls of M18 act as an index of sorts for M234 and list the letters received, noting the name of writer and date it was written. Later information included was date it was received, location of writer, summary, and assigned heading. These too have been digitized and can be browsed via our Catalog as well.
Please note, many of these records are in cursive!
“Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs, 1824-1881” (M234)
“Registers of Letters Received, 1824-1880” (M18)
Here is an 1880 letter, a somewhat banal example discussing stationary from the Los Pinos Agency in Colorado. This is a good example to highlight some of the filing issues; at times agency letters were grouped under the overall superintendency, in this case the Colorado Superintendency, so one should note that when researching a specific agency.