The National Archives continues to digitize and make available online previously microfilmed collections. In the last few months this has included several collections of superintendency records, dating back to the early 19th century. The first three online are from Michigan, Oregon, and Washington.


What are the Superintendencies?


During the 19th century, superintendencies and agencies were the two principal field jurisdictions of the Office of Indian Affairs (OIA). The superintendencies covered a specific area, territory, or state, and supervised the Indian Agents therein. Until 1875, the records of individual Indian Agents, who were responsible for the affairs of a tribe or reservation, were considered their own property and sometimes not saved. In these cases, the superintendent’s records are often all that we have left noting the actions of Indian Agents. Frequently the governor of a state or territory acted as superintendent, and the jurisdictions themselves changed as territories were carved into states, borders shifted, or the need for oversight waned.


The superintendencies were discontinued in the 1870s, with the last shuttered in 1878, and agencies then reported directly to the OIA Commissioner. In the 1940s, area offices were created, once again based on geographic locations like  the superintendencies. These continue to exist today as regional offices.


What’s in the Records?


These microfilm collections were not organic series but rather amalgams of various series, microfilmed in the 1970s to bring together related records for each superintendency. They consist largely of correspondence but also feature reports, statistics, daybooks, ledgers, contracts, bonds, and ephemera, such as newspaper clippings or monograph pages. Topics include the negotiation and enforcement of treaties, land, emigration, law and order, annuity payments, intertribal hostilities, military operations, depredation claims, traders and licenses, missionaries and schools, agency building matters, and employees. While most of the letters are from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs or agents within the superintendency, correspondence can also be found with the Army, Treasury Department, General Land Office, missionaries, local citizens, and Native Americans themselves. Generally organized chronologically, each series has a inventory that can be found and downloaded by searching the microfilm number, such as M5, here.

An 1828 letter authorizing funds for a council. Note the War Department return address; while relations with tribes had been delegated to the War Department since the creation of the United States, in 1824 a formal Office of Indian Affairs was opened within the War Department. It remained there until 1849, when it was transferred to the then newly created Department of Interior.

Records of the Michigan Superintendency of Indian Affairs, 1814-1851 (M1) Roll 22, Image 214

Reward circular from 1824 concerning a missing officer in the War of 1812, suspected of being kidnapped by a Lake Superior area tribe.

Records of the Michigan Superintendency of Indian Affairs, 1814-1851 (M1) Roll 12, Image 266

List of Yakima Indian Agency employees in 1866, along with home state and salary. Included with the Indian Agent, physician, carpenter, farmer, miller, gunsmith, blacksmith, and interpreter are four school staff - from our last blog on BIA schools, note Yakima was the site of the first boarding school opening in 1860.

Records of the Washington Superintendency of Indian Affairs, 1853-1874 (M5) Roll 18, Image 379

Excerpt from the Oregon Superintendent’s 1865 annual report, detailing the accumulation of historical records that need to be preserved, so asking for funds for another iron safe “large enough to hold all the records.”

Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs, 1848-1873 (M2) Roll 9, Image 368


Alphabetical List of Superintendencies


Arizona Superintendency (1863-1873)

Arkansas Superintendency (1819-1834, transferred to the Western Superintendency)

California Superintendency (1852-1873)

Central Superintendency (1851-1878)

Colorado Superintendency (1861-1870)

Dakota Superintendency (1861-1870, 1877-1878)

Florida Superintendency (1824-1834)

Idaho Superintendency (1863-1870)

Iowa Superintendency (1838-1846, transferred to the St. Louis Superintendency)

Michigan Superintendency (1805-1851, transferred to the Northern Superintendency)

Minnesota Superintendency (1849-1856, transferred to the Northern Superintendency)

Missouri Superintendency (1813-1848, transferred to the St. Louis Superintendency)

Montana Superintendency (1864-1873)

Nevada Superintendency (1861-1870)

New Mexico Superintendency (1850-1874)

Northern Superintendency (1851-1876)

Oregon Superintendency (1848-1873)

Southern Superintendency (1851-1870)

St. Louis Superintendency (1822-1851, transferred to the Central Superintendency)

Utah Superintendency (1850-1870)

Washington Superintendency (1853-1874)

Western Superintendency (1832-1851, transferred to the Southern Superintendency)

Wisconsin Superintendency (1836-1848, transferred to the Northern Superintendency)

Wyoming Superintendency (1869-1870)