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William Clark Papers

An example of a letter from the William Clark papers

After the Corps of Discovery returned to the states from its exploration of the Louisiana Purchase, William Clark went on to serve as Superintendent of Indian Affairs.  His papers from that time period are in the Society's collections.

William Clark, whom many associate with the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1803-1806, later became the U.S. Superintendent of Indian Affairs. He served from 1807 to 1838. The papers of his superintendency--29 volumes of handwritten material--are preserved at the Kansas Historical Society. How they came to the Society is an interesting story in itself.

The superintendency office was located in St. Louis during Clark's tenure and continuing through superintendents George Maguire (1838-1839), Joshua Pilcher (1839-1841), David D. Mitchell (1841-1844, 1849-1853), and Thomas  Harvey (1844-1849). Around 1854, during the tenure of Alfred Cumming (1853-1855), when Kansas Territory was opened to settlement, the superintendent's office was moved to Lawrence, Kansas. The papers were put in storage and, over time, their location became unknown.

William ClarkIn the early 1880s, newspaperman and abolitionist John Speer was walking down a Lawrence street. He stopped when he saw a pile of leather-bound books on the sidewalk in front of a store. Speer quickly identified them as the papers from the superintendent's office. Knowing how valuable they were, he immediately boarded a train to Topeka where he notified Franklin Adams, the director of the Kansas Historical Society. The two men took the next train back to Lawrence and returned to the bookstore. Speer stayed outside the store while Adams entered and casually asked the proprietor how much he wanted for the books. The proprietor said he expected to receive the same price he would at the paper mill. Adams said that was fair and paid him$33 dollars in cash. The men carried the books to Speer's office and shipped them to the Society in Topeka, where they remain today.

The collection contains many examples of correspondence, including this letter to William Clark from Indian agent Richard Cummins, dated Jan. 20, 1831.  It reads, in part:

I have to report the following persons, who have been transgressors on the Indian land within my agency. . . the following persons, in small companies, were all engaged in hunting bees and honey. . . . I am not certain that proof can be had against the whole of the above persons, John Fitshue, Joseph Moon and Perry Brock & companies, I believe were seen and known as trespassers by Daniel M. Boon [sic].

Entry: William Clark Papers

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: August 2005

Date Modified: December 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.