August in Washington, D.C. is hot, humid, and is always seen as a great opportunity to find incredible resources that are lost in the archives. I say lost because archives like NARA are so vast that the many finding aids they have for the collections can only help to a point, then researchers must rely upon the knowledge of the archivists to find resources, or happenstance. So yes many resources are simply lost as so many archivists have retired and with them goes intimate knowledge about the collections. This is a fact about many archives.
I began at NARA because I was seeking some particular documents. I was able to find great resources about the treaties. The archivists are very helpful but their knowledge of native documents has limits. I was able to find numerous documents, the original 1851 treaties, four amazing maps, and got into the microfilm set M234. The M234 series I had not seen before and proved to be an amazing collection. This series which parallels M2, Correspondence from the Oregon Superintendency, has numerous letters documenting the goings on at the reservations. I found transcripts of a meeting with the Umatillas, perhaps the first, and a transcript of the tribal meeting at Salem (1872). Albert Meacham states that this is the first. I think this is the basis for his book about the tribes, Wigwam and Warpath. Then found a series of letters from the agents at Siletz discussing how the reservation was in debt. Palmer had put the reservation in debt to feed and clothe the people, because no funds were being given from Congress. At one point the agent states that Grand Ronde was getting all of the treaty funds from the Rogue River treaties.
The Library of Congress has a scattering of documents and it is difficult to get finding aids for their collections so very hit and miss. The online search is good but not in fine detail that would facilitate research in their collections
The NAA is very good, lots about the tribes. This year’s research was fruitful there. The SWORP project was already able to copy most of the ethnographic records related to the western Oregon tribes in three research trips (1995, 1998, 2006). There are still some good resources for the eastern Oregon tribes.
A short visit to the exhibits in the National Museum of the American Indian revealed that that still have very little related to western Oregon. They likely had a Siletz exhibit some years ago, so we would have to approach them about an exhibit for Grand Ronde to make that happen. this time the Hupa and Yakima exhibits were the closest related to Oregon.
A visit to the Museum of American Art revealed some good contemporary art. I was most interested in seeing the Albert Bierstadt paintings. These are huge paintings of the American west. They have always seemed related to some of the European landscape paintings in that they try to capture the mythology of the lands. But the American landscape from the perspectives of the time was that it was simply huge, beyond what ever experience there ever was in Europe. Albert Bierstadt tried to capture this spirit by making his paintings likewise huge, and he has captured that sense of enormity of the time. I saw one of these paintings.
Then at the National Archives Museum, the opposite side of the research center, I saw some of the original founding documents of the American nation. As always I look to see if they try to interpret American Indian documents. There is a small section about treaties, of South Dakota. Sort of disappointing. It was hard to see the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, because of the crowds of people.
I learned some important lessons from this research. First, go with a team, because you can cover more ground with more people and you will have companions for traveling. I had to take the METRO system into downtown, actually an easily procedure, but my place was about an hour away, and it was impractical to go back to my place in the middle of the day. With no office in the city, basically you have to keep moving around. I found that the area on the Orange line south of the Capitol, at the Eastern Market is more welcoming to travelers. There are lots of eating establishments and even some good coffee shops, a rarity in the Washington, D.C. area. Dupont circle is also good for researchers, and for the most variety of food, Union station is the best and the cheapest. Wireless access was not a problem.
Basically the METRO is your friend in DC, make sure you fly in to Reagan and not Dulles so you can use the METRO system right at the airport. The culture in DC is so formal that I felt I was from an alien culture at times. But I survived and found some great resources and learned lots about the current state of the archives. I have some good ideas for the next trip. The research was a success and now its time to process the new collections of PDFs, photocopies and photos. Stay tuned.
Ethnohistory Research, LLC | David G. Lewis, PhD
PhD Anthropology (UO 2009) and Native history researcher. Member of the Grand Ronde Tribe, Takelma, Chinook, Molalla, and Santiam Kalapuya ancestry. Owner of Ethnohistory Research LCC, professional consultant and project researcher.
I teach at local universities and colleges and take contracts with tribes, local governments and nonprofits. I have experience in archival organization, museum development, exhibit curation, traditional cultural property nomination, tribal ethnohistoric research, tribal maps, traditional ecological knowledge, and presentations to large and small gatherings. Contact me for consultation about any of these projects.