The Charles Holmes Collection of Chemawa Indian School Documents

Charles Holmes C. 1980.
Charles Holmes C. 1980.

A few years ago, I received a donation from the Charles Holmes estate in Salem, from the wife of Charles Holmes. The collection, are records from the career of Charles Holmes, a former teacher and staff member at Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Oregon. There were some 30 boxes of all sorts of documents that had been stored for about 20 years in the family garage. Some were damaged, some were in very good shape. In all, there were about 3000 photos, along with papers, books, maps, correspondence, and other media and objects related to Charles Holmes work from the 1950s to the 1970s at the school.  He served as the journalism instructor for the newspaper, the yearbook editor, had a role in theatrical plays and cultural events, and taught wood and metal shops, along with other classes.

Chemawa Chief Yearbook 1962-63, Charles Holmes Collection, CTGR
Chemawa Chief Yearbook 1962-63, Charles Holmes Collection, CTGR

A fairly large volume collection. The staff of the Cultural Department at the Grand Ronde Tribe  organized the papers initially for further processing. Noting it was an important collection that extended beyond the Grand Ronde tribe, I sought help from local professionals to process the collection. Rebecca Dobkins, Professor of Anthropology from Willamette University contacted me and we worked on a plan for her to use the collection in her anthropology classes. She would teach a class every years where the students processed some of the photos, identified the subjects and people, using the school yearbooks for comparison. Then they would scan their photos and enter the metadata for the collection into the Willamette University library website.  The project was covered in Smoke Signals in 2012.

The project is going very well and about 2500 photos have been processed in this manner. Rebecca has done a great job presenting on the project throughout the state. I helped her at the Salem Library presentation in 2014. This was written up in a Statesman Journal Article. Smoke Signals also covered this project in an update in 2014. Rebecca also made a presentation about the project at the 2nd Grand Ronde History Conference in November of 2014.

Another part of the collection, the bound newspapers of The Chemawa American, from the early part of the 20th century, are also very important. A couple years ago, I became aware of the Oregon Digital Newspaper Project. The project was putting full page digital images of Oregon’s newspaper online through the UO project website. They have a limited scope of paper from the 1840s to the 1920s. As there funding become available they have been adding papers. I approached them about adding the Chemawa Americans that we had, as well as the Smoke Signals Newspapers from the 1970s to the present, and the Klamath Tribune from 1956-1961. These papers have now been all added to the Oregon Digital Newspapers project website. This has been an amazing project that will benefit Oregon heritage for generations to come.

I am happy to have contributed in this way to advancing the development of Tribal heritage in the state.

2 thoughts on “The Charles Holmes Collection of Chemawa Indian School Documents

  1. I am Ramona Holmes, one of the three daughters of Charles C Holmes who worked at Chemawa and donated photos to the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. I retired last June from SPU and now have a bit of time to go through some of Dad’s things a little more carefully. He had some old books about education from the BIA that I saved as they seemed interesting.

    Dad also had a considerable collection of children’s books for his classes- especially ones that featured Native American art. He used these for projects that he wanted students to do in his art classes. He also saved a set of about 100 small drawings by Navaho students in 1956 that he was intending to put in a Navaho/English children’s book. I hope to figure out a way to do that project now. I would most like to do this in collaboration with someone who is Navaho and might be able to locate the students (or their families) who drew those pictures. These belong to the Navaho nation- I just want to be sure that the story behind them is told.

    I would also like to see how the photos from Chemawa have been used. Are they on display anywhere yet? I moved to Portland last year and now could go to see things them.

    It would be very interesting to chat with you. My email is . Now that I am Professor emerita (ethnomusicology) I have time to do something more with these items.

    Thanks for your considerable work on this project! Ramona Holmes

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