Walter Mason Camp papers

Walter Mason Camp papers

Dates: 1905-1925

Collection consists of correspondence, interview notes, general research and field notes, drafts of writings, maps, newsclippings, and miscellaneous research and reference materials created and collected by Camp, and pertaining to the Indian Wars of the plains (1864-1890). The bulk of the collection consists of the correspondence (1908-1923), interviews, general research, and field notes (1890-1924). Chief interviewees and correspondents were the officers, enlisted men, and Indian scouts of the U.S. 7th Cavalry, and the Indians who fought at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Significant information on the other battles is also present in the papers, including the following: Slim Buttes, Washita, Beecher Island, Wounded Knee, Wagon Box, Adobe Walls, Rosebud, Redwater Creek, Platte Bridge and Red Buttes, Nez Perce Campaign, Hayfield Fight, Dull Knife Fight, Fetterman Massacre, Conner-Cole Expedition and the Battle of Buffalo Wallow.

  • Extent: 7 boxes (3.5 linear ft.). -- 2 half boxes (0.5 linear ft.)
  • Creator: Camp, Walter Mason, 1867-1925
  • Call Number: MSS 57
  • Repository: L. Tom Perry Special Collections; 19th Century Western & Mormon Manuscripts; 1130 Harold B. Lee Library; Brigham Young University; Provo, Utah 84602;
  • Access Restrictions: Open for public research.
Languages and Scripts
Arranged into seven series: 1. Biographical information. 2. Correspondence. 3. Interviews. 4. Notes. 5. Typescripts of selected interviews. 6. Writings. 7. Research and reference file.
Conditions of Use
It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain any necessary copyright clearances. Copyright to the Camp papers is held in part by the Harold B. Lee Library. No item, paper manuscript, or other materials in the Camp papers may be published in whole without written permission. Scholars desiring photocopying privileges must sign a statement agreeing not to publish the materials they receive. Permission to publish material from the Walter Mason Camp papers must be obtained from the Supervisor of Reference Services and/or the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Board of Curators.
Preferred Citation
Initial Citation: MSS 57; Walter Mason Camp papers; 19th Century Western and Mormon Manuscripts; L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University. Following Citations: MSS 57, LTPSC.
Custodial History
After his untimely death on August 3, 1925, Camp's widow assumed custody of his files. A number of parties tried unsuccessfully to acquire them, including the Library of Congress, the Department of the Army, Robert S. Ellison, Brigadier General William Carey Brown and George Bird Grinnell (See the Grinnell-Ellison Correspondence, Denver Public Library Microfilm, BYU Catalog Number MSS SC 568). Finally, after eight years of negotiations, General Brown, assisted by Robert Ellison, succeeded in purchasing the papers from Mrs. Camp in 1933. He moved them to his Denver, Colorado, home where he began to sort and classify them. Apparently, he also misplaced some of them (see below). Robert Ellison and General Brown corresponded from 1933 to 1945 during which time Brown gradually transferred most of the Camp files to Ellison. While he had the files, Brown identified the subject of some of the photographs and solicited additional Camp letters from Earl Brininstool. Both Ellison and Brown utilized the interview notes for research while they had them and Brown retained some Camp materials, especially photographs, which he interfiled with his own collection and which are preserved there today in the University of Colorado Library. (See the Register to the William Carey Brown Collection, Norlin Library, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado.) In some cases Brown and Ellison added information to the Camp manuscripts in the form of notes and commentary. For samples of Brown's and Ellison's handwriting see the William Carey Brown collection, (MSS 1474) and the Ellison Collection (MSS 782). Also, while the files were in Ellison's possession they were used by at least one scholar, viz., Charles Kuhlman in January 1939. (See MSS 1401, box 4, folder 15.) Brown left explanatory summarizations of the contents of Camp's notes on the envelopes in which Camp stored his notes. Robert Ellison died August 16, 1947. In accordance with his wishes, Ellison's widow sent the bulk of his library and papers, including a substantial segment of the Camp papers, to the Lilly Library at the University of Indiana, his alma mater. Mrs. Ellison also willed additional materials to the Lilly Library, which they received at her death, on March 13, 1967. Another segment of the Robert Ellison papers including additional Camp notes found its way into the Denver Public Library. The remaining Ellison papers and library were purchased by Fred Rosenstock, a noted Denver book dealer. He transferred both the books and the manuscripts to his bookstore and his home, where he stored the manuscripts until they were sold to BYU in several installments between 1968 and 1981. The purchase included the bulk of Walter Camp's interview notes and other papers preserved in this collection and some of the papers created by Robert Ellison, which are cataloged separately. In 1974, the Harold B. Lee Library commissioned Kenneth Hammer of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, an economist and Custer authority, to inventory and organize the Camp and Ellison collections in preparation for a planned publication of the best of the Camp interview notes and related source materials related to Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Hammer arranged the two collections to reflect his chief concern in preparing to edit the book, namely the grouping of materials according to subject to facilitate access. His identifications were extremely helpful and his inventory served as the beginning point for this register. However, subsequent to the publication of the book, Custer in '76, the staff restructured the two collections to reflect primarily the work of Camp and Ellison (i.e., if either man created or collected an item, it was made a part of his archives regardless of its subject content) while ease of access for patrons was retained through the use of an index. Also a staff member visited the Denver Public Library and the University of Colorado Library and made arrangements to have copies of their Camp and Camp-related manuscripts either sold or loaned to the Harold B. Lee Library. A microfilm of the Denver Library Ellison-Camp Collection is available for use in the Harold B Lee Library as MSS SC 568. The University of Colorado made available photocopies of pertinent correspondence of William Carey Brown (MSS 1474). Finally, Ken Hammer made available his notes, photocopies and transcriptions of Camp interview notes, including those generated while working with the Ellison-Camp Collection in the University of Indiana's Lilly Library (MSS 1473). For information on other related collections, consult the card and online catalogs.
Acquisition Information
Purchased; Fred Rosenstock; 1968-1981. Acquired (copies and related materials); Denver Public Library, University of Colorado Library. Acquired (photographs); via R.N. Wathen, Jr. and Harold Schindler.
Separated Material
All materials created by Robert S. Ellison or by George A. Custer which were added to the collection in preparation for work on Custer in '76 were transferred to the Ellison Collection or to the Custer Collection respectively. The photographs were separated to the Photo Archives. Folio printed music for The Sitting Bull March', 1884, by Henry Wienskowitz, was transferred to the Music Division of the Harold B. Lee Library. Envelopes, if they bore a significant note, were retained. Most envelopes in the collection were not mailed, i.e., they bore no postmarks. Those envelopes carrying insignificant notes, such as a list of the interviews in the envelope (in any hand, Camp's, Brown's, or Ellison's) were not retained.
Other Finding Aids
Folder-level inventory available online.
Subject Terms
United States. Army. Cavalry, 7th; Immigration and American Expansion; Indians of North America--Wars--1862-1865; Indians of North America--Wars--1866-1895; Little Bighorn, Battle of the, Mont., 1876; Military; Politics, Government, and Law
Genre / Form
Clippings (Books, newspapers, etc.); Drafts (Documents); Interviews; Letters; Maps; Notes; Research (Document genres)
Processing Information
Processed; E. Dennis Rowley and Neil Broadhurst (manuscript register); Billy Plunkett and Mark Timmons (photograph inventory); 1981.
Appraisal Information
19th Century Western and Mormon Manuscripts.
Finding Aid ID Number
Finding Aid Title
Camp (Walter Mason) papers
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by E. Dennis Rowley and Neil Broadhurst (manuscript register)
Finding Aid Creator
This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit 2013-11-03T04:10-0700
Finding Aid Language
Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant, 2007-2008
Biographical Info:

Biographical History

Walter Mason Camp (1867-1925) was a civil engineer, specializing in railroad construction and maintenance, and a passionate chronicler of Indian life and customs, most particularly Indian Wars.

Walter Camp was born to Treat Bosworth Camp and Hannah A. Brown on April 21, 1867, at Camptown, Pennsylvania. His father was an insurance surveyor and author of insurance literature. In the Civil War he was captain of Company F, 52nd Pennsylvania Infantry, and was confined for a period in Libby Prison.

Camp's early life gave little hint that he was to become a major gatherer of information on America's Indian Wars. He seemed clearly destined instead to become exactly what he did become, a highly competent civil engineer, specializing in railroad construction and maintenance. He received his preliminary education by winter attendance at public school in Wyalusing, Pennsylvania. At the age of nine he was employed as fireman in a planing mill at Wyalusing; later he worked on farms and harvested lumber for four years.

In 1883, at the age of 16, Camp entered railway service on the Lehigh Valley Railroad, being employed first as a trackman and then as a chainman and rodman under the division engineer. While night trackwalker on the Lehigh Valley he acquired a working knowledge of telegraphy, thus beginning a forty-two year railroad career. In the fall of 1887 he entered Pennsylvania State College, and was graduated as a civil engineer in 1891.

His first job after graduation was with the Southern Pacific Company, where for a period of six months he was employed as surveyor in Fresno County, California, and after that as draftsman in the chief engineer's office at San Francisco. From 1892 to 1894 he was engineer in full charge of construction and later superintendent in charge of operation and maintenance of the Rainier Avenue Electric Railway in Seattle, Washington. He had charge of building a counterbalance system for assisting electric railway cars over heavy grades at Seattle in 1892, and was one of the first in this country to build and operate special equipment for freight traffic on electric railways. In 1894 and 1895 he was work-train foreman, surveyor, and section foreman on the Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad. In 1895 he resumed his studies as a post graduate student in electrical and steam engineering at the University of Wisconsin, and in 1896 taught for a while in the National School of Electricity in Chicago. He then became inspector and later superintendent of track construction on the Englewood & Chicago, a storage-battery road.

Camp became engineering editor of the Railway and Engineering Review (now the Railway Review) in 1897. There, he found the sphere of usefulness for which his talents and experience eminently fitted him, and for twenty-eight years he served faithfully and well as a railway editor.

As a writer Walter Camp commanded the respect of the railroad fraternity. He had a thorough knowledge of the practical side of railroading, and knew railroad conditions and needs. His published works, apart from thousands of pungent and useful editorials, included a standard work, Notes on Track, which was long used as a textbook in colleges having a railroad department. Also, he edited Samuel Folson Patterson: An Appreciation by Members of the American Railway Bridge and Building Association (Chicago, 1918), and wrote Railroad Transportation at the Universal Exposition, St. Louis, 1904. He was also the author of numerous papers published by engineering and historical associations, and held membership in the many railway organizations.

At Blue Island, Illinois, on May 2, 1898, Walter Camp married Emeline L. F. Sayles, daughter of Elliott Sayles.

In addition to his interest in railroads he had a cabin in the Michigan woods and a 240-acre dairy farm at Lake Village, Indiana, where he lived during his last years. But his interest in Indian life and customs, the Indian Wars and, in particular, the Little Bighorn River battle dominated his life. He was a trailblazer in his zeal to record the facts of history from the people who had witnessed that history. Beginning in about 1903, his vacations for twenty summers were usually spent in research among Indians and in talking with people who had survived the Little Bighorn River fight and other battles. He personally visited over forty battlefields and interviewed almost 200 survivors of western battles.

His research included the Washinta River fight, MacKenzie's raid on Dull Knife's village, Baldwin's fight with Sitting Bull on Redwater Creek, the battle of Wolf Mountain, the Lamedeer fight, the Nez Perce campaign, Baldwin's fight on the Little Porcupine, the Yellow Hand affair, the capture of Rain-In-The-Face, the death of Sitting Bull, and the Wounded Knee and White Clay Creek affairs. All of these occurred during Camp's boyhood or young manhood, a factor which no doubt increased his interest in them. Also, through the persistent efforts of Camp and General Anson Mills the exact site of the Slim Buttes fight was found and a marker erected.

Camp collected an incredible amount of original source material during his lifetime. However, his original plan was to write a history of the Seventh Cavalry. He even used such a title on his personal stationery. Later, his ambitions grew and he decided to write a history of the Indian wars. Unfortunately, he achieved neither goal, due in part to failing health and the heavy demands of his profession. He died on August 3, 1925, in Kankakee, Illinois, with his cherished dream of a written history unrealized.

[Much of the above biographical statement is excerpted from the Railway Review obituary.]

comments powered by Disqus

Site Navigation

Search this Collection

Collection Arrangement

Yellow highlight indicates current location in collection description

Series in MSS 57

Print View

Help with this Collection

Ask us a Question

Ryan Lee
Curator - 19th Century Western & Mormon Manuscripts